Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is strongly taught in the Bible. So why is it a relatively uncommon practice in Christianity today? Moses, Elijah, and Jesus all fasted for forty days. David, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel, John’s disciples, Anna the prophetess, Paul, and Barnabas and many others fasted. Some fasts were apparently supernaturally supported (such as Moses’ two forty day fasts without food or water), others were more natural (such as David’s fast “until evening” at the death of Saul and Jonathan). Some only involved sustaining from certain foods (such as Daniel’s three weeks without “tasty food”, meat, or wine). Fasting can take different forms and can be done for different reasons.
Of course, like any good thing, fasting has sometimes been abused. In some periods of Christian history it was part of an extremist asceticism. Jesus warned (Matthew 6) against fasting like the hypocrites who do it for show. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Our Western culture with its rules-based mentality and self-indulgent morality is way too quick to take Jesus’ warning against that behavior and make it into a rule that says we should never talk about our fasting. Reading it as a gag rule instead of the warning it was intended to be creates a leadership gap where we lack examples of respected leaders who practice this discipline. So let’s guard against our prideful motivations but not neglect our responsibility to lead by example. I’ve appreciated the example of Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru), for his years of leadership in this discipline.
One of the most intriguing biblical examples of fasting is in 1 Kings 21. King Ahab, spurred on by his wife Jezebel, is declared to be the most evil of all the kings of Israel. And yet this most evil of men humbled himself before God with fasting (1 Kings 21:29) and God responded by delaying the judgment He had declared on Ahab’s house. If God responds this way to evil men who humble themselves, imagine how He will respond to the humility of those who love Him!
At issue is the state of our heart. Our actions both flow out of our heart and influence our heart. So when we fast as an act of worship, we reinforce the heart condition and the actions that declare that nothing — even our self-indulgent appetites — are more important to us than God.
Fasting, in various forms, has been an important part of my spiritual life for years. For over a decade, I’ve wanted to do a forty-day fast, and at last I find myself with the opportunity to do so.
Not everyone is medically fit or spiritually called to a lengthy fast. But whether skipping a meal, staying away from a favorite food for a while, or some other form, I encourage you to prayerfully consider developing the spiritual discipline of fasting as worship.
To learn more about fasting wisely and safely, check out http://www.cru.org/training-and-growth/devotional-life/personal-guide-to-fasting/index.htm or Arthur Wallis’ book, God’s Chosen Fast.