Christian Fasting: Is it Just Food?
What do you think of when you hear the word “fasting”? If you are like me, you almost instantly correlate fasting with going without food. When we hear a pastor or leader suggest fasting, we typically think of meals we’ll have to skip in order to hear from God. However, I am here to tell you fasting is much broader than that.
My First Experience with Fasting
When I was growing up, I participated in something called the 30 Hour Famine, a World Vision initiative that helps feed starving children all over the world. The goal was to raise funds to fight childhood hunger and then, to identify with the hungry children we were helping, we fasted from food for thirty hours. During that time, we hung out with friends, learned more about the initiative, and only consumed drinks like water and juice. The idea and the fellowship were both great. Plus, our efforts supported a worthy cause. There was just one problem: as a result of the event, my vision of fasting involved simply food; and worse than that, I didn’t focus on growing in my relationship with Jesus during the thirty-hour fast.
What’s the Purpose of Fasting?
There is a better way. Biblically fasting can mean going without a myriad of things—your phone, social media, coffee, tv, video games, reading, etc. One prominent twentieth-century minister, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, once said, “Fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose.”
In other words: the goal of fasting is to grow closer to God by turning our focus and trust to him rather than the thing or things we are fasting from. So, when I fast from social media, each time I think about the news or updates I am missing out on, it’s a reminder to turn to the Lord. It’s a reminder that I am satisfied in him alone. Rather than focusing on my social media feed, I should focus on what—or who—I should turn to: Jesus.
Fasting is a tool to help you understand how much you have allowed (fill in the blank) to consume you and be your god. It has everything to do with the desire of our hearts,
not just our stomach and its desires, and it creates a time for us to put on more of Jesus and put off things that get in the way of that (Eph. 4:22-24). In order to renew our minds like Paul speaks of in Ephesians, though, we must first put off the old self—the self that goes to food, media, culture, etc. for satisfaction. Fasting, then, allows us to see the ways in which we are living as people who aren’t redeemed and made new in Christ. It allows us to recenter ourselves on Christ—renew our minds and put on the new self, as Paul commends.
4 Simple Steps
So, what is it that you find yourself doing too often? What do you find yourself desiring more than Jesus? What is something that you could use a break from to more firmly root your satisfaction in Christ alone?
Here are a few simple steps that can help you think through fasting:
- Start Small
- Set fasting goals that are achievable. Instead of thirty days, start with something small like two or three days. It does not have to be from your phone entirely, maybe the app you use the most. Set a fasting goal that you can actually accomplish.
- Plan what you will do instead
- Try different forms of fasting
- Consider fasting together with your family, Small Group, or other church members. Do you share together in some special need for God’s wisdom and guidance? Fasting does not have to be just you against your goal; it can be a communal practice.
- Don’t mind the elephant in the room
- Do not dwell on the fact that you are fasting. The goal is for you to dwell in the presence of Jesus more. To understand your need for him over anything else. Try not to focus on whatever it is that you are fasting from.