Dec 22

Fasting: Who, Why, and How?

Article by Jake LeFave
Photo by John Pielmayer

In just a couple of weeks all three Christ City neighbourhood churches will begin 2022 with a week of prayer and fasting. Below is my best attempt at answering some of the most common questions people have about fasting.

  1. Who is fasting for?

This one’s easy, right? It’s for Jesus followers! In the Sermon on the Mount we hear Jesus say:

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face… (Matthew 6:16-17)

Jesus seems to assume that we will fast. In fact, later in Matthew 9 he’ll make it explicit that the time between His ascension and his return (this present age) will be a time when fasting should happen (Matt. 9:14-17).

I don’t think Jesus’ assumption that we will fast should be lost on us. Especially when we consider the ‘why’ that lies at the heart of fasting. 

  • Why do we fast?

John Piper in his book, A Hunger for God, talks about the “why” being fasting like this:

Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God…Half of Christian fasting is that our physical appetite is lost because our homesickness for God is so intense. The other half is that our homesickness for God is threatened because our physical appetites are so intense. In the first half, appetite is lost. In the second half, appetite is resisted. In the first, we yield to the higher hunger that is. In the second, we fight for the higher hunger that isn’t. Christian fasting is not only the spontaneous effect of a superior satisfaction in God; it is also a chosen weapon against every force in the world that would take that satisfaction away

When we fast we declare two things:

  1. That we are longing for the return of Jesus when He will make all things new, including our appetites.
  2. And two, that our appetites in this age towards Jesus and His Kingdom are much too weak, half-hearted, and scattered.

When we are in sweet places with The Lord it is easy to miss a meal to just sit in his presence. But, I don’t know about you, that’s not where I always (or often) find myself. As Piper says, we need to fight for “the higher hunger that isn’t”.

Fasting, then, is spiritual warfare. It is a declaration in the spiritual realms, “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12) that we belong to Jesus and desire Him above all else.

Fasting has the added benefit of revealing to us what we truly love. In his book on spiritual disciplines, Richard Foster writes:

More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside of us with food and other things.

All this should lead us to conclude that fasting is for weak people. People who are prone to apathy in their relationship with Jesus. People who love sex, food, and entertainment more than sitting in His presence. People who take God’s good gift’s and make them into ultimate things. People who feel the defeats, pressures, and anxieties of life pressing down on them. People trying to reach out to neighbours in a hostile city. People looking for places of permanence from which to proclaim good news.

In other words, fasting is for people like me and you. Convinced? If so, we should ask now, “so how do we go about doing this?”

  • How should we fast?

The most obvious form of fasting is from food. However, if you have any sort of medical condition or disorder that might be complicated by this, consult a medical professional before fasting. In place of food, you might want to fast from that Netflix binge, or any other form of entertainment. 

Further, there should be a component of our fasting that is private. Again, if we keep on reading in Matthew 6, Jesus says, “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matt. 6:17-18) Our fasting is not to be broadcasted for external approval. 

And yet, our fasting should be done together. Not as a means to validate one another’s spirituality, but that we might together seek The Lord for the ways in which we are needy as a church community.

So, whether you’re in East Van, Kitsilano, or South Van, join us as we seek the Lord together this year. Let us, together, allow Him to shape our desires and longings. Let’s, together, bow our knees in submission to our King as we together pray, “Not our will, but your will be done in us in 2022.”