Fasting: What Christians Should Know
“The absence of fasting is the measure of our contentment with the absence of Christ.”
- John Piper
Ouch. I’ve spent most of my life with a sinful attitude toward food. I’ve often turned to food for comfort rather than the Father. I’ve relied on food to bring me happiness rather than finding joy in an abundant life with Christ. I’ve used food to mistreat the temple of the Holy Spirit. This made the spiritual discipline of fasting even more difficult for me to embrace.
For many Christians, fasting seems reserved for the super pious or spiritual giants, but Jesus assumed fasting would be a normal part of the Christian life. That’s why He used the phrase “When you fast” (Matthew 6:16) instead of saying, “If you decide you want to fast”.
If we’re called to fast regularly in our relationship with God, how do we do that?
- What should my motivation and posture be for fasting?
- How do I physically and spiritually prepare to fast?
- What are Biblical reasons for fasting?
Those are the topics covered in this three-part Care Ministries podcast series from Brookwood Church. My regular co-hosts and fellow Brookwood Care Ministries pastors, Gene Beckner, Doug Wildman and I, recorded these sessions as a tool to help believers explore the spiritual discipline of fasting.
This is an important topic, so I encourage you to read the content below, which contains information not included in the recordings, and also commit to listening to the three podcast episodes. If you don’t have time in one sitting, please use the download links to listen later.
Let’s look at each of these questions.
FASTING? PART 1 (YOUR MOTIVATION AND POSTURE FOR FASTING)
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The first thing to consider in fasting is your motivation. As I mentioned above, I have struggled with food in the past, but fasting isn’t really about food. It’s about a relationship.
Fasting is a refocusing of your soul from the physical to the spiritual, and that requires us to have a humble posture before God. It’s not a ritual or a legalistic rule to follow. It’s about investing in your relationship with God and learning to rely on Him rather than the world.
If you’re married, imagine the benefit of saying, We’re going to put aside some time just for us. Let’s remove the distractions in our lives for a few days and concentrate on being together.
And what does it do to your relationship if you never invest that time?
You can fast from television or social media if they’re a distraction in your relationship with God, but the Biblical example is always food. Why did God choose food? I think it’s because food is what we rely on most in the physical world. So if we hope to better rely on Christ in all things, food is a poignant place to start.
As we humbly approach God in a season of prayer and fasting, our desire should be to hear from Him as we dedicate ourselves to putting our relationship with Him above the blessings and provisions He’s given us.
So how do we physically and spiritually prepare for fasting?
FASTING? PART 2 (PREPARE YOURSELF FOR FASTING)
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It’s important to note that we are not doctors. In this episode, we discussed our personal experiences with fasting. If you’re new to fasting, I strongly encourage you to walk with other experienced Christians and consult your doctor before you begin.
The audio above offers more details, additional suggestions and our actual experiences, but here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare for fasting:
Research fasting before you begin (biblically and medically).
- Check with your family doctor for specific health concerns based on your body.
- Fast in a group of other Christians for encouragement and guidance.
- Spend a few days eating lighter foods (non-acidic fruits, vegetables, etc.) for a less harsh transition when you start the fast. This will help you better focus on God at the beginning of the fast.
- I drink coffee, and if you drink a lot of caffeine drinks, I encourage you to do a two-step fast. I always stop drinking coffee several days before the full fast begins. This allows the coffee (or whatever caffeinated/sugar drink you rely on) to be entirely out of my system before I start the food portion of the fast. Again, you want to remove any obstacles that will keep you from spending dedicated time with God.
- Stay hydrated throughout the fast.
Create an environment that puts your mind in a peaceful place to receive from God; create an environment that removes distractions.
- Most importantly, make a plan.
Creating a plan is important, or you may squander your time of fasting. Fasting isn’t really about the lack of food. It’s about being drawn closer to God as you rely on Him for strength. So if you just stop eating and go about your day without refocusing on God, your fast won’t be fruitful. How do you plan to replace physical food with spiritual food? Ask God how He wants to communicate with you during the fast.
Once you’ve prepared to fast, what are the Biblical reasons to come before God in fasting?
FASTING? PART 3 (REASONS FOR FASTING)
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As we mentioned in the first recording, your motivation and posture during a fast are very important. Are we willing to humble ourselves before God to hear from Him? The third podcast recording above details our personal experiences, Biblical examples of fasting, and how to approach these reasons for fasting in your own life. While not an exhaustive list, here are some Biblical reasons to fast:
To ask God what He wants to say to you with no agenda of your own. Go into your fast completely open.
- To prepare for ministry, not just professional ministry but God’s purpose for your life (Matthew 4:1-11).
- To seek God's direction (2 Chronicles 20:3)
- To seek protection, deliverance, and victory (Ezra 8; Judges 20:26).
- To worship God (Luke 2:36-38).
- To seek wisdom (James 1:5; Acts 14:23).
- To seek repentance (Nehemiah 9:1).
- To seek God in a time of grief or mourning (Nehemiah1:2-7; 2 Samuel 12; Matthew 9:15).
- To pray for the oppressed and overcoming injustice, seeking God’s direction on how you should address these issues as a follower of Christ (Isaiah 58:6).
- To approach God about a specific issue, but be open to what the Father wants to communicate to you. In other words, don’t be so focused on one outcome that you miss the experience God wants to have with you.
How have you approached fasting in your Christian walk? What did you gain from it?