While Jesus never explicitly commanded his disciples to fast, it seems he assumed they would (Mat. 6:16-18). Jesus participated in an intense, forty day long fast before he went into public ministry (Mat. 4:1-11). The early church fasted and prayed before important decisions (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23). As those who desire to pattern ourselves after the New Testament church, we should caution against the dismissive attitude toward fasting we often see in many congregations. In fact, I would like to encourage you to incorporate occasional fasting into your spiritual habits this year. Why?
It increases your faith in the promises of Jesus. Jesus’ teaching on the sermon on the mount seems so foreign to our American experience; particularly our rampant materialism and wealth. We don’t know what it means to ask for “daily bread” (Mat. 6:11) or trust in God for simple food and clothing (Mat. 6:31). While we are thankful for the prosperity we possess in America, it sometimes can prevent us from discovering the joy of trusting daily in God’s provision and promises. For example, Jesus tells us that “Life is more than food” (Mat. 6:25). In fact, he puts it in the form of a question: “Is not life more than food?” Well, is it? Is your life more than just pursuing the next good meal? Is there something more than just filling your stomach? When we fast, we are given the opportunity to test whether we really trust the implied promise of Christ in this question: I promise, life is far more than food—it’s about me.
It reminds you of your weaknesses without Jesus. I am so, so weak. Nothing reminds me of this important truth more than fasting. Whenever I decide to fast, I begin the day with such confidence. I am convinced that I will make it through the day without food—until lunchtime hits. Then, suddenly, I begin to make excuses: “Well, I don’t want to be harsh towards the kids, I probably should eat a little something”; “Maybe I need to start small and then work my way up to fasting.” These excuses come without me even noticing, and suddenly a spotlight is put on my weakness—how quickly I give into the flesh despite my confident resolutions. Fasting reminds me of how desperately I need Jesus.
It allows you to share in the sufferings of Jesus. The early church quickly understood an important truth about being a Christian: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Persecution and suffering were the passages through which every Christian had to go in the first few centuries. Yet, Paul viewed this as an opportunity to “share in the sufferings of Christ” (Phi. 3:10). While we may not currently endure persecutions, fasting allows us to share, in some small way, the suffering that our Lord endured while on earth. It draws us closer to our Savior by drawing us closer to his experience. What greater reason do we need to fast?
While, for some, fasting isn’t possible due to age and health, as a church patterned after the New Testament, we should feel challenged to participate in a practice that was central to the early Christians: fasting and prayer. Never attempt to fast without the empowerment that comes from prayer. With these disciplines we will open new doors or spiritual joy and draw ever close to our Lord.