In a culture where the landscape is dotted with shrines to the Golden Arches and an assortment of Pizza Temples, fasting seems out of place and out of step with the times. It doesn’t get much attention among Christians today, but it is an important tool in our tool-box of weapons which God provides to enable us to live a victorious and abundant Christian life. Because we don’t use this tool we miss many benefits which it can bring. Using the right tool for the right job is crucial. Fasting is a tool we must better learn to use.
First lets eliminate some things fasting DOESN’T do. It doesn’t inspire or provoke God to love us more – He can’t possibly love us any more than He does (Malachi 3:17) and it is unconditional love which has nothing to do with what we do or don’t do. Neither does fasting make God enjoy us more for He already totally delights in us (Zeph. 3:17).
Remember that fasting isn’t a get rich quick scheme to become instantly holy. God has already made us holy and blameless through Christ’s finished work on the Cross. We don’t fast to get more of God but that we would experience, in a more profound way, the reality of God’s presence in our lives. Likewise, we don’t fast for God to forgive us. That comes with confession and isn’t based on anything we do or don’t do.
Also, fasting is not a substitute for forgiveness. Some people fast as penance… as though their fasting will somehow balance out their disobedience. Sometimes, when a believer isn’t walking closely with the Lord, when the inward reality of their faith has begun to fade, they will retreat to the outward forms of the faith such as fasting. I suppose this makes sense… there is nothing on the inside, so they attempt to adorn their outside with religious garb. It doesn’t work. The bottom-line in all of this is that whenever we embrace a spiritual discipline in order to get God to love, enjoy, or forgive us, we have gotten ourselves into legalism.
Do you get the picture? We don’t fast to get God to set His heart towards us… but rather because God has already set His heart toward us and we are so secure in our weakness and the grace of God that we want to experience His grace more deeply. Because He is so indescribably lovely, we want to give ourselves over to Him more fully.
So what benefits do come from fasting? For one thing, fasting increases our sense of humility and dependence on God. It accomplishes this by showing us just how little strength we actually possess and how much we need the Lord (See Philippians 4:13). It helps us be broken in His presence so He can fill and use us for His glory.
In a practical way, fasting increases the amount of time we spend in prayer. Instead of eating or being involved in whatever activity it is we are turning from we have extra time to devote to prayer and Bible study. Try combining prayer and Bible study by praying through Bible passages as you read them. Make a list of others you can pray for. God’s Spirit will put names in your mind and prompt you as to how to pray for them.
Another result of fasting is that it reminds us that we must put Christ first in everything. Additionally, it is a good exercise in self-discipline. It strengthens us to be able to refrain from other things such as sinful temptations as we learn to control our appetites and lusts. Food is our greatest legitimate need after breathing, so learning to deny that drive helps us have victory over other drives which are sinful. This is especially true of learning to gain victory over lust for food, immorality or things. Even as athletes train their bodies for physical contests, fasting trains our spirits for spiritual battles.
Such a fast is called for in situations where you or I face a sin that constantly ensnares us. If we are willing to pay the price of fasting and praying, we can know deliverance from that sin, and the joy that follows! A decision to fast in such a situation demonstrates to God that we are truly serious about our repentance, that we sincerely long for new life in that area, and that we are willing to pay any price to have victory over the sin.