In this post I will lay out a few basics of fasting. This is, by no means, exhaustive. It is very basic. For a very good and exhaustive study on fasting I highly recommend John Piper’s book "A Hunger For God." It can be downloaded for free here: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/online-books/a-hunger-for-god.
Let me begin with a few things fasting is not. First of all, fasting is not a means for manipulating God. Some folks believe that if they just fast, it will force God to take notice. But that is not fasting, it is really nothing more than a hunger strike. God is not interested in our hunger strikes. He will not be manipulated. Secondly, fasting is not to be a means for validating our righteousness. This is exactly the idea Jesus addressed in the Sermon on The Mount concerning the Pharisees. They would fast in public so that people could see how “godly” they were. But Christ informed them, and us, that they were displaying pseudo-piety that could be summed up with the word hypocrisy. Third, fasting is not a weight-loss routine, which is one of the only times fasting mentioned in our times. So what is fasting with the proper motive? Let me sum it up in three basic ideas.
1. To Draw Closer To God.
In his book Hunger For God John Piper wrote, “The birthplace of Christian fasting is homesickness for God.” Fasting is ultimately about God. This is the heart of fasting, not making sure that people see us fast, not to validate our righteousness. Fasting is all about drawing closer to God. It is about whole-heartedly seeking His will. In fasting we seek to draw close to the heart of God. It always centers on God. Luke spoke of the elderly woman Anna in Luke chapter 2 saying that “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” The key word in regards to fasting in that verse is the term worshiped. Fasting is an act of worship. Theologian John Wesley said of fasting, “First let it be done unto the Lord with our eye singly fixed in Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven.”
2. To Increase Our Sense of Dependance upon God.
In our affluent society we often forget just how dependent we are on God. When we are hungry, we rarely ask God to give us food, we get in the car and go get it. Jesus says that we are to pray for our daily bread. Bread not only represents food but is symbolic of all of our needs. Fasting reveals to us just how weak we really are, and that without God’s constant provision in our lives, we would not hold together. Fasting forces us to rid ourselves of the things we crave and appropriate our craving toward God. In the Sermon of the Mount, Christ said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled” (Matt 5:6). Jesus said in John 6:48-51, “I am the bread of life. 49 Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread , he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." Jesus basically said, “Hunger for me for I am the bread of life.”
He also told us to thirst for Righteousness. In John 4:10 Jesus told the woman at the well, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water ." Then pointing toward the drinking water he said, in verses13-14, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." Jesus basically said, “Thirst for me for I am the living water and in me you shall never thirst again.”
Fasting causes us to abstain temporarily from the things that temporarily sustain us and points us to the One who ultimately sustains us, and that One is our Father in Heaven. Fasting points us to our desperate need for God.
That is why you see folks in the Bible fasting during some of the most trying times in their lives. Here are a few instances: David fasted when God caused his child born to Bathsheba to become ill. The Bible says in 2 Sam 12:16 "David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground." When Nehemiah heard of the desolation of Jerusalem, he knew that this was a problem that only God could fix and the Bible says in Neh 1:4 "When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven." When Daniel contemplated from the Scriptures that Judgement was coming upon Jerusalem the Bible says, Dan 9:2-3, "I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes." Then perhaps the best known fasting passage in the New Testament occurred as Jesus went in the wilderness to prepare for his time of tempting by Satan. The Bible tells us, in essence, that he readied himself for that temptation by fasting. It says, "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, 'If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.' 4 Jesus answered, 'It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’" (Matt 4:1-4). Now, if fasting was an important part of Jesus’ relationship with the Father, demonstrating his reliance upon the Father, how much more are we dependent upon the Father and in need of practicing this spiritual discipline?
3. To Give More Attention To Prayer With God.
We can pray without fasting, but we cannot fast, biblically, without praying. In every biblical account of fasting, it is always accompanied with prayer. In fasting we devote special concentrated time to prayer. We pray when we would normally eat, as we seek the Lord’s heart and will. All of the great heroes of the faith have been folks who fasted and prayed with a great deal of intensity and determination as they sought the Lord’s will. Prayer was indeed their lifeline. Communication with the Lord is nourishment for the soul. Fasting expresses a special hunger for God, calling upon Him to be our nourishment.