Perspectives on Fasting: Practical Perspectives

Lesson 1998
Tags: Fasting
Excerpted from Perspectives on Fasting

  • The comparative study of religion reveals that fasting is usually carried out with one of three motivations: preparation, purification, or supplication (Rader 5:287). These three purposes are visible in the Christian discipline of fasting.
    • Jesus fasted prior to beginning his earthly ministry (Mt 4.1-2). Paul fasted in anticipation of direction from the Lord (Acts 9.6-9). The early Christians fasted before commissioning church leaders (Acts 13.2-3; 14.23).
    • There are numerous biblical examples of fasting as a demonstration of genuine repentance. Among those who fasted for purification one finds Ahab (1 K 21.27-29), the city of Nineveh (Jon 3.4-10), and Ezra (Ezra 9.5ff).
    • David prayed and fasted for the healing of his sick child (2 Sam 12.16-17). Nehemiah fasted and prayed that his vision of restoring Jerusalem to its former glory would be fulfilled (Neh 1.3-4). Anna maintained a regular discipline of fasting and prayer (Lk 2.36-37).
  • Fasting is a balanced spiritual discipline that lies between the excesses of indulgence and asceticism. It stands in contrast to the carnality of gluttonous desire (Wallis 77-87) and the error of punishing the body for supposed spiritual gain (88-93). Scripture condemns both the former (Prov 23.1-3; 1 Cor 6.12-13) and the latter (Col 2.20-23; 1 Tim 4.1-5).
  • Both Scripture and history attest to the fact that fasting and prevailing prayer are often closely linked. However, it is improper to view fasting as a means of forcing God to do what we ask him to do. God is sovereign, and we cannot suppose that we are stronger than he. Fasting is a useful discipline to the extent that it helps us to discern and obey God’s will. It should not be used in an attempt to impose our selfish interests on God’s program.
  • What is the purpose of fasting, then? Fasting is really a means of freeing ourselves to get in touch with God’s plan for our lives. While it is probably true that prayer—not fasting—brings about spiritual results, it is also apparent that fasting enables our prayer lives to reach new heights of devotion and power. The impact of fasting on our spiritual lives is difficult to measure with precision. But there is evidence that it is associated with positive outcomes.
  • It is imperative to remember that while fasting is a spiritual discipline, it is also a physical act. (In fact, some people fast solely for health reasons.) As a physical act it should be carried out with respect for truth in the nutritional realm. The Creator and Sustainer of our bodies gains no glory from a discipline that diminishes our health. It seems reasonable to assume that some people (such as expectant mothers and diabetics) should not fast.
  • Wallis suggests a number of practical guidelines to be observed before, during, and after a fast (106-17, 142-46):
    • Accustom yourself to short fasts (one day or less) before attempting longer ones.
    • Make a point to drink generous amounts of water during the fast.
    • Expect some physical discomfort during the fast. Fasting allows the body to eliminate toxins from its systems, a somewhat unpleasant process.
    • Resume normal eating habits gradually after breaking a fast, especially if you have fasted for several days. Drink fruit juices until your body is ready to accept solid food. Avoid meat until your body has adjusted to fruits, vegetables, and starches.