Understanding Fasting

When hearing about fasting, we may feel excited, challenged or just completely confused. We're fixing up some facts and thoughts on the art of going without…

Taylor Satchell Reid

Man does not live by bread alone
Fasting isn't just about abstinence, it's about true sustenance. In other words, just giving up food or an activity is not the purpose of the task, it's about where we get our spiritual satisfaction from. We see this as clear as day in the desert, as Jesus spends 40 days being tempted by the enemy. One of the most famous interactions in the Bible sees Jesus being taunted in His hunger: "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.", to which Jesus replies: " Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." *(Matthew 4). Fasting is a time to make space for the Word. Regardless of our ability, physical need, and authority, there is a greater need in us to take in and live on the truth. In fact, Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy (a super early book of the Bible), which explains that we are humbled in our hunger and can be surprised by God's provision, mystery and Word. Fasting isn't all about giving up. It's about taking in what God has to offer.

It comes in different shapes and sizes
Now it might be unwise to go from a high calorie diet, to a fortnight of no food. But fasting is about humbling yourself and your needs - whether food, sex, water or 21st century social media. We have historical and biblical examples of specific food groups being cut, for example David ate just grains, veggies and water while mourning and refusing to bow down to false teaching. We also see Esther call her people to refuse water and food for 3 days. Also, 1 Corinthians 7 instructs husbands and wives to have sex, unless they are setting aside time to pray. We too can follow these examples, or fast things which are important to us. For some food is a no-go area due to body hang-ups or diet issues, so you may find you sacrifice more from a social media ban. Either way, truthfully finding your fasting vice is alright by us!

It’s often paired with petition
Fasting is for times when God is calling on your heart to do so. Whether it's a plea to humble yourself, stop something from happening or interceding for someone else, there is an element of conversation between you and God. Throughout the bible we see fasting paired with compassion, repentance, or sorrow. We see people putting aside their usual lifestyle to focus on praying for others, or seeking answers. It's not just a 'have-to' hobby but a 'need-to' necessity. It's a time to prioritise our needs and wants. A time to speak to God about what's making your heart hurt or getting you excited. It's lowering yourself, to put others above you - e.g. putting first someone's salvation over your sandwiches! Or something of the sort...

It’s not for show
Fasting is about you and God. Seeking in secret is a beautiful thing, and while it's fine to let people know for practical reasons or encouragement, it's not to be made about you. It's about God, others and battling sin. Isaiah 58 painted a pretty good picture of 'pantomime' fasting. Laying around, moping, groaning and grumbling may be our usual reaction when having missed lunch, but during fasting it's important to treat your hunger as part of your offering to God. That's kind of the idea! Putting aside your grumbling tummy for the sake of something more important. Fasting isn't suicide, and God is not sadistic, so let's carry it well!

Good things come
Fasting is about spiritual closeness and seeking. Decisions, hopes and blessings have historically come out of fasting and lifting God higher than ourselves. In the Bible, we have the city of Nineveh, which was due to be destroyed but was spared after a city-wide fast. We have the leaders in Antioch, in the book of Acts, who were spoken to in their fasting about sending Barnabas and Saul out to do great work. We also have kings being given mercy after pretty rubbish leadership decisions in the book of Kings. The point is, be expectant when fasting. It's a time, especially set aside to see God move and answer our needs. Whether we're looking for direction, help, or love, God is always there to give it. Fasting is just a way of showing we are here to receive it. The important thing is not to be disappointed when things don't work out the way we would have initially hoped. The success is in developing relationship and obedience, as well as seeing God's will unravel.

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