Growing up as a Christian, I often heard people talking about fasting. It is a Christian discipline. It is very important to exercise Christian disciplines in our life as believers, but how do we know when to fast, is there a good and bad time to fast?
When do Christians fast? There is not a particular time when Christians fast, but believers often fast to focus on dealing with particular issues, similar to what many characters in the Bible have done.
While fasting is one of the lesser practiced spiritual disciplines, it is very important to growing in our faith as believers. When looking at the Bible we can see many times people have fasted in both the Old and the New Testament and different reasons they had behind fasting.
Fasting Before Christian Holidays
A popular time Christians fast is in anticipation of Christian celebrations. There are no specific mandates in the Bible to fast before Christian holidays, but it has become popular as the true meaning behind some celebrations is being lost.
Fasting has helped focus Christians on what and who we are truly celebrating.
Easter is an essential holiday for Christians. Forty days before Easter is known as lent, which is the most common time Christians fast.
This time of the year is most popular because it represents the forty days that Jesus fasted in the desert, as it says in Luke 4:2,
For forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days.
Forty days following the resurrection of Jesus, Pentecost is celebrated, the time when the Holy Spirit descended on believers. While this is not celebrated as widely as Christmas and Easter it is still an important time as believers to focus on all God has done, which fasting can help with.
The Correct Reasons for Fasting
It is very important when fasting that we as believers have the correct motivation while fasting. Coming straight from the Bible fasting is not a time to flaunt what we are doing to get attention.
We fast for the Lord. Don’t draw extra attention to your fast.
Matthew 6:17,18 says exactly this,
But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.
Our focus should be on Jesus when we fast and not on other people and what they think of you.
Incorrect Reasons for Fasting
When looking for the approval of others when fasting we miss the whole point, we see in the Bible that when we do it for the public recognition we already have our reward.
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their rewardMatthew 6:16
We also do not want to fast with the motivation of being commended by God. Although we are doing it for God, fasting only to earn something creates the wrong heart behind the fast.
There are benefits when fasting but when we only strive for the benefits and not because of our heart for God and others, we might as well not fast.
Our salvation is not dependent on fasting like other religions, when we fast we are simply doing it for God. Our salvation is based in our faith in God alone, not our actions.
Fasting for Personal Spiritual Growth
While fasted is talked about throughout the Bible, there is never a circumstance someone fasted without motivation.
Fasting is usually spurred on by something important happening or going to happen. When spiritual battles happen in life, this is when many Christians will start to seriously invest in the word, and to keep their focus on only God they will fast to keep them from getting distracted.
When we as believers need guidance from God, fasting can also help us with keeping our focus on the Lord to hear from him.
Fasting is like saying that the temporary things of this world do not matter now, we are trading what we temporarily need for something that lasts longer that food.
Repentance is another motivation that some have for fasting. If we as believers have done something we need forgiveness for, God will forgive us, but to show how sorry we are and demonstrate our repentance we can fast.
Fasting will exemplify how serious we realize it is and our desire to repent from sin and walk in righteousness with the Lord again. We can see in Joel God asks his people to turn fro their wicked ways with fasting,
‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning’Joel 2:12
We can also strengthen other spiritual disciplines through fasting such as prayer, desire for God, focus on God’s word, and worship.
Fasting for Others
We not only have to fast for ourselves, but we can use the spiritual disciple of fasting for others.
Isaiah 58 speaks on fasting and how we as Christians can and should use it for others.
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?Isaiah 58:6-7
The time we have is valuable, so when we give up something typical in life it leaves us with extra time, and we can use that time to minister to others. We can use our times in a way to help those who are oppressed and to help feed the hungry, home the homeless, and clothe the naked.
Nehemiah’s Biblical Fast
In the Bible, Nehemiah’s fasted because of the concern he had for the work of God. He heard all that was going on with Jerusalem and his people and was greatly saddened so,
As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.Nehemiah 1:4
Nehemiah was not personally in the ruin of the city but he cared for the people and fasted to God out of concern.
Fasting is an important spiritual discipline, it comes with a specific purpose, whether that is for focus on a holiday, fasting for repentance, to seek God’s direction, or fasting for the needs of others.
We as believers need to keep in mind the purpose of our fast as we go about it to make sure we do not stray from the Godly reason to fast and fall towards looking for attention. We should be wise in choosing a time to fast and wise in spending our time during the fast to glorify God in all that we do.