Why Should I Fast?
If I were to ask you which spiritual discipline is the most neglected in the American Church, what would you say? No doubt some spiritual disciplines, such as silence or solitude, make the list. However, it seems to me that at the top of the list is fasting. Fasting is largely neglected in our culture because we live in a society that does not value deferred gratification. We live in a "I want it now" culture. Rather than fasting because it is a good spiritual discipline, we rarely choose to practice any discipline that might cause us the slightest bit of discomfort. While there are some who cannot fast for medical reasons, most of us abstain from fasting because it requires us to make a sacrifice that many of us are not willing to make--food. The fact that this is the case gives us an indication of how important it is that we begin practicing this spiritual discipline. If it is difficult for us to give up something in order to honor Christ or grow in our spiritual walk, this is an indication of our desperate need to give this particular thing up. So what does it mean to put fasting into practice?
Fasting is the abstaining from something, typically food, for the sake of drawing closer to Christ. It is separate from any other form of abstaining from food, such as for dietary reasons. This is the case because the focus of fasting is Jesus Christ, not ourselves. While people may abstain from food for various other reasons, people who fast abstain from food for spiritual reasons, such as growing closer to God, seeking God's will, or to show lament over a wrongdoing. So why should I fast? There are several reasons that could be given for making the spiritual discipline of fasting a part of your lifestyle.
First, we should fast because Jesus expects us to. In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus addresses the topic of fasting. In this passage, Jesus does not say, "if you fast, anoint your head and wash your face." Rather, Jesus says, "when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face." This implies that Jesus expected his disciples to fast. No wonder regular fasting has been a part of the Church from the very beginning! If Jesus expects us to fast, then we need to fast regularly as part of our spiritual walk with Christ.
Second, we should fast because it helps us keep our lives in perspective. When we choose to abstain from food and focus on God, we are, in essence, admitting that God is more important in our lives than food is. This is a powerful admission, and represents the way things are supposed to be. We should never value that gift that God has given over God himself! This, however, raises the question: If Jesus expects us to fast, then what exactly are we saying when we refuse to do so? Do we value food more so than we value God? There is certainly a time when the Church should feast, and there is certainly a time when the Church should fast. Why is it that we are more prone to go to one extreme over the other?
Third, fasting is closely tied in Scripture to other spiritual disciplines, especially prayer. The implication is that if we want to have a full prayer life, we need to practice the discipline of fasting, as well. In short, fasting and prayer go together like peanut butter and chocolate. You can eat one without the other, but it isn't as good as when you put them together in a peanut butter cup.
What do I do when I fast? That kind of depends on what kind of fast I am doing. There are different kinds of fasts mentioned in the Bible, and it is important to keep medical concerns in mind when selecting a fast. Fasting most often refers to a period of time when a person goes without food entirely, although that person typically still drinks water.
In addition to the type of fast just mentioned, there is what is often known as the "Daniel Fast." This is a fast during which a person typically eats only vegetables and drinks only water for 10 to 21 days. It derives its name from two places in the book of Daniel during which the prophet Daniel fasted. Several churches do this as a congregation at least once each year.
There is also what has been called the "Jonah Fast." This type of fast could just as easily be called the "David Fast" or "Repentance Fast." During this time of fasting, a person's primary focus is on repentance before God for his or her sins. This type of fast reminds us to be humble before God.
When you decide to fast, keep a couple of things in mind. First, remember that you will not start off doing a 40 day fast like Jesus or Elijah. This would be a shock to your body, and would not be the best idea. Second, remember to start small and work your way toward larger and longer fasts. Third, and perhaps most importantly, keep your physical health in mind. My grandfather was diabetic, and therefore could not complete a major fast. There are others out there who cannot participate in a fast simply because they do not have good enough health. Fourth, remember to keep the focus on Jesus as you fast. He is the reason that you are fasting in the first place, so don't lose focus. Finally, it is a wise idea to couple fasting with an intense focus on another spiritual discipline, such as prayer. Fasting is a neglected practice today, but it doesn't have to continue to be!
IV. Tips On Fasting