What is Fasting and Why Should I Do It?

 

Fasting. We know Jesus did it for 40 days, we know David did it when he lamented over his sin, and today, we can see our peers in the church boasting of giving up caffeine, Facebook and the like all in observance of the ambiguous term. But what is fasting exactly, and do we need to practice it today?

These questions have been on my mind a lot lately, especially in light of the lenten season quickly approaching. And recently, fasting came up in a refreshingly relevant way that really got me thinking.

My husband’s been in a tough life-stage recently; at the cusp of deciding between two major career moves that would alter our lives significantly. As you can well imagine, we’ve been praying. Praying and stressing, if I’m honest, about finding direction and arriving at a decision. It wasn’t until he was sharing his fork-in-the-road situation and the weight that it’s placed on his heart with another Christ-follower that this idea of fasting came into play.

“Have you ever considered fasting?” his friend challenged him.

The question both rattled and refreshed us.

Fasting? Really? Isn’t that the same thing as prayer? But then my mind was reminded of how often people in the Bible would fast when they were longing for God to show up in a big way (Acts 13:1-3).

With this suggestion to fast, I started realizing how neglected this part of the Christian faith has been in my life.

When I go through something difficult, or I long for closeness with the Lord, I pray and ask others to pray, too. Prayer is so much less invasive than giving up eating. But if I’m really serious about something, I ought to be fasting too.

Much more than giving up social media.

One thing I’ve discovered is that fasting is a gift. While we may be giving something up, we get to experience more of God. We’re reminded that we’re human, that we’re wonderfully dependent on our perfect Creator, and that our problems, though important, pale in comparison to the presence of God.

I believe our view of fasting, like many practices in the church, has been misrepresented by misuse and misunderstanding. Fasting was never meant to be public, nor was it to be done without a clear intent in mind, namely closeness with the Lord.

Facebook fasts, or even daily food fasts that are preceded by public announcements and followed by overindulging is not how we are commanded to fast. Doing so will only allow you to check a box on the list of religion without ever experiencing God in a profound way.

So how should you approach it? And what does fasting actually look like? Here are a few guidelines:

 

Make it a regular practice.

Regular fasting, much like regular prayer and time in the Word, teaches us to be disciplined in our pursuit of God. One of my friends from college felt led at one point in her life to fast from food every Monday. Not because she was in a state of mourning, or desperately needed an answer to a major decision, but because she wanted to feel closer to God. She wanted to give up food, something her body craved  in order to feel more deeply her need for God. What a beautiful reason behind the heart of fasting!

Give up something you need.

The whole intent behind fasting is to give up something that will make you aware of its absence. If you give up something that will hardly impact your life, fasting will hardly impact your life, and that completely defeats the purpose. Ask the Lord for guidance. If what comes to mind warrants the reaction, “Oh no, I couldn’t possibly give that up!” it’s probably something you should consider doing without.

Don’t rule out food.

Modern day fasting includes social media, coffee, sugar, etc. and while these are things we could certainly do with less of, let’s not rule out the example of fasting in the bible: giving up food. It’s extreme and I think that’s why we divert from it when we can. We want to keep our comfort, and heck, maintain our physical needs, but the whole reason behind why people in the Bible gave up food was because it is just that: a major human need. But greater than that need is our need for God (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Don’t talk about it.

Fasting isn’t something that you need to announce on Facebook. I’ll bet you’ll see and hear several posts next week declaring a fast from social media, meat, carbs, and sugar fasts in regular conversation. But here’s a challenge: don’t tell anyone unless you’re asking them to fast with you corporately. Matthew 6:16-18 and Esther 4:16 tell us to keep this between us and God, and that the more people that are involved, the more powerful it can be. So yeah, invite people to fast alongside you, if not for direction, to be unified in pursuit of closeness with God. But don’t advertise it to appear more holy.

Replace what you give up with more of God.

If you give up meat and overeat carbs instead, simply replacing what it is you’ve given up with an alternative other than pursuing God, you’ve missed the point of fasting. Purpose the time you would’ve otherwise spent eating or on Facebook with time in the word. Praise God, memorize verses, pray for direction, or reading your Bible. Make the focus on Him.

Ask God for a heart to long for Him for than food, or Facebook, or any other comfort. Ask Him to show you ways you can humble yourself in a way that will allow you to seek His face more fully. I pray that your heart grows closer to the Lord this lenten season, and that above all else, God becomes your greatest desire.