Why would I ever voluntarily miss a meal? Food is in abundance. So many great restaurants have neon signs lit and today’s specials clamoring for attention. So why would we ever want to do something so strange as to fast—that is, to willfully abstain from food for a spiritual purpose? As was noted in the article two weeks ago, food is not the limit of the things from which we can fast. Someone might fast from video games or from TV or from a phone (yikes!). Anything can be set aside for a spiritual time of devotion to God. Consider Biblical purposes of fasting:
When we know we’ve sinned and need careful reflection on our lives. Jonah, after disobedience, fasted for three days while in the belly of the fish—quite the timeout (3:5). Paul was without sight after meeting the Lord on the road to Damascus and fasted and prayed while in darkness (Acts 9:9). Both Daniel and Nehemiah in confessing the national sins of Israel did so with fasting. Sin being examined carefully means values must be examined carefully (1 Jn. 2:15-17). Fasting is a tool that can help give clarity to God’s will and a refocus on that purpose (cf. 2 Cor. 13:5).
When in times of devoted prayer. Coupled in many cases with prayer is this discipline of fasting (see Ex. 24:18; 2 Chron. 20:1-ff; Est. 4:16; Eze. 8:21; Acts 13:1-3). These often go hand in hand. Fasting strengthens prayer in that it strengthens focus on God’s will. When we fast, it’s almost as if we’re saying to God, “I love You and I am devoted to You more than….” When fasting and prayer are together, it helps remind us that God is our sustenance and what He provides is far better than what our physical bodies want (Matt. 4:4).
When we are in need of self-discipline. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 teaches that the body is something that must be brought into submission to the will of God. Where do my appetites lie? When I sit down to the table, do I desire that food more than I ever have the Word of God (cf. Job 23:12; Luke 12:23)? When I think about my next meal or the next text message I’m going to be getting more than I do about the will of God, it could be I am a slave to my appetite instead of my appetite being a slave to God (Phil. 3:19).
There are many physicians who will prescribe fasting for purely physical benefits. Surely we might be able to see that the practice of fasting for spiritual reasons absolutely has spiritual benefits…if we would but use the tool.
The Messenger, The Maud Church of Christ Weekly Bulletin, October 8, 2017.