It is funny that I am writing about fasting during our greatest season of feasting. Over the past two months, I have plopped down in a chair, sleepy and numb from a full belly, more times than I care to admit. I presume you know the feeling. Food is glorious.
Have you ever noticed, when you’re feeling all fat and happy, how that satisfaction makes you want to seek even greater comfort—perhaps in the form of pie, ice cream, or a nap? In that state, all our troubles seem so far away. This numb satisfaction, however, helps us understand one of the values of fasting as it is presented in the Bible. Just as feasting fosters a carefree compulsion to indulge in our own comfort, fasting fosters intercession—a concern for the burdens and needs of others.
Fasting is a great way to intercede for others. As a spiritual discipline, fasting stirs our hearts to pray for people and needs outside of our own. We see this modeled for us in Scripture. In the Old Testament, Ezra called for the people to fast as a way to intercede for the safety of their children (Ezra 8:21-23). In the early church, the Apostles fasted and prayed before sending Paul and Barnabas out as missionaries (Acts 13:1-3).
Jesus Himself fasted as a form of intercession. Before officially beginning His earthly ministry, Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for forty days and nights. In His weakened state He was tempted by the devil, and that temptation was treacherous. Satan told Jesus, “Look, You’re hungry, but You don’t have to be. Satisfy Your appetites. Live this way” (Matt 3:16-4:4).
Thankfully, Jesus responded by saying that man does not live by satisfying every appetite that comes along, but rather by hanging onto the Word of God. Those forty days were an occasion for the devil to try to lure Jesus away from His mission. But Jesus stepped from that fast into a three-year process of offering Himself up as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). His fast in the wilderness was a form of intercession for us. It was during that fast that He actively prepared to live and die on our behalf.
The denial of appetites helps us to look beyond ourselves. It keeps us out of that post-Thanksgiving, tryptophan fog where all we want is another layer of personal comfort. When we are uncomfortable, we better empathize with the discomfort of others. When we are hungry, we better relate to those in need around the world. Fasting tunes our hearts to seek God’s face on behalf of a world in need. It awakens our senses.
If you choose to fast as a part of your preparation to celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus this Easter, use that pang of hunger to remind you to pray for those in need of Him, and to thank Him for refusing to choose His comfort over your salvation.
Written By Russ Ramsey