Fasting is mentioned many times in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. It means going without something that’s important to us so that we can spend more time praying and drawing close to God.
Jesus did this himself right at the start of his ministry. He went without food in the wilderness, helped by the Holy Spirit, and came out of it able to resist temptation from Satan and being sure about what God wanted him to do.
Jesus clearly expects his disciples (that’s you and me) to fast. In Matthew 6:16-18 he says
“When you fast” not “If you fast”. He says: “When you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They make their faces look sad to show people they are fasting… So when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then people will not know that you are fasting, but your Father, whom you cannot see, will see you. Your Father sees what is done in secret, and he will reward you.”
So, what’s the point of fasting? It’s not about trying to impress God with how spiritual we are, and trying to twist his arm to get what we want.
Fasting helps us in several ways.
Firstly, fasting is a great way of remembering how much God has blessed us. You sometimes only really appreciate something when you have to do without it!
Secondly, fasting reminds us to pray. When your stomach rumbles because you’re hungry, it’s a bit like an alarm clock telling you it’s time to pray. You can then drive that hunger into a prayer, for example: ‘God I’m more hungry that you answer this prayer than I am for food.’
Fasting also creates time and space to pray more. If you give up TV or the Internet for one day, just think about how much time you’d have to pray! Fasting shows God that we are serious about getting to know him and about spending time in prayer.
You can give up different things in a fast, and the idea is to give up something that you would miss; something that means a lot to you.
Giving up food for a meal or more is one option, but you could fast from the TV, or give up chocolate for a while, or leave your phone at home one day. You’ll probably know which of those would be most difficult and therefore which God might want you to try.
It should go without saying that we mustn’t fast something that will harm us. If you’re ill, for instance, then you need to eat. Fasting food is also not a great idea if you’ve ever had a form of eating disorder. Be sensible. Always talk through your fasting plans with someone else who will consider your welfare.
So enjoy the self-discipline that fasting releases and see if you can hear or feel God more clearly. He wants to speak to you. He wants to transform you. Begin the journey of embracing fasting as a way to deepen your relationship with him.