In his book The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard writes: “Fasting unto the Lord is therefore feasting—feasting on Him and on doing His will.”
Fasting is an ancient practice that prepares us to focus our attentions on God and His priorities; an intentional replacing of one thing we enjoy to embrace another enjoyment. The true focus of fasting is always God Himself, and His presence and purpose in us.
All of us need a few solid disciplines to pull us back from the busyness of “doing” to a more contemplative environment, a space where we meet God and experience His glorious presence. That sounds pretty good, right? So why is it so difficult for some of us get our arms around the spiritual discipline of fasting?
Well, some people have other disciplines they’ve grown accustomed to; they find true connection with God through worship or prayer, some through solitude, and others through acts of service. Some people really enjoy eating and find it difficult to go without food. Breaking away from daily routines can be challenging. For some of us, fasting seems simple, but the practice of fasting is complicated by all sorts of issues that conspire to weaken our resolve.
Reasons to fast
There are a lot of good reasons to fast. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, writes: “Jesus takes it for granted that His disciples will observe the pious custom of fasting. Strict exercise of self-control is an essential feature of the Christian life. Such customs have only one purpose—to make the disciples more ready and cheerful to accomplish those things which God would have done.”
Self-control can be difficult and is only achieved by practice. It’s a “keep on keeping on” discipline that is strengthened by consistency and pushing beyond self. The more you fast, the more you will appreciate the closeness to God it brings, the peace you enjoy in His presence. It seems that Bonhoeffer believed that one is the result of the other—that the discipline of fasting nurtures our readiness to embrace the things of God and the joy that comes with it. That’s a pretty good reason to fast.
Fasting is an ancient practice that prepares us to focus our attentions on God and His priorities; an intentional replacing of one thing we enjoy to embrace another enjoyment.
Fasting in the Bible
In the Bible, we find that some wonderful heroes of faith fasted. Most of us know about Daniel and his commitment to abstain from fancy foods. They named a particular type of fasting after him. Samuel, Esther and Joel gathered big groups of people to fast and pray, to seek God and His divine favor. King David humbled himself by fasting.
Nehemiah and Jonah both fasted to intercede for people who needed a greater realization and dependance on God. Jonah even got a king to call a nationwide fast to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness. They all wore sackcloth and sat in the dust to pray and repent of their evil ways. You know what the outcome of all that prayer and fasting was? They focused on God rather than themselves, and God poured His compassion over them.
In the New Testament, we see that during a time of prayer and fasting, some church leaders in Antioch heard the Holy Spirit direct them to set apart Paul and Barnabas for “the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2, NIV). We know the rest of the story and are likely the direct beneficiaries of that fasting and prayer time in Antioch.
And then, of course, we have Jesus. He took time off to focus on His relationship with Abba Father. He intentionally focused His desires on the one who mattered most to Him. During one of His fasting times, Jesus was tempted to conjure up a snack. His response to the tempter was, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). What a powerful truth: We are divinely sustained by what God gives us.
The first step to being sustained by every word that comes from God is to pull back from the busyness of the world around us long enough to differentiate His words from all the other words that make up our human understanding. They are distinctly different. Jesus showed us how to awaken our soul to the glorious presence of God. Fasting and prayer, working together, wake us to focus on the divine yearnings that God created in us to enjoy Him and seek His amazing, beautiful, healing, powerful presence.
Different ways to fast
There are lots of ways to fast, and types of fasts. Some people fast from different types of food or skip a meal or two to use that time to pray. Some super-fasters go for prolonged periods of time without any solid food. The method is not the real issue, so go ahead and pick what is best for you or what you feel God prompting you to do.
Remember, planning what you will do during your fast is as important as planning how you fast. Pick some good scriptures to meditate on, or a specific issue that really requires some time alone with God.
Whether you are a “faster” or a “wanna-faster,” please push deep into the pious custom of fasting. Expect God to meet you in the solitude of your chosen fast and draw you closer to Him. He loves spending time with you. Whatever level you’re at, push deeper and more often.
One last thought. Fasting from food isn’t the only type of fast. Jesus spent an afternoon ministering to a broken woman. He brought healing to her fractured sense of self and showed her that God had so much more for her than she realized. When His friends asked Him if He wanted some food, He wonderfully said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34, NKJV). Jesus was filled by caring for this wounded soul. He focused His time on her needs, and in return, His needs were met by God’s special soul food.
This type of fast is much like the true fasting that Isaiah spoke about: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isa. 58:6-7, NIV).
I believe this type of fasting is really needed today. Our world is desperate for some chain-busters and shelter-providers. Maybe this should be your chosen fast?
All fasting is the intentional setting aside of self to focus on God and His presence and plans for you. Please join us and fast as a Foursquare family. Whatever your fasting preference, feast on the words of God and His presence in all you do.