When we think of the spiritual discipline of fasting generally the first thing that comes to mind is going without a meal. However, the Bible is filled with many great examples of how we can give expression to this spiritual discipline.
Let’s consider what it means to fast. The Full Life Study Bible defines a fast as: “going without food in order to give greater attention to spiritual matters.” Fasting, is not to gain merit with God, rather it is to give expression to the fact that you are more interested in drawing closer to God than to the temporal pleasure brought about by whatever you are denying your physical body. Any time we give up one of the pleasures of this life, even though but for a season, it will better prepare us for all the Lord has in store for our lives. Yet, when we fast we can expect a reward from our Heavenly Father. Jesus told the disciples in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:18 that when a fast is con-ducted in a correct manner our Fa-ther, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. So there is great reward which can be expected when we follow the pattern in the Bible during our times of fasting. Donald Stamps, in The Full Life Study Bible, suggests that fasting can be called “prayer with-out words.”
Another aspect of fasting which needs consideration is that we can abstain from any number of things and commit this time to seeking after the things of God. For example, as a pastor, I would encourage our church to abstain from watching television for 20 days prior to a revival meeting and to pray 20 minutes a day specifically for the revival. We would call this our 20/20 Fast. This was always a challenge in our household with small children. Often, we would just unplug the television for the 20 days to avoid sitting down to relax in the evening and out of habit, turning on the television. There are many creative ways to encourage people to set aside additional time for greater spiritual matters.
It is clear that Jesus intended for His followers to fast. In Matthew 9:15 (NIV) when Jesus was questioned about why His disciples did not fast, He stated, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” We are living during the time of which Jesus spoke. The period of time between when Jesus has ascended to heaven and when He returns is the time Jesus said His disciples would fast. May we use fasting as one of our expressions of showing the Lord that we long for His return. Fast-ing can also be used as a tool to prepare ourselves for His coming and also a sign of sorrow for the sin and decay of our present world.
One final point to consider is how often should we fast? This is a personal issue. However, I believe that the correct response is often and regularly. Since fasting in the Bible is often connected to praying why would we consider it to be something that we just do, occasionally? I believe that it is safe to assume that, since Jesus often spent the night in prayer, it would include a time of fasting the evening meal in order to pray. Or when it speaks of Him arising a great while before day to go out to pray, He probably fasted breakfast that morning. So, fasting often and regularly does not seem to be out-side the realm of probability.
Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart about the wonderful opportunity of drawing closer to the Master, through the spiritual discipline of fasting!