Ilove to eat. That should come as no surprise to anyone. Like most men, I enjoy food and there isn’t a meal that I wouldn’t turn down if offered to me; I’m certainly not picky. Just make sure that it includes meat (bacon please) and some tasty carbs and I’m a happy guy. Chocolate wouldn’t hurt either.
During my years of unhealthy food consumption, I struggled with my weight. I found myself at the age of 30 heading down a path of obesity and unhealthiness. Food had become an idol for me and I knew that I had allowed it to master me. A physical issue had also become a spiritual issue for me and I was held captive by my weight and my sin.
During this season of life I began the journey of learning to say no to food and surrendering my need to medicate my struggles with fast food and sweets. After some nutrition shakes, exercise, and encouragement from my wife, I found myself shedding pounds, and eventually, my weight returned to a healthy state. Since that time I have come to understand that I allowed food to control me, and if I’m not careful, I find myself returning to that place very quickly, especially as the stress of family and ministry increase.
This is where the practice of fasting has come into play for me over the past five years of my life. I originally saw fasting as a way to manage my weight. By committing to a day or a period of time, I could lower the scale and stay healthy. But as I began to study God’s Word and practice the discipline of fasting, I discovered something much more satisfying.
Fasts technically refer to abstaining from food for spiritual purpose; however, one can fast from anything (Movies, Internet, Work, Hobbies) that would dull his or her hunger for God. Fasting allows us the opportunity to remove those things that typically numb our lives to focus on the glory and goodness of Christ.
A careful study of the Scriptures reveals a wide range of people who sought the Lord through fasting. This Hall of Fasting includes heroes of the faith like Moses, David, Elijah, Esther, Daniel, and Paul. God moves in great power when people fast. Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:1-11) and the elders in Antioch who sent out Paul and Barnabus for a missionary journey (Acts 13:1-3) display just a few of the stories that speak to the effectiveness of fasting.
Fasting allows us the opportunity to remove those things that typically numb our lives to focus on the glory and goodness of Christ.
Our Lord and Savior began his public ministry by heading out to the desert for 40 days (Luke 4:1-13). During that time in the Judean wilderness, Jesus fasted and prepared himself for what would be the next three years of his life, ultimately ending at the cross. Fasting is a biblical principle.
But is fasting a biblical commandment? There have been some who have tried to insist it is, but there are no Old Testament laws or New Testament imperatives that command regular fasting. The freedom of the Gospel releases us from external acts that merit salvation. What we do find in Matthew 6 is Jesus reminding his followers, “when you fast,” and then gives them instructions on the proper exercise of fasting. It is a natural assumption to Jesus that His disciples would fast as part of their developed relationship with God.
Fasting can be and should be a part of our developed relationship with God as well. It is a gift given to us by our Heavenly Father and allows us an opportunity to set aside things that can easily entrap us and fix our eyes on the one who sustains us. When I have personally fasted, I have come to understand that I do not live by bread alone, (or bacon for that matter) but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). I have become dependent upon the Lord to give me what I need.
There are several types of fasts that one can participate in. Partial fasts would include fasting from certain kinds of items such as coffee or sugar. Normal fasts would include abstaining from food but drinking liquids. Absolute fasts are the most extreme fasts and would include no food or water. This kind of fast should not be attempted without consulting with your doctor.
I have come to see that while fasting isn’t an imperative command, it is a necessary tool that we can use to seek after the Lord and allow him to make us more like Christ.
Over the years I have fasted, I have utilized the partial and normal fasts on a regular basis to focus my attention on Christ, to seek guidance in decisions, and to discipline myself against the sinful patterns of food consumption that I have struggled with over the years. King David said in Psalm 69:10, “I humbled my soul with fasting.” I know that my soul has been humbled as I have emptied my stomach of food, diverted my attention to God’s Word, and denied my fleshly desires.
In humbling my soul I have also found great peace and satisfaction in Christ. I have seen God provide answers in my life and I have seen Him move in powerful and redemptive ways in others. I have come to see that while fasting isn’t an imperative command, it is a necessary tool that we can use to seek after the Lord and allow him to make us more like Christ. I still love to eat, but I realize that I can be the master of my stomach, not the slave of it. I’ll leave you with some food for thought:
How does it help to know that fasting is a biblical principle that Christians can be expected to utilize as part of their spiritual formation?
What would be the value of fasting for you? What do you think that fasting would start to produce in you?
How might you start to incorporate fasting into your life as part of spiritual discipline that will draw you closer to the Lord? Think small and ease in. Don’t expect yourself to start with an Absolute Fast for 40 days!
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Image Credit: Jeremy Kunz, Creative Commons