For the next three days, we are going to take a look at what the Bible has to say about fasting—perhaps one of the more misunderstood spiritual disciplines among Christians today.
One classic logical fallacy that our generation often falls prey to goes like this: “If something doesn’t make sense to me, then it must not make sense.” It can be easy to view fasting in this light, can’t it? If I don’t get it, then what is there to get?
I have a friend whose wife is a Pilates instructor. My friend, having no real interest in ever doing Pilates, once observed her class and jokingly referred to the workout as “jumping jacks.” We all had a good laugh until she challenged him to give it a try and see if it was as easy as he thought it would be. He agreed, and essentially got his lunch handed to him as he discovered that watching someone else do Pilates was a very different experience than doing it himself.
Fasting is like this. To look at it as an outside observer, we may wonder what not eating food for a period of time has to do with our relationship with God. But when we practice fasting ourselves, we find that while the answers may be hard to put into words, fasting is a unique and powerful way to worship God through the denial of our regular appetites.
When Jesus talks about fasting, He talks about it as an act of worship. In fact, Jesus assumes fasting will be part of our worship when He says, “When you fast,” as opposed to “if you should choose to fast” (Matt 6:16). Jesus tells us to use discretion when we fast so that it stays between us and God. This guardrail is there to keep us honest, lest we begin to think we’re owed something—like respect or praise—in exchange for our sacrifice.
Fasting is not a tactic we employ to get God to do things for us. We know this because God tells us He does not look upon the surface of things, but on the heart (1 Sam 16:7). Fasting is not a means to manipulate God by bolstering our self-righteousness. In fact, the minute we try to spin our fasting into self-righteousness, Jesus says, we already have our reward, and it is not with God (Matt 6:18).
Fasting is a way to worship by denying our regular appetites in order to cultivate a hunger for God. Fasting awakens our senses. It causes us to feel our frailty and need. And it helps us understand more fully what it means to know God as our provider—which is difficult to do when we go through life with our basest appetites always satisfied.
This is convicting when I think about my own life. Being honest, I would have to say that I rarely let an appetite linger. And I wonder what difference it makes in terms of my sensitivity to the Holy Spirit when I go through life essentially fat and happy all of the time.
A life of perpetual satisfaction must, of course, produce a small view of spiritual disciplines—like calling Pilates “jumping jacks.” But my small view does not make the practice of fasting small. It just reveals that I am small-minded when it comes to the practice of a spiritual discipline Jesus assumes will be part of the worship of the people of God.
Lent is a season where we anticipate and celebrate the greatest expression of self-denial in the history of the world—the death of Christ. Fasting is one way we can get a taste (no pun intended) of Christ’s self-denial, which we believe leads to our everlasting delight.
May the Lord continually deepen our experience of worship, and may He teach us to employ well the variety of means He has given us—like fasting—in healthy, God-honoring ways, so that we might draw near to Him in our hearts.
Written By Russ Ramsey