Fasting: What is It?

This will be a fast blog.  That doesn’t mean it will be short, but that it is about fasting.  I know this isn’t the most popular subject around today, but it is something God has put on my heart about which to blog so here goes. 

As we begin it’s important to define what we are talking about.  Fasting usually makes us think of going without food, but fasting is a voluntary abstinence from any legitimate pursuit for spiritual reasons.  Notice it must be voluntary, not induced by health constraints.  It must be from a legitimate pursuit, not something sinful or out of bounds for a Christian anyway.  And it must be given up for spiritual reasons, not dietary or medical reasons.

While fasting usually refers to abstinence from food, it isn’t limited to that.  I Corinthians 7:5 refers to abstinence from sex in marriage for a short period of time in order to focus more exclusively on prayer.  It must be done with the agreement of both husband and wife.

Today we can often benefit from voluntary abstinence from other ‘lusts’ as well.  For example, fasting from shopping (except grocery shopping) for a time can help focus our spiritual lives and teach self control. 

Fasting from the media (TV, cable, radio, magazines, newspapers, etc.) can give us more time to use for spiritual pursuits like Bible study and prayer.  When I am in India for a month I lose all contact with the western world and its news media.  The first time there I couldn’t even find out who won the Super Bowl!  I found, though, that life goes on the same if I read about it or not.  There is nothing wrong with keeping up with the news, but when we want to find extra time and focus for spiritual things then a media fast might be just the thing.

The same effect can be found by fasting from forms of entertainment like the internet, video games or movies.  Anything that seems to have too high a place in life, anything that competes with God for your time or love can be the object of a fast.  Hebrews 12:1  “ Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles… “ 

In her book, “A Closer Walk”, Catherine Marshall writes: “One morning last week He gave me an assignment: for one day I was to go on a fast from criticism. I was not to criticize anybody about anything.  “For the first half of the day, I simply felt a void, almost as if I had been wiped out as a person. This was especially true at lunch…I listened to the others and kept silent…In our talkative family no one seemed to notice. Bemused, I noticed that my comments were not missed. The federal government, the judicial system, and the institutional church could apparently get along fine without my penetrating observations. But still I didn’t see what this fast on criticism was accomplishing – until mid-afternoon.  “That afternoon, a specific, positive vision for this life was dropped into my mind with God’s unmistakable hallmark on it – joy! Ideas began to flow in a way I had not experienced in years. Now it was apparent what the Lord wanted me to see. My critical nature had not corrected a single one of the multitudinous things I found fault with. What it had done was to stiffle my own creativity.”

Fasting isn’t just about food.  What would God have you take a temporary break from in order to grow spiritually?  What legitimate pursuit should you have a temporary abstinence from in order to grow spiritually?

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