Perhaps evangelism is the only other word that causes most American Christians to wince like the word fasting.
Fasting is like gong to the dentist. It’s something we all know we should do, but we avoid it at all cost. Truth is most of us probably go to the dentist way more regularly than we fast.
When I hear about fasting I immediately think about grace. As in, ” God is gracious. Why do I need to fast?”
Then there is always the tendency to americanize fasting. As in, “Just because you’re fasting that doesn’t mean that you do not have to eat.” Some will say, “I’m fasting sweets; or I’m fasting caffeine; or some try to put a “biblical” spin on it and say, “I’m doing a Daniel fast. I’m just not going to eat meat.” Funny thing is that Daniel never called that a fast.
Biblically speaking fasting always refers to a time in which one refrains from eating and sometimes drinking and sometimes for married individuals sex. In case you are wondering all unmarried Christian should always “fast” from sex. Fasting in the Bible is a time of prayer and repentance. It is a specific period of time set a side where God’s people sincerely seek after His will and blessings and direction.
Fasting is not a magic bullet that obligates God to do what we want. Yet it is a spiritual discipline where by we put ourselves in a place of intentional dependence on God so that we might more clearly hear from Him. There are not many better ways to experience need than to go without eating for a period of time.
When I fast it gives me the oppertunity to slow down. When I am hungry, I am constantly reminded of my need for food. When I am fasting my attention is more easily drawn to the task at hand – prayer. Ideally, a time of fasting involves one thing – prayer. I think fasting has a minimal effect when it is muddled with all our common everyday activities. Do, when we fast, though we may find it necessary to be involved with our daily tasks, let us set aside particular and intentional times devoted solely to prayer.
What about the “Daniel fast”? I really don’t want to be legalistic about this point. I think fasting is clearly depicted in scripture as a time in which one abstains from eating anything to devote themselves to prayer and repentance. Yet, the Bible does not lay out clear guidelines as to how we are to fast. I think God will honor any attempt we make to give up something so as to seek more diligently after Him. Yet, in fasting, if one chooses to simply refrain from meat, or sweets, or TV, or Facebook I think that they are falling short of the purpose of fasting. Is it good to give these things up for a time? Sure it is. But, the purpose of fasting is to set aside a time to simply seek after God through prayer.
Are you tempted to compromise in a time of fasting? And by compromise I mean, are you looking for excuses as to how you can eat something? Why? Do you have a serious medical condition? Do you have a very physically demanding job? Are you training for the Olympics? Or do you just not want to be hungry? Perhaps you are not able to go a few days without eating. But, perhaps you are. Maybe it’s just one meal. Maybe it’s one meal a day and all day on Saturday. Maybe God can help you do more than you can ask our imagine.
By Alan Ballard