Fasting: What It Is & Why You Need It
Here’s my working definition of fasting based on what I see in the New Testament – Fasting is expected of Jesus’ disciples as a private expression to God of longing for His kingdom. So, let’s quickly break that down:
- Fasting is expected of Jesus’ disciples – Jesus did not say if you fast, but when you fast (Matthew 6:16). This expectation is exemplified in Jesus’ own forty days of fasting in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2) After Jesus fasted, He was hungry, so fasting involves temporarily giving up something you need or want. Normally, this means giving up food for a designated amount of time between you and God. Each time one feels the pain of hunger, they are reminded of their greater desire for God. For those with health needs and other considerations it could be something they might not need but rather want or enjoy – like a media fast. The time devoted to that activity is devoted to Scripture reading and prayer.
- Fasting is a private expression to God. Matthew 6:16-18 "And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast,anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. We see public fasts called for in the Old Testament by the nation of Israel (Ezra 8:21; Esther 4:16), and so fasting together as the people of God (the church), has biblical precedent. However, it does mean that even in our fasting together, we are not to call attention to ourselves for the purpose of displaying our willpower or supposed devotion to God – whether that be through moaning about how hungry we feel or posting about it on social media! Or, putting a message on our church sign which reads "FBC is Fasting!" To do so is to waste your fast – “they have received their reward”.
- Fasting is an expression of longing for God’s kingdom. Matthew 9:15 And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. Jesus is the bridegroom and the church is the bride. Jesus is coming for His bride. “Even so, come Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20). We fast because we long for Jesus to come back. We also long for Jesus to work through us by His Spirit now so that we see His kingdom breaking in during this present evil age. So we pray, as Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
- So why did Jesus fast? Jesus is mission-minded. Jesus was fasting in order to prepare for what lay ahead in regards to His mission in ushering in the kingdom of God (study all of Matthew 4:1-25 carefully – you’ll hear more about it on Sunday!). The purpose of Jesus’ fast is one worth emulating by His followers. So let us also fast in order to prepare for what lies ahead in regards to our mission of going and making disciples across the street (where we live, work, and play) and around the world.
If fasting is new to you, I would highly recommend you read David Mathis’ brief, excellent article "Fasting for Beginners". You can also read a free download of his book, Habits of Grace. Some other helpful resources include The Power of Prayer and Fasting by Ronnie Floyd and A Hunger for God by John Piper.