Fasting is a spiritual discipline with dramatic results. Let’s face it though; fasting won’t be popular in a culture where the least twinge in our tummies has us reaching for a snack! But hopefully some of the unpopularity results from unfamiliarity.
What is fasting?
To fast is to go without food for a set period of time for religious reasons. The purpose is not to lose weight, nor to make a “sacrifice.” The purpose is to do something under your direct control that will, in turn, enable you to experience the loving inflow of God’s life and power into your soul. It’s a way of gently setting your body before God so that inner transformation might take place—by God’s Spirit, not by your own striving and straining.
A centuries-long practice among Christians is to set aside one or two days of the week to fast. This normally means skipping breakfast and lunch, then eating your regular supper. Certainly other ways of fasting are also possible, as you feel led by the Lord. Even skipping just one meal a week to fast “unto the Lord” will have noticeable results.
What can you expect from the practice of fasting?
What you’ll find during your fast is that in spite of the discomfort of doing without food, your attention will be automatically drawn to Jesus during that period of time. You may be surprised at the sense of interaction you experience with God in your daily routine. Tasks you’d grown accustomed to doing almost without thinking, now can become occasions of real concentration, almost worship, as you do them in conscious awareness of the presence of Jesus with you.
I don’t want to mislead you. Fasting will be uncomfortable. It’s no fun to feel hungry, but it won’t be as bad as you think, and it does become easier with practice. In fact, if you ever take an extended fast you’ll find that the first three days are the hardest. After that you won’t feel nearly as hungry. When fasting, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that God gives you a sustaining strength to bear with the hunger. As you’re fasting you’ll be able to better understand the truth of Jesus’ words, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
What results come from fasting?
Like physical exercise, the benefits come afterward. There will be a feeling of satisfaction at having done something worthwhile. Dramatic answers to prayer may occur. You’ll find you have more faith and a sense of greater “anointing.” You’ll also gain compassion for those in the world who regularly go hungry. There will be a desire to continue your practice of fasting, even looking forward to the next time, because you enjoyed the interaction with God.
But the most important change that occurs from fasting is the inner dissolving away of the strident insistence that “my will be done.” Fasting allows you to become “Strong and sweet when you don’t get your way,” according to Dallas Willard, author of The Spirit of Disciplines.
One of the great liberties in Christ is the freedom to remain peaceful and content when you don’t get your way. The regular practice of fasting will bring about the ability to rest easy in God’s sufficiency for every occasion. Resting in God, more than anything else, frees your soul to love. Without your being aware of it, you begin to take on the motivations of Jesus, not from some outward pose, or inner straining, but from the depth of actual change. You become a blessing to be around—to yourself as well as others—and the people will see that you’re indeed a different sort of person.
Fasting breaks addictions and brings upon love.
Addictions arise from a need for comfort. Torn and damaged souls will seek comfort. Alcohol, drugs, food, sex, cigarettes and shopping are common ways people in our culture comfort themselves. These things work, but only up to a point. Then they destroy. For the one who’s ready to be free of addictions, fasting will provide a powerful means to set aside the seeming unconquerable force of the habit. The Holy Spirit will train your entire being through fasting to say “no” to self, and “yes” to God. Then you’ll be enabled to find your comfort in God.
Trusting Jesus Christ by becoming His disciple is the way into real life. As you trust Jesus and begin to learn from Him how to live life in the kingdom of God, you discover that the first effect of seeking Him and His kingdom is that you receive love. Turn your face to God’s face to constantly be receiving divine love. Much of Jesus’ instruction to His disciples in the Sermon of the Mount has to do with letting go of hurtful things, such as anger, contempt, lust, trying to impress others. Receiving love from God enables you to let go of such things.
When you become confident that this universe really is a universe of love, because God is love, and that this God is in covenant with you by His own action through Jesus, then you’ll be able to let go of trying to force others into your will. When you become confident that there’s an unseen hand guiding the details of your daily life, encouraging you, protecting you, covering for you and providing for you, then you’ll be able to let go of having to have your way, anxiously striving to appear impressive to others. When you become confident that God is leading you into paths of righteousness and restoring your soul so that your life may become a destiny of fruitfulness, then you‘ll be able to let go of haste. The result of this divine comfort for your soul is serenity. You really can “let go and let God.”
So where should you start with fasting?
Pray first. Ask God how you might proceed. If you’re just starting, pick a day in which you’re going to be busy, so you won’t constantly be thinking about food. If you’re a coffee lover, you‘ll probably want to still drink coffee—or wean yourself off the caffeine first. Then go without breakfast and lunch, but do plan to eat supper. If you have a family member or a friend who also wants to strengthen their relationship with Christ, ask them to join you during your first attempt at a fast. Then talk with them about what you learned or felt. Also, consider journaling about your experience, and don’t be upset with yourself if you fail. It’s okay if you skip breakfast, but aren’t able to last until lunch the first time. God will be so thrilled that you tried, so spend some time with Him asking for His strength during your next attempt at a fast.