|Posted on October 28, 2011 at 11:50 AM|
This is a good question. I know that for a lot of people, the issue of fasting is a non-issue. Most people today don’t even think about whether or not they need to give up food for any reason, for any length of time. Is it wrong to not even think about it? I don’t think that our God, who only requires our true and heartfelt acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins, would condemn anyone for choosing to not give up food for Him. Is it a good thing to fast? I believe so. Let’s take a closer look at this.
I have given up food before. I’ve done the “30 Hour Famine” fundraiser in high school to raise funds for hungry children nationwide, sometimes it’s been necessary for me to skip meals for medical procedures, and on occasion I’ve even attempted to fast from a “Christian” perspective. The million-dollar questions I have are these: if it is so important to fast, why do some people instruct others to do it without providing any guidance as to WHY they should? Is this something that every Christian must do regardless of who they are or where they are in their journey with Christ?
Before we can even touch those questions, we first need to understand what it’s all about. What does it mean to fast, anyway? Fasting, as defined by Webster’s, means “abstaining from food.” Abstaining means “to keep one’s self from doing something.” What this means is that when we fast, we keep ourselves from food for a period of time. A period of fasting can last any amount of time that you’ve set aside for it; fasting can take place for anywhere from one meal to weeks at a time.
Fasting sure doesn’t sound like it’s very fun – why would humans fast today, in our culture of delicious and readily available meals and knowledge of God available on TV, the internet, books, and so on? Further questions I had for myself after considering this are more intense. We don't really need to give up our food, do we? We don't need to worry about seeking Him on our own, right? No, we don't have to do anything - even coming to Christ is a choice. So if coming to Christ is a choice, we can just plug in and find Him and that will be enough, won't it? We don't need to do anything further to get knowledge, right? Well, not exactly. Yes - it is good to tune into Christian broadcasting, it's important to attend a church (online or physical) that preaches the truth of Jesus' sacrifice for us, and there are some amazingly enriching resources all over the place that I love! On the other hand, public worship in any form is good but where's the personal life application? Where is the evidence that we are growing and our desires are changing even when we're alone with God?
All that being said, I know that personally I am even more enriched by simply digging into God's Word, or by praying from the depths of my heart, than I am from any other source - church, music, or anything. View this in light of surrendering. When a Christian fasts, we are essentially surrendering a desire we have so that we can spend time seeking God in a more intense way. We aren’t just doing what we normally would either; when a Christian fasts, the heart attitude is supposed to be that we are replacing our need to feed the physical hunger with our need to feed the spiritual hunger for God’s Word and His presence.
After considering all the above points, we come to the main idea - that we are replacing our physical hunger in order to feed our spiritual hunger. This is one aspect I’ve never really considered before, and it sure opens my eyes! Sure, it feels good to do something we have been told is necessary. Knowing the “why” behind something helps a bit in understanding its place in the Christian’s life, it helps transform a mundane thing that people simply talk about doing into something beneficial and disciplined and freeing all at once.
There are many points in Scripture that show how often people fasted. When people were conflicted, burdened, or thankful – it didn’t really matter what was going on, it was understood that your priority at those times was to be seeking God no matter what. The Old Testament has many references to fasting, with a few descriptive ones found in Psalms. This is expected - the Psalms deal in depth with struggles and praising God. In light of the way our hearts are supposed to be aligned with God during a fast, it seems fitting that the Psalmists fasted. One description of what a true, God-focused fast can bring into someone’s life is found in Psalm 35:13 – “But as for me, when they were sick, My clothing was sackcloth; I humbled myself with fasting; and my prayer would return to my own heart.” If you read the whole of Psalm 35, you can’t help but see that David was pleading with God in this Psalm for salvation in the midst of a struggle. The point that I took away was that upon fasting, David found that his heart re-focused on God instead of on his troubles.
The best description of how we as Christians should fast is found in Matthew 6:17-18: “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” When we are surrendering our worldly desires to seek God with our whole heart, we are not to moan about how bad we feel and forget about our hygiene! We need to keep ourselves presentable and focused, and not boast or complain that we missed a meal or two for God. After all, we are feeding a deeper hunger. Remember, too, the pain Jesus experienced in our place on the cross. Remember that He, too, fasted – for 40 days in fact. He has been through so much for our sakes, so why can’t we skip even one day of fast food and empty calories to draw closer to Someone real that has saved us from an eternity in torment?
After considering these points, I feel that it can only strengthen my relationship with the Lord to set aside specific times of fasting and seeking Him. I know that it's not for everyone, but it is certainly important for me in drawing closer to God! With that in mind, if my stomach growls during these times I will approach the noise as a challenge. If I can smile and remember that God has blessed me with abundant spiritual food in the Bible, then He will meet me there. If I return to His Word strengthened in this knowledge, if I allow the Spirit to make the Word come alive to me in a deeper way, it may just be that I can then share it better.
If you like, I have found a fairly comprehensive list of Scriptures that deal with fasting. Please share with me if you find others! http://bible.org/seriespage/appendix-2-fasting-scripture
What are your thoughts - have you fasted before? What was the mindset you approached it with? Did you notice any benefits to your spiritual life? Or do you think it is just an outdated practice that today’s Christian doesn’t need to bother with? Let’s discuss!