I never really understood fasting as a young believer. I only fasted when my church did it together before camps and conferences.
Besides, it was awkward for me to fast. I imagined that my non-believing family would chasten me if I dared to reject food.
“You crazy ah, got food also don’t want to eat? Trying to be immortal is it!”
While fasting is usually synonymous with food, food isn’t the only thing that Christians can fast from. We can still fast in other ways – social media, gaming, etc – if abstaining from food is a cultural taboo or a health hazard. I mean, the Bible even listed sex as something we could potentially fast from (1 Corinthians 7:5)!
But when it comes down to it, I think the reason why fasting is so unpopular is because it’s a denial of our fleshly desires. Fasting is probably one of the least-practised spiritual disciplines in our generation.
In this age of instant gratification, it’s hard to imagine not being able to do whatever we want, whenever we want. Why would anyone voluntarily skip a meal if they can choose not to?
Unless the tradeoff is worth the sacrifice.
I’ll be the first to admit that I fasted without fully understanding why I was doing what I was doing in the past.
But as I grew in my walk with God over the years, I began to develop an understanding of why fasting is important. Now, I even – believe it or not – fast on my own accord!
So if I may share, here are three reasons why I would encourage someone to fast.
The first time I fasted on my initiative was out of desperation. Yes, you read that right. I was so desperate for God to move in my family and see my loved ones saved that I decided to give up on my lunch for an extended period of time.
Trust me, it’s not easy for me to give up on food. But I was willing to give up what mattered to me to prove to God how much I wanted my prayers to be answered.
Examples of this are littered throughout the Bible. Esther called on God to save the Israelites (Esther 4:16), David pleaded with God to preserve his child’s life (2 Samuel 12:16-17) and Ezra prayed to God for protection (Ezra 8:21). Each of them was desperate for God to intervene in their situations.
But, of course, fasting is not a transactional activity, whereby we expect God will grant us whatever we ask for. God still took away David’s baby despite his pleas – and my family members have yet to come to faith despite my fast.
This brings me to my next point.
TO REPENT AND/OR REALIGN
A huge part of fasting really has got to do with realigning ourselves to God. That means to be aligned to what He wants, not just what we wish for.
Fasting is also a way to demonstrate remorse for our sins. To humble ourselves in repentance and turn back to Him (Joel 2:12, Jonah 3:5-9)
This is also why praying is always paired with fasting in the Bible. In fact, I’ve heard it said that fasting without praying is just going hungry for no reason.
Understanding this has an impact on how we fast. In the past when I fasted, I only abstained from food. And what I removed, I did not replace with what would draw me closer to God.
Skipping lunch meant more time for watching YouTube videos. Fasting from YouTube videos meant more time for handphone games. The list goes on and on. Spending more time with God was the last thing on my mind.
But like how Isaiah 58:3-14 demonstrates, we can fast and yet still miss the point of it all. The point of fasting isn’t just about abstinence, but a realignment to God’s heart.
And when we deliberately set aside time to seek Him as we fast, we receive insights and revelations simply because we are willing to avail ourselves to pause, seek and listen (Acts 13:2).
Yes, there are times when God doesn’t answer my prayers in the way I want them to be answered. Sometimes, His answer is simply “wait”.
When I don’t understand God’s ways or doubt Him, these are moments that drive me to that secret place with Him – to pray, to seek, to wrestle and to realign. To let God be God and trust in Him.
This is probably the least talked-about reason to fast, but before Jesus started his ministry He went through a 40-day fast (Matthew 4:1-2). This was also the only fast the Bible recorded that Jesus did.
The purpose of His fasting was to have mastery over his flesh. When Satan tried to tempt Jesus into eating after His fast, Jesus replied: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:3).
Many times I wondered how was Jesus able to resist eating especially after 40 full days of fasting. But I now realise that perhaps it was precisely because Jesus fasted that He was able to resist not just one but three temptations from the devil.
Paul said in Galatians that there’s an internal war going on against us between our flesh and our spirit (Galatians 5:16-17). And as Christians, we are to be led by the Spirit instead (Romans 8:13-14).
So fasting is good training for us to exercise restraint from acting on our worldly desires and to follow the Spirit instead. In that unfulfilled state, we turn – not to food, gaming or coffee to scratch the itch – but to Him. And that’s how we’ll learn that the tradeoff is worth the sacrifice.
Fasting isn’t easy because it requires submission. But as I’ve discovered, it draws me closer to God like never before and helps me to become more like Him.
If you’d like to draw closer to God, would you try fasting today?
- Have you tried fasting before? What was your experience like?
- What can you remove from your life and replace with something else that draws you closer to God?
- Are you being led by the desires of your flesh or the Spirit?