Resource by Brett Landry
At the beginning of each new year, we like to set aside some time for fasting and prayer as a community. This year, we will be fasting and praying January 9th through the 15th. Below you will find some information on what fasting is and how you might consider participating.
“This is the essence of Christian fasting: We ache and yearn—and fast—to know more and more of all that God is for us in Jesus. But only because he has already laid hold of us and is drawing us ever forward and upward into ‘all the fullness of God.’”
– John Piper, A Hunger for God
“The Bible gives us many reasons to fast:
– We fast because we’re hungry for God’s Word and God’s Spirit in our lives.
– We fast because we long for God’s glory to resound in the church and God’s praise to resound among the nations.
– We fast because we yearn for God’s Son to return and God’s kingdom to come.
– Ultimately we fast simply because we want God more than we want anything this world has to offer us.”
– Francis Chan and David Platt
What is Fasting?
Scripture does not command Christians to fast. God does not require or demand it of Christians. At the same time, the Bible presents fasting as something that is good, profitable, and beneficial. The book of Acts records believers fasting before they made important decisions (Acts 13:2; 14:23). Fasting and prayer are often linked together (Luke 2:37; 5:33). Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. Instead, the purpose of fasting should be to take your eyes off the things of this world to focus completely on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God, and to ourselves, that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God.
Although fasting in Scripture is almost always a fasting from food, there are other ways to fast. Anything given up temporarily in order to focus all our attention on God can be considered a fast (1 Corinthians 7:1-5). Fasting should be limited to a set time, especially when fasting from food. Extended periods of time without eating can be harmful to the body. Fasting is not intended to punish the flesh, but to redirect attention to God. Fasting should not be considered a “dieting method” either. The purpose of a biblical fast is not to lose weight, but rather to gain deeper fellowship with God. Anyone can fast, but some may not be able to fast from food (diabetics, for example). Everyone can temporarily give up something in order to draw closer to God.
By taking our eyes off the things of this world, we can more successfully turn our attention to Christ. Fasting is not a way to get God to do what we want. Fasting changes us, not God. Fasting is not a way to appear more spiritual than others. Fasting is to be done in a spirit of humility and a joyful attitude. Matthew 6:16-18 declares, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
How should we fast?
Always ask God for wisdom (James 1:5) in regards to how and for how long He wants you to fast. Setting a time frame seems to be the biblical approach (Esther 4:16). Also, fasting should have a clear purpose. People in the Bible fasted and prayed because they wanted something specific to happen. They either wanted God to change them, to change their circumstances, or to reveal something to them. Ultimately, fasting is far more about focus than food. Fasting is taking your focus off of the things of this world in order to focus more on the things of God. Fasting can thus be a means of growing closer to God.
The Bible mentions different types of fasting. There is limiting yourself to a certain type of food (Daniel 1:8–14). There is fasting from food entirely (Daniel 10:2–3). There is fasting from food and water (Luke 4:2; Acts 9:9). There is also “fasting” from a certain activity, such as a husband and wife abstaining from sex for a predetermined period (Exodus 19:15; 1 Corinthians 7:5). With the different types of fasting in mind, how to fast depends greatly on what type of fasting you are doing.
A note of caution concerning fasting: those with medical conditions, especially conditions involving dietary restrictions (diabetes, for example), should consult a doctor before fasting. Remember, there is no biblical command that followers of Jesus Christ must fast. Therefore, it is not wrong to take a medical condition into account when determining how to fast.
Also, it is good to examine your motives for fasting. Fasting is not about manipulating God. Fasting will not cause God to do something that is outside of His will. Fasting is about changing yourself to be in agreement with God’s plan and to be prepared to carry out your role in His plan. When you are deciding how to fast, it is crucially important to remember what fasting is all about—changing yourself, not changing God.
(The answers to the above two questions are taken from articles on Christian Fasting and Prayer)
The following quotes may encourage you:
“Fasting if we conceive of it truly, must not . . . be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose. There are many bodily functions which are right and normal and perfectly legitimate, but which for special peculiar reasons in certain circumstances should be controlled. That is fasting.”
– Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
“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.”
– Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
“As an act of faith, Christian fasting is an expression of dissatisfied contentment in the all-sufficiency of Christ. It is an expression of secure and happy longing for the all-satisfying fullness of Christ. Christian fasting does not tremble in the hope of earning anything from Christ. It looks away from itself to the final payment of Calvary for every blessing it will ever receive. Christian fasting is not self-wrought discipline that tries to deserve more from God. It is a hunger for God awakened by the taste of God freely given in the gospel.”
– John Piper, A Hunger for God