With our emphasis on knowing God’s Word, we’re excited for this new series on spiritual disciplines. Each month, we’ll unpack a different spiritual discipline, defining it as well as offering some ideas for practical application!
Fasting is one of those spiritual topics we tend to avoid unless we’re…how should I say this? Unequivocally desperate. When’s the last time you thought to yourself, Life is going along so well; I should plan a fast? Me too. Most of the time we consider fasting when we’re in a jam, need direction, or are desperate for God to move something that’s humanly speaking immoveable. This is not wrong thinking. Both the Old and New Testaments give us multiple examples of those who fasted in difficult times.
Still, there’s a lot more to fasting than it being the quintessential last-resort spiritual discipline. When Jesus spoke about fasting in His Sermon on the Mount, He used an interesting word. He said, “Whenever you fast, don’t be gloomy like the hypocrites…” (Mt 6:16.) This word whenever assumes that fasting was a regular part of His followers’ lives. I believe it should be a regular part of ours as well.
So why don’t most of us regularly fast or fast at all? I would love to have a clever answer for you here, but let’s be real. It’s pretty simple. FASTING IS HARD. What makes fasting particularly hard in our culture is that we’re extremely uncomfortable doing without.
The other day I was driving home from the airport and passed a billboard advertising some restaurants in the area. It read something to the effect of, “You deserve it, so demand it!” The advertisement had taken food from being a form of sustenance, to a pleasure, to a right, to a specific experience we should demand. I love so much about our country, but the American Way is too often about having every possible pleasure, comfort, and indulgence at our fingertips at all times. This is a way of life we’ve come to expect, and it’s not good for us.
Fasting flies in the face of Western consumerism because it’s characterized by giving up, laying down, going without the basic human experience of consuming—but only for a time and for a purpose. And always so something better can grow in the place of what we’re giving up. Simply put, that’s what fasting is: giving something up so something better can grow in its place.
As we enter the Lenten season, here are three things I’ve learned about fasting:
#1 Spiritual Fasting Works Best When You Have A Purpose In Mind
As Christ followers, all fasting will ultimately be for the purpose of drawing closer to Jesus. But within that purpose of cultivating a deeper intimacy with the Lord, it’s helpful to have specific things you’re praying about while fasting. Whether it’s praying for restoration for a broken marriage, provision in a financial crisis, healing for a loved one who’s sick, salvation for a friend or family member who doesn’t know Jesus, or freedom from something you can’t break out of on your own, think about the specific things that you want to pray about in your fast. Make a list. Keep a journal. Commit to praying at certain times of the day so you make the most of your fast.
#2 Spiritual Fasting Gives You Something Better Than What You Give Up
Since we’ve already determined that fasting is hard, what will keep us pressing on is knowing that we’ll gain something better than what we’re giving up. I think of the answers, deliverance, and direction that came to Nehemiah, Daniel, the disciples, Paul, the New Testament church, and Jesus Himself after times of prayer and fasting. I think of Anna who had prayed and fasted in the temple and, as an 84 year-old widow, saw baby Jesus with her own eyes and then testified about the redemption He would bring to Jerusalem.
The irony about fasting is that there’s no telling what we’re missing when we choose to always have everything. The treasures we stand to gain when we set aside satiating one of our most basic human desires are more than we can imagine. Do we trust God enough to go without for a time so we can have more of Him and what He longs to give us?
#3 Spiritual Fasting Becomes Easier When You Prepare for It
In full disclosure, I’ve experienced a few fasts where I was so miserable I couldn’t even pray. I’ve had the very spiritual thought—I could pray much better if I had a cheeseburger right now. When you are in the midst of fasting, discipline can be so hard. Preparing mentally, physically, and spiritually before your fast can make these moments easier. Here are a few purely practical tips.
Once you determine what you’ll be fasting from, think about how this will play out in your day-to-day routine and interactions with others. Do you have a social event coming up centered on food, TV, or something else you’re fasting from? Think about how you’re going to handle these events ahead of time.
Also think ahead to how you’ll need to prepare physically for your fast. For example, if you’re fasting from caffeine, it can be helpful to gradually decrease the amount of caffeine you take in during the days leading up to your fast. If you’re fasting from food, whether that be from a certain food category like dessert or a meal each day, be sure to talk with your doctor about what’s best and safe for your health.
Although the type of fasting we see most often in the Bible is a fast from food, some people can’t fast completely from food for health reasons. Instead, they give up certain types of food (sugar, caffeine, sodas), or give up non-food pleasures like watching TV, social media, movies, etc. Pray about what God is calling you to give up to draw nearer to Him in your season of fasting, and be open to His answer.
As we set our sights on the Resurrection of Easter and the new life of spring, let’s implement the Christian discipline of fasting into our lives. We simply have no idea what Jesus wants to give us in place of what He’s asking us to give up. For a time. For a purpose. Ultimately so we can know Him more intimately.
Kelly Minter is passionate about teaching the Bible. When she’s not singing, writing, or speaking, you can find her picking homegrown vegetables, enjoying her six nieces and nephews or riding a boat along the Amazon river with Justice & Mercy International. A Southern transplant, she delights in college football, long walks, and a diner mug of coffee with her closest friends.