But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:17,18).
Here’s a self-diagnostic question: when is the last time I fasted?
If you’re like me, your reaction to the question indicates a lot about your spiritual health in this area.
Fasting is the deliberate choosing to go without food for a period of time for a spiritual reason. So I have to ask: is fasting for me a regular discipline that honours Jesus as the Lord of my life?
WHY? One writer highlighted the value this way: fasting is “the voluntary denial of a normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.”*
HOW? Sometimes, with spiritual practices – like baptism – there is no specific “how to” passage in the Bible. Such is the case with fasting.
Nowhere in the Scripture are we told how often, for how long, or specifically when to fast (although in the law of Moses, Israel was commanded to fast annually for Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement); we are not instructed on how to fast corporately with other believers; nor are we told what is permissible to consume during a fast.
Here’s what is clear:
- fasting is a spiritual discipline,
- that was practiced by the people of God throughout the Scriptures (I can find 64 references),
- and was most actively taught and modelled by the Lord Jesus.
As such, fasting has been practiced by the Lord’s people – particularly people of great faith and significant accomplishment – for the last 3500 years of Christian and biblical history, and has been undertaken to seek God’s guidance and power, to solicit God’s response in the face of impending threat or danger, and to express repentance and humility.
Or sometimes, to simply seek God’s blessing on future work in the Kingdom of God. Example: as they completed their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in the local churches. As they sought the Lord’s direction they did so “with prayer and fasting, commit[ing] them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust” (Acts 14:23).
For the admittedly few Christians that practice spiritual fasting, the common practice seems to be to continue to consume water and/or fruit juices, but avoiding food.
Takeaway: in terms of application, this explanation maybe says it best: “There’s something about fasting that sharpens the edge of our intercessions and gives passion to our supplications. So it has frequently been used by the people of God when there is a special urgency about the concerns they lift before the Father”.**
*Richard Foster in Practical Christianity, LaVonne Neff, et al, editor, Tyndale House, 1987.
**Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney, p.157, Navpress, 1991.