Disciplines of the Faith: Fasting to Cultivate a Hunger for God
The spiritual discipline of fasting is largely ignored by the Christian community aside from perhaps a few weeks at Lent (depending on your faith tradition). There are many reasons we avoid fasting. Perhaps we want to avoid legalism or doing things for the “wrong reason.”
And while we should always check our motives, I would like to propose that obeying God will always benefit us and, perhaps, works to realign our hearts when we are not where we need to be.
Fasting, fasting from actual food, it isn’t just a good idea or a discipline for spiritual radicals, it is to be a regular part of the Christian life.
In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs us on how we should fast.
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6:16-18, ESV
And when you fast. It’s not an if, it’s a when.
Jesus speaks about fasting nearly in the same manner as prayer. It is supposed to be a regular part of our Christian life.
But often, we treat it as an optional supplement. Many of us, if we fast, fast only from material items, rarely from food itself. But disciplining our bodies to seek after God above all else is good for our souls. We sacrifice social media or some form of entertainment.
But fasting isn’t meant to remind us that God is the true entertainment in life, it is to remind us that God is the Bread of Life. When we go without food, we beat our body into submission to remind ourselves that we long for the true Bread of Life above all else.
I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. – John 6:35, ESV
Fasting re-centers our minds and bodies around this spiritual truth. It is a way of living our that we long for God above all else.
I encourage you to make fasting part of your regular spiritual life.
I say this but, I also have to admit to you, that I regularly fail. I forgot to fast. I lose will during the day gorge myself on chips. And, if I’m being honest and vulnerable, I would quietly admit that sometimes, I just don’t care.
But God cares. And God has told me to fast and promised that His words never return void.
And there are powerful examples, both in my life and in Scripture, of what God does when we remind ourselves that He is the one that sustains us through the practice of fasting.
In Esther, we see how God worked powerfully to intervene and save His people from annihilation. In my own life, I’ve seen the not as dramatic, but perhaps are just as miraculous, way God has used this practice to remind me that, no matter what comes my way, He will sustain me. Not the quesadilla I ate for dinner, but the God-given manna in the wilderness that will minister to my heart.
The bread from my pantry might give me energy for the day, but the Body of Christ is the only thing that will sustain me through eternity.
My father recently reminded me that the Jewish people began fasting in the evening, when their day began. They started in the evening, continued when they woke in the morning, and then broke the fast that evening.
This seems like a simpler way to practice. If you’ve never fasted before, I encourage you to try this. If that seems like too much, even just fasting through a meal or part of the day is an excellent way to get your feet wet and remind yourself to seek after Bread that does not perish.
If you’re looking for more reading on this topic, particularly as we head into the season of fasting, Lent, I encourage you to read one of the resources below.
Note: Some of these resources are affiliate links which means that if you choose to make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.