Fasting is a very common practice in our world today. From meditation and fasting, many spiritual disciplines are now advocated by secular culture as beneficial to mental and physical health. Search “fasting” on the internet and almost all of the first 100 results will be related to physical and mental health.
Faith is required in Christian fasting
However, Christian fasting is fundamentally different from any physical or even spiritual fasting of this world. Christian fasting and its purposes, just like prayer, is enabled by a person who has been indwelt by the Holy Spirit through their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Just as it is important to who we pray to and who fast for, it is equally important to know that our prayers and fasting are accepted by our one true and living God. The person who prays and fasts but does not have faith in Jesus is like someone who throws their prayers and their fasting into the wind.
Christian fasting requires faith but faith alone without direction, particularly the direction of God’s will, can lead to many avoidable and unintended mistakes. God has not left us to figure things out for ourselves, nor does he intend us to sit around waiting for a sign from heaven or a voice in the wind. He intends us to open the Bible and gain wisdom through the Scriptures. If we are to experience a more successful fasting, we will have to study and emulate the purpose and motivation of fasting found in the Bible.
The heart motive is key
We’ve seen from every topic we’ve reviewed, it’s not so much about how well we do these things as much as it is the motivation. Like when King Saul made the huge mistake of not waiting for Samuel and performed the burnt offerings himself or when he was commanded to completely destroy Amalek, all its people and possessions but decided he’d save the king and also save the best sheep and all that they thought to be good things. It makes sense, you don’t want to waste good things. And later, King Saul explains that he saved the good things to offer it to God. But the moment we imbue our idea of goodness into things through our own standards, our opinions supersede what God had commanded and we do not honor God but honor our own selves.
We are reminded by the Prophet Samuel that obedience is better than sacrifice and rebellion is like the sin of divination. Sacrifice, habits of faith, spiritual disciplines, our worship and prayers, the things we do as God’s people won’t matter if our heart motivation is not in obedience and love for God. It is a rebellion against God like the sin of divination because instead of going to God, we go to another “god” and we are choosing to rely on another source of authority, usually our own.
Why do we fast?
First of all, we don’t fast to get God to answer our prayers more quickly. Fasting is not a means to gain favor or results. True Christian fasting heightens our sensitivity to God’s heart and deepens our desire for God and thereby helps align our heart and mind to the Spirit which allows for greater favor and greater works of God to be experienced.
Fasting does not prove your devotion to God. But your devotion to God is a matter of the heart reflected by your actions. It’s like when James says, faith without action is dead. This also means action without faith is dead. People can do all these good and honorable and selfless things without faith in Jesus. If the heart motive is off, our actions don’t prove anything.
Examining the Bible, we find that God intends for his people to fast and that there are key purposes to fasting. Without a purpose, fasting becomes an end in itself. You’ll suffer and be so focused on not being able to eat and only focused on that.
In his book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald S. Whitney lists 10 purposes of fasting found through Scripture that have helped guide my own personal fasts to be fruitful and focused and not wasted on fighting the hunger. Below, I’ve listed his 10 purposes and I encourage you the next time you fast, to study the purpose you are fasting for and meditate on the Scriptures that are referred.
- To strengthen our prayers (Ezra 8:23; Neh. 1:4; Dan. 9:3; Joel 2:12-17; Acts 13:3)
- To seek God’s guidance (Judg. 20:26-28; Acts 14:23)
- To express grief (Judg. 20:26; 1 Sam. 31:11-13; 2 Sam. 1:11-12)
- To seek from God deliverance or protection (2 Chr. 20:3-4; Ezra 8:21-23; Esther 4:16; Ps. 109:21-26)
- To express repentance and the return to God (1 Sam. 7:6; Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:5-8)
- To humble oneself before God (1 Kin. 21:27-29; Ps. 35:13)
- To express concern for the work of God (Neh. 1:3-11; Isa. 58:6-7; Dan. 9:3)
- To minister to the needs of others (Isa. 58:6-7)
- To overcome temptation and dedicate yourself to God (Mt. 4:1-11)
- To express love and worship to God (Lk. 2:37)
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