Have you ever tried to fast and it is just downright painful? You find yourself getting edgy and counting the hours until it’s over? Or you were hoping to get an answer from God and it never came? Well here’s why fasting doesn’t work…
1. Christian Fasting Isn’t About Physical Benefits
There are many reasons why people fast today. Some do it for dietary and cleansing purposes, others use it as a form of health and fitness, while others do it just to lose weight. All of these can be very beneficial and provide tremendous physical benefits.
But the Bible approaches fasting from a spiritual perspective. In the Old Testament, fasting was usually associated with repentance from sin (Ezra 10:6-17) or sorrow over the death of a loved one. (2 Samuel 1:12) In the New Testament, fasting was more related to devotion and commitment. Jesus fasted for 40 days before entering into ministry. (Matthew 4:1-11) The elders in Antioch fasted before sending Paul and Barnabas into the mission field. (Acts 13:1-5) It wasn’t necessarily about repentance or death, but more about spiritual devotion and drawing closer to the Lord. Jesus highlighted this truth when asked why His disciples were not fasting.
Matthew 9:14-15 – Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
Jesus referring to Himself as the bridegroom and His disciples as wedding guests made the point that fasting is a way to remember, ache, or long (i.e. mourn) for someone who is gone. So why would His disciples fast when He is with them? They wouldn’t until He leaves. In other words, Christian fasting is a way to remember, ache, or long after the Lord. Its purpose is to redirect your hunger for food toward intensifying your hunger for God. It’s not about physical benefits. This type of Christian fasting doesn’t work.
2. Christian Fasting Isn’t About Impressing God
Often Christians will approach fasting in order to get God to do something for them (e.g. provide answers, direction, etc.). The focus usually isn’t about the Lord, but about impressing God and others through the sacrifice of fasting. Jesus addressed this issue in the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 6:16-18 – And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. … But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Christian fasting is about discovering those deeper more personally intimate places with the Lord. That is why Jesus said do it in secret. Don’t tell everyone you are fasting to draw attention to yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of indirectly impressing people with your spiritual devotion. That type of Christian fasting doesn’t work! But if it is done with the right attitude, Christian fasting can bring about a personal growth between you and the Lord. This is why it should also be accompanied with prayer. (Acts 13:3)
Finally, fasting can come in many packages, from abstaining from certain foods, to skipping meals, or not eating at all. You can fast for hours or multiple days. The important thing to remember is every time you feel hungry or have a desire for food that you turn to the Lord. This is done through prayer, worship, and reading God’s word. It is all about making the physical exercise a spiritual exercise, transferring your dependency on food to a dependency on the Lord.
So if you have never tried fasting or it “didn’t work” in the past, give it another shot with the right approach and attitude. All too often it seems this spiritual discipline has fallen by the wayside in Christianity today. Yet throughout scripture, we see it being practiced on a regular basis. Hmm, maybe we are missing something here?