A simple definition of fasting…
The voluntary abstinence of our appetites and our soulish longings to develop and deepen our relationship with God.
Isaiah 58 is probably the best and most concise instruction on the spiritual discipline of fasting in the Bible. Verse six lists the four reasons for fasting:
- To loosen the bonds of wickedness
- To undo the bands of the yoke
- To let the oppressed go free
- [To] break every yoke?” –Isaiah 58:6
Notice a progression from “loosening” to “breaking.” Often times there is a need for consistency and persistence in our praying and fasting.
Isaiah 58:7 provides some very practical, hands-on examples:
“divide your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh” (which means we are to look after one another and care for one another).
Isaiah 58:8-14 contains some amazing promises concerning the fruits, or benefits, of fasting.
A simple and straightforward passage to help us understand fasting is found in Psalm 35:13b: “I humbled my soul with fasting.” What’s going on here?
In Psalm 35 King David is crying out in agonized intercession to be rescued from his enemies. Part of David’s prayer is that he has humbled his soul with fasting.
It is widely believed that our soul consists of our intellect, will, and emotions.
When we fast, we are causing our intellect, will, and emotions to bow down so that the desires and the purposes of God can become most prominent!
When we deny our appetites and soulish longings and turn to the Lord through prayer and worship, there is a supernatural grace that is released upon us. The idea is to set aside regular times during a fast in order to seek the Lord and cry out for His kingdom to come (i.e., to be seen and experienced) and His will to be done—as we learned in the Lord’s Prayer.
There are several benefits that may come to us through fasting – all of which affect our relationship with God. I’ll give you eight:
- Fasting will sharpen our focus in prayer. (After we get beyond the initial discomfort caused by our various addictions such as caffeine, sugar, etc. 🙂
- Fasting will cause us to be more sensitive to God’s guidance in our lives.
- Fasting is a sign of repentance and expressing to God our desire to be responsive to His will and direction for our lives.
- Fasting was common in biblical times when the need for protection and/or deliverance was great (see Esther 4:16).
- As David articulated in Psalm 35, fasting is an expression of humility before God.
- Fasting is often the result of God’s people seeing a need and expressing their concern (see Nehemiah 1:3-4).
- When Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness after His baptism He was strengthened spiritually against the strong temptations of Satan. In fact, in Luke 4:14 it says that “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit“ (emphasis added).
- Fasting can be simply an act of worship and adoration with no other purpose than to thank and honor God.
Let’s talk for a few moments about the many different ways to fast…
- We can fast food and just drink water (or juice).
- We can eat vegetables and/or fruit only (see Daniel 1:8-17).
- We can choose not to eat any sugar or desserts.
- We can fast one or two meals a day.
- We can fast from sun-up to sun-down.
- We can fast television and/or social media and pray instead!
- Paul encourages married couples to occasionally fast sexual intercourse, “that you may devote yourselves to prayer…” (1 Corinthians 7:5).
- Before we fast, it is important to seek the Lord regarding what would be appropriate.
Finally, what are we fasting for? I can think of three distinct categories for our fast: 1) Our nation, 2) Our church, and 3) The needs and longings of our own families.
Regarding our nation we have the pandemic (almost 160,000 people have perished – that’s like almost 750 a day for every day of 2020), coming to terms with racial injustice, the economic instability, and the upcoming election.
For our church: Certainly, wisdom and discernment in a general sense. And then wisdom and discernment for how to move forward as a church. The literature that we’ve been paying attention to states that EVERY organization is now a start-up organization. We can’t go back; we can only go forward. We can pray for a permanent Lead Pastor – but before we start that our core values, mission, and vision as a church needs to be re-evaluated and re-calculated. We’ll attract a higher caliber of pastor if we get this done before we launch a search. Continued provision.
Regarding you and your family – if you’ve got kids at home invite them into identifying the needs and longings you have and pray together for those things during the fast.
 Adapted from Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology, InterVarsity Press 1994: 390-391.