In a few of the past sermons and speakers I have listened to over the last few weeks, I have heard fasting and prayer brought up. Example from Matthew 17:21 (dealing with the demon possessed boy) Is there a proper way to fast, like no food and drink as others have done in scripture, and what are causes or things that we should do this for? Should we put more focus on fasting in our lives?
Fasting is mentioned 15 times in the New Testament. Jesus fasted (Matt. 4:2). The apostles fasted (Acts 10:30; 14:23, 2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27). The early church fasted (Acts 13:2,3). It can be done individually (Matt. 6:16-18), or collectively as church members (Acts 13:2,3; 14:23).
The Old Testament had set times for fasting while the New Testament does not. But that does not mean that there is no place for fasting in the New Testament church. Jesus takes it for granted that we will fast. After all, He says: “When you fast….” It is not a matter of “if,” but “when.”
Fasting is voluntarily going without food – or any other regularly enjoyed, good gift from God. Some health conditions may keep us from going without food, although most of us can. But we may need a digital fast in which we stop using devices for a certain period of time in order to find our enjoyment in Jesus. We will discover that we spend too much time on our devices, and thereby also miss the opportunity for greater fellowship with the Lord.
Of course, there is a wrong way to fast (Matt. 6:16-18; Lk. 18:12). Jesus insisted that our fasting be not to impress people or God. It is intended to humble ourselves and express a hunger for God. It is an opportunity to stir ourselves up to seek the Lord, to realize that we don’t even deserve His common mercies, to confess our sins and to seek to know more of the grace and goodness of God through Jesus Christ.
How to start fasting? Fasting is hard. It is surprising how easily we can struggle with missing a meal, and it can drive us to make up for it long before the next mealtime comes. David Mathis gives this advice:
- It is good to start small. Start with skipping one meal a week. Then maybe try missing two meals before you try a day-long fast.
- Plan what you will do instead of eating. It is meant to be a spiritual discipline to seek more of God’s fullness. Without a purpose and a plan, it is not Christian fasting; it’s just going hungry.
- Remember too that fasting is no license to be unloving to others. Consider how your fast may affect others.
- When your stomach growls, and sends messages to your brain saying “feed me,” turn your attention from your stomach to your Saviour, pleading for the glory of God, help in the fight against sin, the salvation of loved ones, the peace of Zion, the needs of our world, etc.
Remember too that one day, the Lord will return. Then if we savingly trust in Him, He will not call for a fast, but will spread a feast. Then our joy will be full.