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"But when you fast..."


This past Sunday, I encouraged you to make next week a focused time of prayer, fasting, and spiritual renewal to kick off the new year. Since that time, I’ve received a lot of really good questions about fasting, so I decided to answer them below:

What is fasting?

Fasting involves avoiding food for a period of time. Some form of the word “fast” is used several times in the Old Testament (Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 7:6, 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:12, 12:16-23; 1 Chronicles 10:12; 2 Chronicles 20:3; Ezra 8:21-23; Nehemiah 1:4, 9:1; Esther 4:3, 16; Psalm 35:13, 69:10; Isaiah 58:3ff; Jeremiah 14:12, 36:6ff; Daniel 9:3; Joel 1:14, 2:12; Jonah 3:5), as well as in the New Testament (Matthew 4:2ff, 6:16ff, 9:14ff; Mark 2:18ff; Luke 18:12; Acts 13:2-3).

In addition, there are other instances in Scripture where fasting is implied but not explicitly called “fasting” (such as 1 Samuel 1).

What is the purpose of fasting?

If you take the time to study the passages mentioned above, you’ll find that fasting (when practiced in a godly fashion) is associated with mourning, lament, spiritual desperation, and repentance. Generally speaking, fasting gives you the opportunity to pursue God intensely in prayer and personal communion.

If you want to lose weight, delete your social media apps, or break your caffeine addiction, that’s great! But fasting is a little different from that. It’s not about becoming your best self or kicking a habit. I would encourage you to actually skip a few meals and use that time to pursue your relationship with the Lord.

Fasting is also a great way to seek God’s intervention on specific issues.

For example:

  • God gives you a burden to reach your neighborhood with the gospel but you don’t know where to start. So you decide to fast every Tuesday and spend your lunch hour praying for guidance.
  • Your spouse was offered a job in another state but you’re not sure if it’s God’s will, so (in addition to seeking godly counsel) the two of you decide to fast for 48 hours to seek clarity from the Lord.
  • The Holy Spirit convicts you about a specific, life-dominating sin. You know repentance is going to be hard, so you skip lunch every Monday and Wednesday in order to meet up with an accountability partner and pray for strength.

Fasting might seem strange and new, but don’t overthink it. Just plan to skip a few meals and then use that time to pray.

Why haven’t I heard more about it?

Well, two possible reasons, one bad and one good: 1) American Christians aren’t very skilled at saying “no” to our bellies. We have enough wealth to live in relative comfort, and fasting isn’t comfortable.

But another reason why you haven’t heard more about it is because 2) Fasting is not something believers brag about. It’s supposed to be a private, personal decision between you and the Lord, not something you need to announce on Instagram (see Matthew 6:16-18). More of your brothers and sisters in Christ are fasting than you realize!

Is this medically safe?

If you’re really not sure, you need to speak to your doctor. I understand that many of you have a physically demanding job, health challenges like diabetes or hypoglycemia, or even a history of eating disorders like anorexia.

However, in consultation with your doctor, I would encourage you to be creative. If you need to consume calories, consider protein shakes or smoothies instead of meals for a period of time.

Do I have to do this?

Fasting is a matter of Christian liberty. It doesn’t make you a “super-Christian” if you fast, and you aren’t “less than” if you choose not to. If you are eating and drinking to the glory of God, then dig in (1 Corinthians 10:31)! But fasting is good for you, too, as long as you’re doing it to pursue Jesus.

If you’re open to it, I would encourage you to exercise your freedom in Christ to fast. But let each person be convinced in their own mind (Romans 14).

Does it count if I abstain from _________ instead of food?

I’ve been asked this a lot (and I’ve asked it myself), but it’s kind of a funny question, isn’t it? Friends, nothing we do “counts.” The only thing that “counts” is the obedience of Jesus, who fulfilled the Law and paid the price for our sin on the cross! I’m glad I don’t have to earn any more of the love of the Father than I already have in Christ.

If you’re just afraid to skip a meal, let me reassure you: you can do it! Yes, you’ll feel hungry. But you’ll be OK. And you may just find that a time of fasting was the very thing you needed to draw your heart closer to the Father.

Let’s start this year off right, desperate to pursue God more fervently than ever before.