Fasting is the discipline of letting go of an appetite in order to seek God on a matter of concern or to simply cultivate a deeper appetite for God. For centuries, fasting from food was a way that people deepened their hunger for God. Today, we fast from a number of things – social media, technology, whiskey, coffee, lattes, snacks, etc. While these are all meaningful, and, perhaps, very difficult fasts, fasting from food itself is the most tangible way to grasp our sheer dependence on God for flourishing and eternal joy with him. Fasting is the discipline that helps us cultivate self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit, and/or the virtue of temperance.
Immediately after his baptism, Jesus is driven into the wilderness where he fasts for 40 days and 40 nights. By the way, unless you are also fully God and fully man, you shouldn’t attempt to fast from food and water for 40 days and 40 nights. That said, after fasting, Jesus faces a number of temptations and because of the endurance and self-control developed during his fast, he resists each temptation placed before him. Jesus’ responses to each temptation reveal two crucial things. First, that dependence on God’s word, will, and ways is true sustenance. Second, that the self-control wrought in us by the Holy Spirit and, subsequently, the capacity to say no to ourselves, is cultivated one refused meal at a time.
The writer of Hebrews notes, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Because of the example of Christ before us and the Spirit of Christ within us, we are able to leverage fasting as a discipline that trains us to resist the temptations that we encounter in our lives.
A few guidelines for fasting…
Guideline 1 | Start Small: If you are new to fasting, start small with one meal. You can work your way up to two meals, a 12-hour fast with a late dinner, or a 2-3 day fast.
Guideline 2 | Don’t be a Hero: Dietary restrictions should be honored and accounted for as you discern the best way to fast. Drink plenty of water during your fast. Wisdom dictates that you choose a day that doesn’t involve activity akin to a Crossfit workout.
Guideline 3 | Purposeful Fasting: Intend or aim your fast toward cultivating self-control and/or breaking a habit or, perhaps, wisdom and discernment in an area of your life. Feed on God and his Word through prayer and Scripture engagement during your fast.
Guideline 4 | Rhythms: The early Christians engaged in a regular rhythm of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. This could look like abstaining from one meal or perhaps abstaining from meat. Rhythms of fasting should be modest and sustainable.
Prayerfully discern what God is asking you to set aside for a morning or an evening. Next, discern the invitation latent within your abstinence: greater self-control or temperance, deeper relationship with God, wisdom for what’s ahead.
Prayerfully begin your fast with a reading of Matthew 4 and invite God to deepen your character, relationship, or wisdom.