Growing up in a Christian family I had the opportunity to fast, and while I went along with it, I wondered what was the reason behind not eating food or giving something else up in my life. By researching a Biblical perspective on fasting I gained as to why fasting is important.
Why do Christians fast? Christians fast because it helps to create a stronger relationship with God. It helps Christians to see God working in their lives. It also causes Christians to put aside distractions and focus on God.
Christians fast today because we see in scripture God working in amazing ways while his people fasted. Although fasting today may look different than it did back then, God still works in powerful ways today. When we take the focus off ourselves and focus on God we are re-aligning our hearts with Him.
Purpose Behind Fasting
We see people fast all the time, and not just Christians, some do it for health reasons, other religions fast as well, but what is the reason Christians fast?
Many Christians fast because of something that has or will happen in their life. Fasting is a way to draw closer to God. When life gives us unique circumstances or decisions that need to be made, it is important to reach out to God, and fasting helps strengthen our focus on God.
Fasting means giving something up in our lives. When we have one less item to check off our list we have extra time we did not have before. This extra time plays a part in strengthening our relationship with God.
Isaiah reminds us of the purpose of fasting.
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?-Isaiah 58:6
It is important to remember that we as Christians do not fast for attention. Jesus speaks directly against seeking attention while fasting in Matthew.
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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.Matthew 6:17,18
We should aim to live our lives as we did previous to the fast, not earning our reward from the attention we get, but from God.
Biblical Examples of Fasting
In the Old and the New Testament, we see God working in amazing ways through the lives of believers as they used fasting to become closer to God, to hear his will, and to petition before him.
In Esther 4, we read about Esther and the rest of Israelites fast as she went before the king. Esther knew she was risking her life for her people who were in danger of extermination, so she fasted to prepare to come before the king.
In the same way, we see Nehemiah fasted for the ruin of Jerusalem and the Jewish people.
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 heavenNehemiah 1:4
In the book of Judges, the Israelite army fasted while they sought direction from God.
They sat there before the LORD and fasted that day until evening, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.Judges 20:26
In the New Testament, one of the best examples of fasting a person fasting is Jesus. Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days and ate nothing during those days. Jesus fasted and exemplified our need for connection to God and reliance on the scripture.
The early church also fasted, they fasted in worship and for decision making. In Acts 14:23 it says
And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.-Acts 14:23
We as Christians today should look to scripture for reflection and direction on fasting.
Benefits of Fasting
When Christians go out of their way to stop eating it does not make sense at first, but there are benefits to taking time to focus on God instead of other items like food.
A lot of Christians are hesitant to fast because they think of all they will miss out on and how much effort they will have to put in, but fasting will not leave you empty-handed.
Fasting gives us a chance to focus on our spiritual well being. We are giving a chance for God to speak to us and work through us.
While fasting it can be easy to focus on exactly what you are missing, redirecting that into a reminder for prayer and attention on God can help make your fast more fruitful.
Christians will also learn a lot through the fasting process. Fasting is a spiritual discipline and helps us connect with God. The more we practice spiritual disciplines the better we become at them and see the fruits and learn to enjoy God.
Virtues like self-control, patience, and focus are also strengthened through the process of fasting. We learn self-control as we keep away from whatever we are fasting from.
Our patience is strengthened through waiting on the Lord and waiting to give ourselves what we desire. We will also become more focused on God as we intentionally push away distractions.
Different Ways to Fast
While a lot of the time when people think of fasting, fasting food is the first thing that comes to mind. Fasting food is not the only thing you can fast. The purpose of fasting is to put our attention to God. You can fast anything that takes time away from God.
Fasting food is a big decision and commitment. A “no food” fast consists of no food at all. You can only have water or juice.
Another way to go about food fast is to hold off on a certain kind of food like sugars, carbs, or meats. This can be helpful for someone who is never done a complete fast or Christians whose current situation does not allow for a complete fast.
Saying no to only certain foods is still effective at helping focus on God since self-control, patience and focus are still being strengthened through the partial fast.
Fasting items is another way to fast. This can be very valuable especially if it is items in your life that distract you from God. Fasting something like social media or the news can be specifically helpful when it takes up a lot of time in your normal day.
Giving up your normal time to watch television or any other distractions will give you extra time to focus on God and his word.
God works in powerful ways through believers, and when we take intentional time to give up something to focus on God, we will see God work in amazing ways as he did in the lives of believers in the Bible. Fasting will help us connect with God and strengthen our relationship with him.