I saw a video recently on the YouTubes. It was one of those 11 second videos. It was a young man sharing his journey to fast from all food for seven days. He explained that it was hard to be around people since his friends, knowing he was fasting, took him places to eat in front of him thinking it funny. He explained how his body ached days two through four, but by day five his body had entered ketosis and began to eat the fat to make energy. At day seven he had lost fifteen pounds, felt better, and the first bite of food was the best he’d ever had.
What got me wasn’t that he tried it as someone who doesn’t follow Jesus, but that his friends weren’t really all that supportive. Some may say, they were just joking. But I say, with friends like that, who needs enemies. The next thing that got me was the comment section. So many people claimed that it wasn’t healthy or it was oh so dangerous. So let’s talk about it.
Fasting is one of those things not really talked about in most churches. Even in most commentaries of the Bible, when we come across fasting, there isn’t much said about the subject.
In the Old Testament we see fasting used for such things as sorrow, mourning, asking God to relent from a discipline, piety, and for forgiveness of sins. We learn in the New Testament that a good Jew would fast at least one day a week as part of religious exercise, while the Pharisees fasted twice a week. We know from the book of Matthew that the Pharisees did this not only ritually, much like their tithing, but they did it in such a way to be recognized by those around them.
“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).
So first we see that fasting must be done quietly. This is hard for some of us. But Jesus just said if we do it to be found out, we’ve gotten our reward. Second, fasting isn’t a way of asserting our own will but a means of opening ourselves up to the will of God. It shows our grief over sin, and points out our dependence on God for all forms of sustenance. In other words, it isn’t about getting God’s attention. He already dwells within us, we have his attention. Fasting is about bringing our minds, bodies, and souls in line with His Holy Spirit so we can see, hear, and discern his will for us.
Remember how Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4), or “I have food you know nothing about” (John 4:32). Look at Moses on Mount Sinai, he was on the mountain for eighty days without food. That is only possible if the Lord sustained him somehow.
Third, fasting is a good practice during repentance as a symbol of humility and a means of seeking mercy. Fourth, while fasting from food is the general practice, it doesn’t have to be just from food. It can be from anything for any amount of time. But it must be something difficult or it is pointless. For instance, giving up hotdogs for Lent, or giving up beer when you don’t drink. It would be better to give up, say, all forms of social media for two weeks or something like that. With the level of addiction people have these days, it is almost impossible to do generally.
Lastly, Jesus said that faith is increased through prayer and fasting. “He answered, “So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief,] for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:20-21).
Fasting and prayer combined will grow the seeds of faith within us. So we should practice fasting as a regular habit. It isn’t unhealthy. It may hurt depending on the type of fast being done, but for most people, if done correctly and with forethought, will not cause any kind of permanent physical damage.
I for one have been working on that “put oil on your head and wash your face” thing Jesus talked about. Not that I’m dirty, but that I often wear my emotions on my face. When I’m hurting, most people can tell. I should be washing my face of sadness and agony, and pouring joy upon myself. Saying, “I can do this. It’s for a good purpose.”
Generally, fasting doesn’t carry positive and bright imagery. In fact the Hebrew expression for fasting, “afflicting the soul” is very fitting. But, killing the flesh is what we as Christians have been called to. Picking up our cross and following Jesus in work and deed is what followers of Jesus are expected to do. So don’t fast “religeously”, fast “purposefully”. It isn’t easy, but it is rewarding.