A few years ago, I was talking to a fellow pastor colleague about fasting and explaining the rich fruit and spiritual depth you can achieve on a fast. After listening to my argument, my friend responded bluntly, “Nope, won’t try it. Can’t abstain from food or I’ll go crazy.”
I walked away from that conversation thinking, “I remember when I once thought and felt like that.” I felt bad for my friend, because I knew they were truly missing out on a great spiritual opportunity, all because they couldn’t imagine not being enslaved to food.
I was 20 years old when I tried my first fast and the element of that early experience that I most remember is how ridiculously slow time seemed to move. In the midst of that fast, 10 minutes felt like 60 minutes… and why did an hour feel like an entire afternoon? Once I made the decision to fast, I was also suddenly aware of how hungry I was and I just couldn’t take it!
But over the years of being a disciple of Jesus and growing up a bit, I have learned how to manage my hunger and have been able to successfully complete fasts. By doing so, I experienced many incredible things happening in my relationship with God and in my life. Through fasts, the Lord brought forth new and fresh revelations that helped me heal from past hurts. He restored relationships and helped form a stronger image of Christ in me. Fasting has helped me grow closer to God and heal from old wounds.
But before we go any further, let’s first define what a fast is:
Fasting is creating an appetite for God. It’s a way to lean on Him with purpose and intention during a set period of time.
Historically, fasting has been utilized as a way to seek God’s will, although fasting is not a magical formula that will automatically produce the results you want from God. (2 Samuel 12:16-20).
The bottom line is that fasting should be done to grow closer to God, to remove an element from your life and replace it with a special focus on God for a period of time.
Fasting is intentionally saying no to something like sweets, snacking, or even television while saying yes to spending time with the Lord.
A fast is supposed to be a clarifying practice that helps you detach from distractions and temptations and instead attach to God.
Scripture About The Spiritual Discipline Of Fasting
Acts 13:2 (NLT) One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.”
Acts 14:21-23 (NLT) 21 After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, 22 where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. 23 Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
Exodus 34:28 (NLT) Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.
As highlighted in Scripture, can you see what happens when fasting occurs? As you detach from something and reattach to God, you provide the Lord the attention and space to move more profoundly in your life. As demonstrated in Acts, the early church used fasting to appoint the right people to leadership. And Moses fasted 40 days and 40 nights before receiving the 10 Commandments from God!
And then there is our Messiah, Jesus, who before starting His public ministry went into the desert to fast for 40 days and 40 nights so He could prepare for His ministry (see Matthew 4).
Do you see the significance and power a fast has? However, a fast only has that power if you replace the thing you are fasting from with the presence of God through prayer, worship, Scripture reading, etc.
A fast simply allows God the room to speak louder and clearer. This happens when we practice self-denial and instead run to the Lord, which enables our heart and mind to become less cluttered, and far less distracted. Additionally, we learn insights on a fast that we typically wouldn’t see or experience when our heart and mind is genuinely wrapped up in the Lord and not consumed with satisfying immediate needs or desires.
In this way, self-denial is what you are practicing when you fast.
And no, self-denial isn’t usually something most of us run to with eager and open hands! But the value of practicing self-denial can produce clarity and help you achieve results.
Just about an Olympic athlete, of any good athlete for that matter and, how they achieved success. For these dedicated people, they reach their accomplishments by saying no to a wide range of distractions while saying yes to one thing-their goal. The same principle applies to fasting.
So let’s turn to Scripture to learn a bit about self-denial
Scripture About Self Denial
(Referencing Jesus) Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. (Mark 8:34)
So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29)
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward. (Hebrews 11:24-26)
It is in this last piece of Scripture, Hebrews 11:24-26) that I really want to focus on. Look at what self-denial did for the people of God. Had Moses not denied the royal lifestyle he found himself born into, God’s people would have remained enslaved. But Moses looked beyond the comforts of his present to the reward of the future. And honestly, many of God’s prophets and leaders in the Old Testament practiced self-denial for the sake of God without reaping the rewards of being with Christ. (Hebrews 11:39-40)
Self-denial isn’t an attractive concept in a world driven by self. Our culture, well here in America, is “my truth” – “I’m just doing me”, and so forth. When we have an “extra” worldview, a “treat yourself” kind of mindset then self-denial just can’t coexist with self-service.
Furthermore, another point of friction is because self-denial goes against the instantaneous way of life we have become accustomed to. You don’t even have to leave your house anymore (and this existed before COVID-19) to get food delivered to you from any restaurant or grocery store. You can order many products on Amazon and have it delivered to your door the very same day, depending on where you live. While all of this can be an incredible convenience and helpful it also can be a destroyer of patience and patience is a Fruit of the Spirit.
Our world is built to turn us away from self-denial, so fasting can be a great way to reconnect with ourselves and help us to develop patience and a more balanced approach to life.
So with all of this said, let’s explore a few ideas for thinking about what kind of fast might fit your life and help you eliminate a distraction while focusing more intensely on God.
Types of fasting you can try:
- Fasting from caffeine
- Fasting from diet drinks
- Fasting from refined sugar
- Fasting from simple carbs
- Fasting from coffee
- Fasting from excess calories
- Fasting from snacking
- Fasting from a meal
- Fasting from food altogether for a short period of time
These are just a few suggestions but you could fast from all sorts of things. Here’s some nonfood related fasts
- Fasting from social media
- Fasting from television/streaming
- Fasting from your phone
- Fasting from indulgence (you define what your indulgence is)
- Fasting from sleeping in
What fasting produces:
Fasting is a reset button.
There is so much God can bring about in a fast. Some of the wide variety of things that God can reveal are:
- A clearer understanding of God’s voice and movement in your life
- A deeper connection to God
- A reveal of heart conditions such as gluttony or
- To help you crave God more than earthly/temporal things
- To create a desire for you to seek God’s will in all areas of your life, especially your consumption.
- Can allow the Holy Spirit to help you form patience and other Fruit of the Spirit
Is fasting right for you? Without knowing all of your unique needs and circumstances, I hope you see that there are many ways to incorporate fasting in your life and use it as a special means to develop your spiritual life while growing closer to God. Fasting has been used throughout the history of God’s people, and the value of it for our lives is just as relevant today as it has always been.
Best wishes to you as your explore fasting and how it might be right for a season in your life and journey with Jesus.
Make sure you get the worksheets that accompany this post so you can put all the material from this article into practice. You’ll be able to access the worksheets by entering your email below.