“Whenever You Fast…”
Eating is both for our survival and our socializing. So, when we engage in fasting as a spiritual discipline, it upsets the normal activity of life. It is unnatural because we need food and we need people. By fasting, we reveal a hunger for something that is eternal. We long to have a deeper communion with God. During fasting we willingly forgo what fuels our body to connect with the One who saves our soul.
Many Christians have never fasted. In fact, for many readers, this is the first time they have encountered any material about it. But Jesus made it clear that fasting can be a part of our lives. In Matthew 6:16, Jesus said, “Whenever you fast . . .” and then gave instructions. By neglecting this discipline, we neglect a powerful work by God in our lives. A life that is forever absent of fasting will not encounter a specific kind of testing that purifies our faith. We will miss out on how the Holy Spirit can alert us to the childish nature of our basest hunger. Refusing to fast, we will never know a deeper level of desperation that causes our soul to reach toward God, our provider of His good gifts. Fasting is hard; thus it is a discipline. But without it, we may not know how to fully satisfy our spiritual hunger.
Fasting is an interruption to your life. But understood as a spiritual discipline, it is much more. So let me offer a working definition of this activity. Fasting is a spiritual discipline that completely or partially eliminates food and/or drink in order to spend mealtimes in prayer for biblical purposes. Now, let me break it down phrase by phrase.
As with all that we are exploring, fasting is a spiritual discipline. With this activity, we place love at the heart of what we do and why we do it. But you and I must acknowledge that it requires effort. Perhaps more than many of the other disciplines, fasting takes a level of willpower we’re not accustomed to exerting. For fasting, we need to take note of both words in the phrase “spiritual discipline.” It requires discipline of our will. Your body will rebel against your willpower. Staying with the fast won’t be easy.
Besides being a mere discipline, fasting needs to be spiritual. If you are fasting to lose weight, then you’re just on a bad diet. Fasting to go along with a holiday is just moralism. Fasting must be done with your spiritual relationship to Christ in mind or it is simply a waste of your time. It is a biblical practice done for kingdom purposes. Trusting God for your body’s care will of necessity increase when you fast.
Adapted from my latest book, Habits for Our Holiness. To discover more about this spiritual discipline, take a look at chapter five: A Hunger for the Unknown.