Tuesday, 2 January 2018

The What and the Why of Biblical Fasting

A quick search on the internet will give you all kinds of ways and tips on how to fast. My aim is not to repeat all that good advice, rather it’s to give you a few biblical encouragements as to the what and why of fasting.

Firstly, fasting is not a uniquely Christian activity, nor does it have in and of itself of any spiritual value. It’s like money, its value comes in how you use it. When done well, fasting increases our appetite for God, brings our hearts in line with his, enables us to feel the kinds of deep longings that we know we should feel for him and makes us sensitive to the Spirit’s voice in our hearts. However, when it’s done badly, it makes us grumpy, self-obsessed, proud and entitled. Bad fasting makes God the servant of our agenda, rather than making us the servants of his.

Secondly, fasting without praying is like turning up to the cinema, but not going in to watch the film. There’s no point to it. That statement has to come with caveats, of course. We must avoid the fallacy of suggesting that a certain amount of prayer will obtain a certain amount of blessing. Nothing in the Bible makes such a crude formulaic connection. For example, a single person who can spend an extra hour a day praying when they fast, does not automatically, receive more blessing than the parent who can only spend an extra ten minutes praying in the day because they have to prepare meals for their kids and put them to bed etc. And there are always unforeseen things that call us away at certain times from the praying we set out to do. We don’t need to feel guilty about that. But all that said, fasting without making some conscious decision and effort to seek God in prayer either on our own or with others is pointless. God is our heavenly father, not our heavenly formula. He knows our hearts and the constraints on our time and energy. He sees the steps we make towards him (as well as the excuses) and is more than able to show us how to use what we have to honour him and bless the world. He is the multiplier of our efforts, not us.

Thirdly, by not eating, we remind ourselves that the body, as important as it is, is not the ultimate reality of our lives, our souls are. And when we use our time fast and seek God, we give a nourishing boost and “growth spurt” to our souls, (which by the way, will continue to grow in God forever when they get new bodies, after the death of these ones). Fasting is the deliberate humbling of these bodies of ours with all their desires, reminding them of their proper place in the order of the universe as servants of our souls, not masters of them, helping us to submit to God. It is the opportunity to remind our hearts of what is truly real and what will last forever, not just what will last for this lifetime.

Fourthly, fasting is not limited to food, you can fast from leisure activities too. But food and drink fasting and fasting from sleep are the only kinds done in the Bible and the benefit of fasting from food or sleep is that every time you have a rumble in your stomach or feel weary, it reminds you to lift your eyes to heaven and say “Jesus our eyes are upon you to do all that you have promised. Thank you for calling me into your amazing adventure. Help me to be obedient and effective in all that you desire!”

So why not fast? If you have fasted a meal before, why not fast a whole day? If you have fasted a whole day, why not fast a few days etc. What have you got to lose?

If you have never done it before, then try skipping a meal. For example, skip the evening meal and go to your bedroom, read the bible and then pray. Or skip lunch and go for a walk in a local park and pray as you walk. If you have a small child who is no longer breastfeeding, why not fast lunch and then pray when your child is napping? There are endless possibilities, we just need a little imagination and encouragement from others who have done it before.

Nothing truly great comes easy and yes, it is hard at times, but the benefits always outweigh the costs because, as we often say, you can never out give God. He will always give us more than we give to him.

Whatever you decide. be accountable to someone and remember, the main thing is to pray like Jesus prayed – that God’s kingdom becomes a reality on the earth like it already is in Heaven.