Are there compelling reasons to fast as part of our relationship with God? Here are 5 reasons you should try this spiritual practice.
Fasting is a forgotten spiritual discipline in many Christian circles today. The main reason people don’t fast is that fasting is not fun. Why would anyone willingly give up food for God? What does a hungry belly have to do with spirituality? Are we missing something?
There are many other things that you can (and probably should) abstain from to grow spiritually. People talk about “fasting” from social media, Netflix, drugs, alcohol, soda, chocolate, and the list goes on and on.
While it may be beneficial to give some of those things up for a while, fasting refers explicitly to food when we read about it in Scripture. The biblical definition of fasting is abstaining from food to depend on God.
Here are 5 reasons you should try fasting as part of your walk with God:
1. Jesus expected his followers to fast.
There is a passage in Matthew 9:14 where the Pharisees question Jesus about his disciples not fasting. If we are not careful, we might read this as permission from Jesus to skip this discipline. If you look closer, you’ll notice that while the disciples didn’t fast during the ministry of Jesus, they were fully expected to after he left them.
“The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matt. 9:15)
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lists fasting as one of the three righteous deeds ordinary Jews all practiced. Once again, Jesus doesn’t instruct people not to fast. He tells people not to fast (or give or pray) to gain attention. Notice the language, “when you fast” (Matt. 6:14).
Jon Tyson from Church of the City New York sums it up well: “Jesus assumes that one of the three core practices of his disciples was giving which we get, prayer which we love, and fasting which we totally neglect.”
2. Fasting teaches us to say “no” to your desires so you can say “yes” to God.
Our modern culture lives by the narrative, “if it feels good, do it.” This sensual mindset is nothing new. Paul described the secular culture in the ancient world:
Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Phil. 3:19)
There is nothing wrong with eating food or having bodily appetites. The problem is when your god is your belly.
“If we can master denying a normal appetite, we can get better at denying sinful desires.”
There is a reason Paul frequently used the term “flesh” to refer to the more sinister and sinful desires that we have. What you do with your body impacts your soul (your entire self). If we can master denying a normal appetite, we can get better at denying sinful desires.
John Mark Comer explains this idea in Live No Lies,
“Fasting trains our bodies to not get what they want. At least, not all the time. This is yet another reason why, in a culture so run by feelings and desire, fasting is a bizarre idea even to Christians. We assume that we must get what we want to be happy, and by want, we often mean what our flesh wants. This simply isn’t true.”
3. Fasting is a way of mourning with your body.
Another reason why American Christians neglect fasting is that we are bad at mourning. When someone is sad, we usually prescribe Ben & Jerry’s. We use food as a coping mechanism to distract us from our pain.
“When someone is sad, we usually prescribe Ben & Jerry’s.”
When David heard that King Saul and Jonathan died, he tore his clothes, wept, and fasted (2 Sam. 1:11-12). David fasted as a way of mourning loss. When Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem were still in shambles, he fasted and prayed day and night (Neh. 1:4). Nehemiah wasn’t only grieving this tragic situation; he was also mourning the sins of the Israelites.
4. Fasting turns up the volume in your prayer.
I’m not saying that you can manipulate or twist God’s arm. King David fasted while mourning his adultery with Bathsheba and praying for their child to get well (2 Sam. 12:15-18). The child still died. No amount of fasting from David would change God’s sovereign judgment in that situation.
Here’s what I do know. When God’s people want to show humility and genuineness in their prayers, they fast. Consider the evil King Ahab. When he heard of Elijah’s prophetic judgment, he repented through sackcloth and fasting.
“When God’s people want to show humility and genuineness in their prayers, they fast.”
Look at what God said to Elijah.
“Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house.” (1 Kings 21:29)
Even a corrupt king of Israel demonstrated his sincerity to God through fasting. If you are serious about discerning God’s will, petitioning a request, or interceding for others, then you should mix prayer with fasting.
5. Fasting grows compassion for the poor.
According to World Vision, “Globally, about 8.9% of the world’s population—690 million people—go to bed on an empty stomach each night. Since 2014, the number of people affected by hunger has been slowly on the rise. If it continues at this rate, it’ll exceed 840 million by 2030.” A global pandemic, supply chain issues, and economic hardship only make things worse.
In every culture, meals play an integral role in community and fellowship. Yet, there are millions of people worldwide who don’t have a seat at the table. When you feel hunger pains, you feel something for people who experience food insecurity.
“When you feel hunger pains, you feel something for people who experience food insecurity.”
God doesn’t only care about your pious personal activity. He wants us to let justice roll like waters. Fasting is a way to hunger and thirst for righteousness.
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Is. 58:6-7)
If you want to fast for justice, consider donating the money to others that you would have used buying yourself lunch.
(For more from Joshua, check out joshuabranham.com.)