Why should we fast? In our hectic, minute-to-minute world, why would anyone voluntarily choose to forgo the essential nourishment of daily meals? Some would say we fast in order to refocus our hearts and minds on what’s really important, in order to serve God better, but when your stomach is angrily protesting the lack of food, how can you focus on God? What are the benefits of fasting, both spiritual and otherwise?
These are some of the questions that can nag at the mind and make one wonder if this particular spiritual discipline is very profitable or even relevant today. Richard Foster, the author of “Celebration of Discipline” gives some insight into what fasting is for: “Fasting reminds us that we are sustained by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4). Food does not sustain us; God sustains us.”
Fasting is First of All Spiritual
“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? (Isaiah 58:5-6)
For the Christian, fasting is first and foremost a spiritual exercise. It’s about refocusing our minds on who God is, on what he provides for us (both spiritually and physically) and on knowing him better. As the prophet Isaiah wrote above, true fasting involves following the example of Christ and serving the needy.
So let me give you four benefits of fasting to help motivate you to take advantage of this chance for spiritual nourishment.
Four Benefits of Fasting
1.) Fasting reminds us that our physical hunger is a mere shadow of our spiritual need
Christ said, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
So often, we were are angry, frustrated, or otherwise in need, we think the solution consists entirely in a physical remedy. If I’m hungry, I eat. If my bank account is low, I take on another job and cut back on expenses.
While these are all necessary responses to real world situations, we miss the larger picture if these are the only ways we respond. Trials in our life are an opportunity to come before God and ask Him for help, like David did. “I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting” (Psalm 35:13). God promises to meet us in those times when we are weakest (2 Cor. 12:9).
2.) Fasting frees up additional time to spend in prayer and fellowship with God.
It’s an oft-repeated lament in our culture today that we are too busy, too preoccupied, and don’t have time for the important things in life. Fasting frees up meal times for prayer and reflection. While we contemplate the food we are missing, we can take time to meet those spiritual needs that often get forgotten.
3.) Fasting reveals the things that control us.
What are the idols in our lives that control us? For many, food is something we pursue with greater vigor than Christ, making it an idol. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything.” (I Cor. 6:12) “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (I Cor. 9:27)
Too often, I find myself making excuses for not doing what I should be, because of my physical wants. “I’m too tired this morning, I think I’ll sleep in instead of going to church” or “exercising is too painful because of my knee injury, I think I’ll watch a movie instead.” As pathetic as this sounds, we’ve all been there. Fasting is just one more way we can remind our bodies that they serve us, to be used for God’s glory.
4.) Fasting frees up resources that can be used to help others.
Finally, fasting frees up resources that can be used to help others. The chief accusation against the fasters in Isaiah 58 was that they denied themselves without serving others. Their fast was contrary to the will of God because it had nothing to do with living out God’s heart for the poor. When we fast food, television, movies, coffee, etc., we have an opportunity to take that money or time and invest it in the lives of those around us. Here at 58:, our goal is to help people incorporate that kind of sacrificial living into a way of life. We believe that this is nothing less than what the bible requires of us, and that if enough Christians join together in this way, we can end extreme global poverty. Will you see the power of fasting in your own life and the world around you? Will you join us?