The purpose of fasting is ultimately God himself. No matter how you fast, how long you fast, or what you fast, the objective is to align your heart directly with him. Think of this as the big picture purpose of fasting.
The small picture, the immediate purpose for a fast, can vary widely. So the first step for any kind of fast is to prayerfully consider and then declare your immediate purpose for your fast. Fasting can’t be done casually—no real spiritual benefit comes from a growling stomach. Like anything else in Christianity, just going through the motions is pointless. Put your heart into it. Genuine, purposeful fasting is a powerful discipline for the disciple of Jesus, it can and should play a part in transforming your life in Christ.
Still Not Sure What God Gets From This
There is a mystery to fasting and part of the reason we do it as Christians is simply because God wants us to. It’s an obedience thing. Jesus expects his disciples to fast, and obeying God, even when it’s difficult or seems strange, is always a good idea.
The physical implication of fasting is that it directly impacts one of our most basic needs as humans. God has built us into a physical world with physical needs, and the physical world directly impacts the spiritual. By staying away from food and focusing our attention on God, we discipline our bodies, strengthen our soul in God, and put into action our dependence on him. He provides us with life. Food is one primary way he chooses to do so, but moreover he is our source, and it’s he that sustains us (see Ps. 66:8-9, Acts 17:28, and Col. 1:17).
Be Careful What You Fast For
If you read through the Old Testament, you will find that fasting was often abused. When Jesus came on the scene in the flesh, his view on fasting directly contradicted the common fasting practices of the day. Let’s look at what Jesus has to say about it.
First, we have his example. When he was in the desert for 40 days, being tempted by Satan, Jesus neither drank nor ate (Matt. 4). This was an absolute fast. When Satan came against him, Jesus took him down with scripture. Nothing about what Jesus was doing indicated an attempt to appease God or twist God’s arm into doing something, nor is there any indication that he was trying to show the world how holy he was. What we see in Jesus’ fast instead is genuine and full reliance upon God (Please note that a 40-day absolute fast is an extreme discipline and you should not undertake one without the direct leading of the Holy Spirit and confirmation from other Christians, along with church leadership).
Second, Jesus spoke about fasting in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6, he says not to brag or be melodramatic while you fast, trying to get attention and praise from others. In other words, fasting isn’t about looking holy but about serving God and being obedient to him. Fasting is between you and him.
Though fasting is not a tool to impress people and get what we want, we do benefit in many ways when we discipline ourselves to serve God through fasting. By denying ourselves for a time, we provoke ourselves to rely more on Jesus. Said another way, it isn’t about changing God, it’s about changing us. In fasting:
- We pray more intently.
- We become more sensitive to God’s leading.
- We lean more on Scripture to hear God’s voice.
- We physically demonstrate repentance before our holy God.
- We physically declare that we need God to sustain us.
- We learn to better sense the spiritual reality all around us.
- We prepare ourselves to love others sacrificially.
- Lastly, fasting helps us to remember the true source of our joy.
Most people enjoying eating, and would agree that food is a good thing and a gift from God. All good things come from God in fact, but left to its own the human heart is always inclined to worship God’s gifts rather than God himself. Fasting helps our hearts to look past the good gift to our perfect God, who blesses us despite ourselves (see Matt. 6:16–18).
I Don’t Want to Fast
We don’t blame you. Fasting is, after all, sacrificial. It’s uncomfortable. But it’s also proactive. Even when we understand that fasting holds a hidden trove of rich benefits, we may not feel like we necessarily need those benefits right now. But think of fasting as similar to praise and worship. Joy often overflows into songs of praise, but even more often singing praises leads us into joy. We sing first and that brings us to a place of thankfulness and joy and then singing becomes our response. Likewise, when our souls overflow with godly emotions and repentance, we may be led to fasting, but far more often we need to choose to fast in order to be humbled and to fight our pride by rejecting the ways we so often cope with our feelings—possibly before we even realize we need to.
Preparing for Our Church-Wide Fast
As you continue to pray about and plan for our corporate fast together Monday, January 4 – Friday, January 8, read the other posts in this series and integrate the ideas presented into your fasting plan.