Spiritual Disciplines: Quick Guide to Fasting

Fasting is the discipline of intentionally depriving ourselves of something to cause weakness and discomfort in order to make more room in your spirit to rely on God.  It is a ‘controlled’ discomfort we inflict on ourselves so that we can gain the strength to rely on God when real discomfort and struggles come.

Why fast? “If we don’t feel a strong desire for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.” – John Piper

To paraphrase the above quote – we don’t always hunger for God because we feed ourselves too well from the world. Fasting is the opportunity to remove something of this world from ourselves for a period of time so we can learn to drink from the well of the Spirit once again in our lives.

Fasting can:

  • Prepare us for a difficult task ahead.
  • Help us to engage in Spiritual Warfare.
  • Mourn a loss.
  • Simply grow closer to God.
  • Help ground us in the discomfort of life many around us feel all the time.

Readings: Matthew 4:1-4, Matthew 6:16-18

There is no specific form fasting must take. It varies throughout the Scriptures and throughout Christian history. Some times you see a fast from food for a period of time, sometimes from certain types of food (i.e. Daniel), other times the fast isn’t related to food at all. For example, in 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul encourages a fast from sex.

Food Fasts: The most common form of a food fast would be to abstain from food, but still have liquids for a certain period of time. This can be any length of time. If you want to try this out, start out small, only a day at a time, from lunch to lunch or something like that.

Other types of food fasts may include abstaining from a certain type of food. Perhaps going on a temporary vegan diet, or avoiding snacks between meals for a lengthy period.

Always let your unit staff know if you are planning on fasting from food for a period of time. If you have any health concerns, consult medical staff before committing to a food fast.

Habit Fasts: Another type of fast commonly practiced in Christianity is to abstain from a habit or activity in your life that may be affecting you spiritually. This is often done during lent, starting on Ash Wednesday (February 14th this year) for 40 days, ending on Good Friday.

Could you go 40 days without drinking coffee? If your answer to that is no, maybe that’s a sign you should go 40 days without drinking coffee.
Could you go 40 days without watching TV? If your answer to that is no, maybe that’s a sign you should go 40 days without watching TV.

A fast is meant to be hard: If you go through a fast, you will find yourself frustrated quite quickly and rationalize a dozen reasons why its ok to break it. Pushing through these times is how you find those moments where you learn to rely on God.

It must also be remembered that fasting is not simply the absence of something like food or television. You are meant to fill that void with prayer, Scripture readings, confession, worship and other spiritual disciplines. In doing so, you begin to make room in your heart for God.

Fasting gives the most benefit when it is done regularly. Don’t expect a deep revelation from God because you didn’t eat for a day. Like any exercise, it takes time, practice and routine.

Be aware of the weakness fasting will cause you. Being hungry makes you irritable. Not watching will make you bored. You’ll get frustrated and antsy. Temptation will be harder to resist. Be aware of these times, anticipate them, and use them for prayer and worship.

Let somebody know you are fasting to help hold you accountable, but don’t brag about it to everyone. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6, if you fast for glory, that will be your only reward.

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