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Nurturing Life – A Journey of Faith

Fasting

Fasting

by Michael F. Cauley

Several years ago, a friend encouraged me to begin fasting every week. I was hesitant at first. Going without food was not very appealing. Earlier in my life, I had fasted quite regularly. I remembered the difficulty of running low on energy and the challenge of crashing blood sugar. It was hard for me, but it was also a time when I didn’t do very well at setting boundaries. Maybe now was the time to reconsider this ancient biblical practice.

This time, it would be in the context of attempting to live an abundant life. It would also provide the opportunity for God to lead me into greater spiritual maturity. So, I began the habit of fasting every week or two, and I can thankfully say that it has become an essential part of my Christian life. Usually, I do not abstain from food completely, but I eat in a very limited way for 24 hours.

A major reason to fast is to remind the believer of Who is in charge—that “man does not live by bread alone.” It is a temptation for us to rely less upon the Creator and more upon what we can manage and control. Without realizing it, we may replace the Creator with what we have “created.” Fasting reminds us that our greatest need is for God to be present in our lives, so that He may speak to us and lead us into the fullness of His will. This experience is even more essential than our physical food.

If you are planning to run a marathon, you go through an extensive process of preparation. It would be foolish to get up one morning, put on your running shoes and clothes, and tackle a 26-mile race if you had not trained for weeks before that time. I have known people who have run a long race without preparation, but they have not run very effectively. A successful marathoner begins to train by proper stretching, running shorter distances, and eating a healthy diet. After weeks and months, your capacity to run distances significantly increases.

Neither does a student start out working toward a Ph.D. early in life. Kindergarten, elementary, and secondary school precede a college education that may eventually lead to graduate school. Fasting provides a Christian the opportunity to grow deeply and become more dependent upon Christ.

Here are some of the benefits I have received from fasting periodically:

  • Fasting places me in a position to hear God’s voice. It allows me to listen to the Holy Spirit. I don’t fully understand it. I just know it works.
  • It reminds me of “Who” is in charge. I learn to trust Him as I am confronted with my weakness while abstaining from food or other regular activities. It brings me to a place of greater dependency.
  • Fasting places me in a position to make good decisions. I always make better decisions after I have brought the issue to the Lord during a time of fasting. I find that it may be a time when God will use someone else to provide advice or counsel.
  • It causes me to slow down the “RPMs” of my life so that I just don’t race along without being more conscious of His presence. It is hard to listen to the Holy Spirit when we are racing along, multitasking, and hurrying from one responsibility to the other. I have found fasting to be a great complement to a time of spiritual retreat. When I slow my frenetic pace and make myself vulnerable to the Holy Spirit through fasting, it has, on occasion, been a time of significant insight. I often combine fasting and spiritual retreats with journaling.
  • Fasting brings with it a posture of humility that causes one to die to self. It is possible for Christian leaders to lose sight of their need to depend upon God and to regard their opinions too highly. I find that fasting confronts attitudes of pride and spiritual arrogance.
  • It allows for spiritual battles to be won that could not be won in any other way. I have seen God do significant things when I have no recourse but to claim the promises of Scripture for divine intervention. The late evangelist W.C. Scales Jr. told many stories of God opening doors for the gospel to change lives through the habit of fasting each Thursday during evangelistic campaigns. Scales stated that he looked forward each week to seeing what God would do during the time of fasting.

There has been a renewal of the use of the word “disciple” or “discipleship” in churches lately. Being a disciple of Jesus means that you are continually growing: growing in grace, becoming more like Jesus, and growing in wholeness. Of course, becoming a mature follower means becoming mature spiritually, but it also includes emotional maturity. Emotional maturity shows up in our relationships with family, neighbors, and co-workers. Becoming more like Jesus also involves caring for our bodies—the temple of the Holy Spirit. Becoming mature—spiritually, emotionally, and physically—is not easy and does not happen without a highly intentional focus. Growth is not for “wimps.” It requires “girding up your loins” and “fighting the good fight” of faith. Fasting is an essential tool in the pursuit of spiritual, emotional, and physical wholeness.

Fasting may involve abstaining from things other than food. It may include refraining from media—radio, television, and other sources. It may take the form of what one friend calls the “Daniel diet,” eliminating rich or unwholesome foods and eating simply and sparingly. Of course, fasting may mean totally abstaining from food. Fasting does involve restricting the appetite, in some form, for a while. The length of the fast is up to the believer.

Biblical fasting is not intended to be legalism—a practice enjoined for earning merit. It is not practiced in order to gain favor with God or as an act of penance. It is merely an ancient biblical practice observed by godly men and women throughout Scripture.

Throughout the Bible, fasting was observed when affliction came to Israel, publicly or privately (2 Samuel 1:12; Psalm 35:13; Daniel 6:18; 2 Samuel 12:16; Esther 4:16). It was accompanied by prayer (Daniel 9:3), confession of sin (1 Samuel 7:6; Nehemiah 9:1-2), humiliation (Deuteronomy 9:18; Nehemiah 9:1), and the reading of the Scriptures (Jeremiah 36:6). Daniel fasted for three weeks (Daniel 10:2-3), and Moses, Elijah, and Jesus fasted for forty days (Exodus 24:18; 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9,18; 1 Kings 19:8; Matthew 4:2; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-2). Fasting was a regular practice of John’s disciples (Matthew 9:14) and Anna (Luke 2:37). It was practiced by the Pharisees (Matthew 9:14; Mark 2:18; Luke 18:12), by Cornelius (Acts 10:30), and by Paul (2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:27). Paul fasted at the time of his conversion (Acts 9:9), and the disciples fasted at the time of the consecration of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:2-3). Fasting also accompanied the consecration of elders (Acts 14:23) and the ordination of ministers (Acts 13:3; 14:23).1

I recommend this practice to those who desire to take their spiritual walk to a higher level. I have found the following counsel to be reliable:

Whenever it is necessary for the advancement of the cause of truth and the glory of God, that an opponent be met, how carefully, and with what humility should they [the advocates of truth] go into the conflict. With heartsearching, confession of sin, and earnest prayer, and often fasting for a time, they should entreat that God would especially help them, and give His saving, precious truth a glorious victory…
—Evangelism, page 165.2

God has given me many victories as I have taken Him at His word and followed this ancient biblical custom.

1 Swanson, J., & Nave, O. New Nave’s. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1994.

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