Over the last few months, I’ve written about spiritual disciplines like Bible study and prayer. This month, I’m tackling the topic of fasting. Here are some reasons we should be fasting, followed by a simple way to get started with this discipline.
The Bible assumes believers will fast.
Jesus expected His disciples to fast after He returned to the Father (Matthew 9:14-15), just as much as He expected them to pray (Matthew 6:5-7, 16-17). The early church fasted before sending out missionaries (Acts 13:1-3) and before appointing elders (Acts 14:23). We fast while we wait and long for Jesus to return for His church.
Fasting leads to us to slow down and reflect.
The task of church leadership usually brings with it busyness. There is always something else to complete, somebody to visit, or a meeting to conduct or attend. In fact, we sometimes equate busyness with faithfulness and leave behind our intimate walk with God. Fasting is a means to redirect our attention to Him by pushing away from our table to feast at God’s table.
Fasting reveals who we really are.
Fasting exposes whether we believe encountering the Eternal One is more significant than getting temporary satisfaction from food. At the same time, fasting brings our true self to light. When our hunger while fasting leads us to be grumpy, short-tempered, anxious, or faithless, we can instead use those opportunities to focus on God. Fasting often leads to repentance and renewal.
Fasting can be an honest expression of desperation for God.
Jehoshaphat and his people fasted and cried out to God when three armies rallied against them (2 Chronicles 20:3). The people of God mourned, prayed, fasted, and sought God after Ezra read them the law (Nehemiah 9:1). We, likewise, have desperate moments that call us to fast because we long for Him.
Fasting is a reminder we are not as strong as we think we are.
Leaders are often tough, persistent, and resilient. We push hard, replenish our strength through food, and then push hard again. Fasting, however, quickly reveals our limitations—we are finite people who need food. Even a short fast uncovers our struggle to deny self. The self-denial of fasting is seldom the direction we lean, but we must.
Need a way to start? Perhaps fast for one meal this week and focus on God during that time. You can later extend the time, but fasting even once can be a great starting point as you develop the habit. During your fasting time, read the Word more, pray more, and focus on Him more than anything. You won’t regret it.
Chuck Lawless is dean of doctoral studies and vice president of spiritual formation and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. For more from Lawless, visit chucklawless.com.