Fasting: A Spiritual Discipline

“You and I have no more right to omit fasting because we feel no special emotional prompting than we have a right to omit prayer, Bible reading, or assembling with God’s children for lack of some special emotional prompting. Fasting is just as biblical and normal a part of a spiritual walk of obedience with God as are these others.”Wesley Duewel*

Yesterday, Ash Wednesday, was the beginning of the Lenten season. For the next forty days Christians, who observe Lent, will fast from any number of things. Lent is a spiritual discipline used to draw closer to The Lord. The forty day journey of lent starts on Ash Wednesday and lead up to Easter Sunday, when the celebration of all Jesus accomplished for us on the cross is observed. Whether or not Lent is something you practice, all Christians are encouraged in the Word to fast during certain times in their walk with the Lord. In fact, fasting itself is mentioned over 90 times in the Scriptures and we know that if God thinks something is important enough to mention that many times, we would do well to pay attention.

What Does the Word Have to Say?

Throughout Scripture we see people such as Daniel, Esther, Paul and even Jesus abstained from food for a certain amount of time in order that they could seek the Lord.

Daniel 10:2-3 In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks.I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.

Esther 4:16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”

Acts 27:21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss.

Luke 4:2 For forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.

Daniels fast lasted 21 days, Esther fasted for three, we are told Paul fasted “for a long time” and Jesus we know fasted 40 days and 40 nights. The time of the fast is not so much what matters, as with all things God is concerned with the heart posture. Fasting may be done for many reasons, some of which are: showing God respect, devotion, praying for healing and even of repentance. In the Psalms (Psalm 35:13) David fasted for healing of people. Other places in the word (Acts 14 for example) show us saints praying for direction of the Lord.

Can Fasting be From More Than Food?

The Bible is clear that fasting is something we should practice. One may wonder if fasting has to be done strictly with food. There are some of us who have medial (or psychological) issues where abstaining from food would not be healthy. Some in the church would tell you that yes fasting needs to be from food and that the Lord will sustain you if you have a medical issue. While I do believe that the Lord is all powerful and therefore able to sustain someone who would be called to fast in this way, I am not someone who believes fasting must only be done with food. I do not feel I can emphasize enough, the importance of fasting is not in the semantics, there is no room for legalism. God wants our hearts to be focused on Him. For some, giving up food may not be an issue, but giving up time spent online, or watching television would present more of a challenge. If you don’t watch television abstaining from it wont make for much of a fast, each individual must pray about and decide what areas in their personal lives to fast from.

Fasting is about abstaining from something that challenges us in order to take the time we are without to draw nearer to the Lord. If you are interested in fasting but cannot for whatever reason abstain from food don’t give up hope.

How Not to Fast

As I have mentioned a few times already, when we fast, we are to use the time we would partake in the food or other area of our life to seek the Lord in prayer. I want to be sure you understand that fasting is not some rigorous practice that if not done to perfection displeases God. As in all things, there is grace. Abstaining is not something that comes naturally to our sinful selves and we must practice to build up our spiritual “muscles” in this area. Just as we won’t come to a better understanding of the Bible if we do not take the time to read it, we do not grow in the discipline of fasting if we do not take the time to fast.

The only rule of fasting the Bible gives us is found in Matthew and is given by Jesus to His disciples. He teaches them how NOT to fast.

Matthew 6:16-18 “Now whenever you fast, do not make a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they distort their faces so that they will be noticed by people when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.But as for you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,so that your fasting will not be noticed by people but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

Fasting does not give us bragging rights. We are not to carry on letting the entire world know we are fasting in order to direct attention to ourselves. Rather, we see Jesus teaching His followers that fasting should be done in secret, and that God will notice and reward us. He wants for us to be humble. To humbly remove the “stumbling block” that is keeping you from seeking Him and replace it with a deeper knowledge of Him. We are reminded of our dependence on God and our fervor for Him grows.

Final Thoughts
The spiritual discipline of fasting will bring us closer to the Lord if our hearts are in the right place. Whether or not you take the next forty days to fast, I assume at some point during your Christian walk you will find yourself fasting. Seek the Lord in Spirit and in truth as we are told to do in John 4:23 and I know that you will be blessed. God may answer your prayer or He may take you down an entirely different road, but we know that His will is always (always!) best!

Soli Deo Gloria!

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