Read His Words Before Ours!
From my childhood, fasting has been a discipline I have heard about and witnessed. I grew up in the Bible Belt, an area in the midwest and southern US where Protestant fundamentalism is widely practiced. Appearing “godly” is part of the culture. When I was younger, though I felt shame and guilt for not participating in community fasts, I didn’t really see the need for fasting. Why should I starve myself in order to seem holy?
As I grew in spiritual understanding, I learned fasting is an essential part of our relationship with God. It wasn’t actually about starving myself, but about finding satisfaction for my soul-hunger! Each time I’ve fasted, I’ve gained a new understanding of God.
First, I’ve learned fasting can bring true repentance.
In Joel 2:12-14, the Lord exhorted Israel to fast, mourn, and weep as an expression of turning their hearts back to Him. Setting aside the sustenance their bodies required symbolized the people’s realization of their desperate need for God that surpassed their physical desires.
God’s emphasis was on capturing Israel’s heart,
not on asking them to put on a faux “godly appearance”.
“Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the Lord your God.” (Joel 2:13a)
This call to fasting as an expression of deep spiritual conviction, rather than a shallow, false display of piety, is echoed and expanded to all believers in Jesus’ teaching.
“Whenever you fast, don’t be gloomy like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so their fasting is obvious to people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting isn’t obvious to others but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
Whether expressed in private moments with our Father, or as a time of communal repentance, fasting turns our hearts from the idol of self. Selfishness wrecks the intimacy we can share with God, but fasting reveals our lusting desires to pursue ourselves and our attempt to wrest control of our lives. Denying our physical bodies shifts our attention onto the One who fully satisfies us because He alone is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in faithful love.” (Joel 2:13b)
Next, fasting can be a sign of authentic worship.
As infant Jesus is dedicated at the temple in Jerusalem, we meet Anna, an elderly widow who dedicated her life to fasting and praying as an expression of authentic worship.
“There was also a prophetess, Anna [. . .] She did not leave the temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers. At that very moment, she came up and began to thank God and to speak about him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Anna was an authentic worshiper of Christ, privileged to be one of the first in His life. A lifetime devoted to fasting and prayer prepared her spirit to recognize her Savior in the unlikeliest of forms, a newborn. After 400 years of silent prophets, an elderly, vulnerable, poor widow gives voice to the words of the Lord, giving thanks and declaring the arrival of Jesus.
Third, fasting magnifies our true need in life, God.
Every time I have fasted, I’ve been reminded of the reality that without God, I am nothing.
He is my sustainer,
He is my redeemer,
He is the answer to all my questions.
For me, fasting has been a way to literally empty myself and fill up with only Christ.
Fasting, then, is a physical representation of our spiritual lives.
When we are empty and hurting, we should turn our eyes, hearts, and minds to Christ, because only in Him will we receive our deepest needs.
Jesus demonstrated this truth in a shocking conversation with a Samaritan woman near a well.
“Jesus said, ‘Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again. In fact, the water I give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.’” (John 4:13-14)
Later, the discussion continues among His disciples…
“In the meantime, the disciples kept urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said, ‘I have food to eat that you don’t know about [. . .] My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work,’ Jesus told them.” (John 4:31-34, emphasis mine)
The only water that will quench the thirst of our spirits is the water of eternal life.
The only food that will satisfy our starving souls is doing the Father’s will.
In fasting, we abandon the physical in pursuit of the eternal.
Finally, I know many believers who’ve chosen to fast from physical desires other than food. True fasting worshipers set aside that which has consistently pulled their attention away from God. They actively turn from idols in their lives and replace them with praying and reading God’s word.
Sisters, I encourage you to practice this spiritual discipline. Fasting is a powerful way to renew and refresh our relationship with God and deepen our faith and trust in Him. In fasting, we proclaim Christ as the sole-supplier of our greatest need, Himself.
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!