Don’t think too highly of me because this post is about fasting. One of the reasons I became more serious about the oft-neglected spiritual discipline is because I realized my desperation for the Lord in a number of areas in my life.
The “nothing” of John 15:5 (“without me you can do nothing”) constantly reminds me of my desperate need for Christ’s life flowing through my veins.
My understanding of fasting has been greatly shaped by John Piper, who wrote the following:
“Might God not ordain that his fullest blessings will come to the church when we prevail in prayer with the intensity of fasting? That kind of intensification of prayer is what fasting is. It’s a physical exclamation point at the end of the sentence, “We hunger for you, O God, to come in power.” It’s a cry with our body, not just our soul: “I really mean it, Lord! This much, I hunger for you.”1
While I’m no expert on fasting, God has shown me some cool things as I have sought Him through fasting: answered prayer, a deeper joy, a greater desire for Him, and a richer experience of the Spirit in my life.
Here are a few lessons on fasting that I’ve picked up along the way:
We need to fast for the right reasons
Fasting is not about abstaining from food. It is about the pursuit of something greater than food. God doesn’t take joy in your hunger; He wants you to hunger for Him (Matthew 5:6). When we fast, we tell God that we hunger for Him and spiritual sustenance more than we do for food and physical sustenance. We remember that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3).
When I fast, it is a constant battle to fast for the right reasons. Wrong thoughts slowly creep in that God will reward the mere act of fasting instead of the heart behind the fasting. If I don’t keep my desires fixed on God, I can easily fast in vain. He doesn’t take joy simply in me not eating (or abstaining from something else), He takes joy in my pursuit of Him.
Fasting is hard work
Like prayer, fasting doesn’t happen automatically. I try to consistently schedule my fasting time to coincide with my schedule for that day. Fasting is not as useful if I’m working a long day and then run off to Bible study without any time dedicated to quality prayer. It’s a terrible feeling getting to the end of your fast to realize that you barely even prayed! Our faithful laboring in prayer and fasting will show God our desire for Him—and He will see it.
Fasting is a sacrifice
Scheduling time for fasting is more than hard work—it is a sacrifice that usually affects my weekly schedule. A day of fasting is a day I can’t work out or eat meals with others. I’m no fitness fanatic—but I do like to keep a workout schedule. I am also a busy guy. That means an optimal day of fasting may mean going three or four days without working out—which is something I don’t like to do. Depending on your life and schedule, fasting may sacrifice a number of other things. But don’t forget: God’s blessings are so worth any sacrifice.
Fasting is incredibly helpful for ministry.
Fasting is a powerful weapon for the Christian. Before Jesus started His earthly ministry, He fasted forty days (Matthew 4:1-2). He sought the Lord for strength and to sustain Him in His ministry. While many disciples were worshipping, fasting, and praying in Acts 13:1-2, the Holy Spirit spoke and sent Paul and Barnabus out on their first missionary journey that took the gospel to almost a dozen cities near the Mediterranean.
Jonathan Edwards commended fasting during the First Great Awakening:
I should think that ministers, above all persons, ought to be much in secret prayer and fasting, and also much in prayer and fasting one with another. It seems to me it would be becoming the circumstances of the present day, if ministers in a neighborhood would often meet together and spend days in fasting and fervent prayer among themselves, earnestly seeking for those extraordinary supplies of divine grace from heaven, that we need at this day.2
If you ever feel like you have lacked passion for God, desire in prayer, or power in ministry, I encourage you to seek the Lord through prayer and fasting. Tell Him your struggles and plead for transformation. You might be missing out on the “extraordinary supplies of divine grace from heaven” God wants to provide you.
God rewards fasting.
“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.” Matthew 6:17-18
While Scripture doesn’t lay out as much guidance on fasting as some would want, it does make one thing abundantly clear: God rewards fasting. Just ask Moses (Exodus 34:28), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4), Esther (Esther 4:16), Ezra (Ezra 8:23) or a host of other biblical examples.
God reserves a special grace for those who intensify their prayers by fasting—who put a “physical exclamation point” at the end of their prayers (to borrow from Piper). Are you leaving potential blessings, joy in the Lord, and power in ministry on the table because you don’t fast?
Ask the Lord to turn you into a man or woman hungry enough for Him that you will give up physical appetites for spiritual blessings. You’ll be glad you did.
1 John Piper in A Hunger for God, page 110
2 Ibid., originally from Edwards’ Some Thoughts Concerning Revival