Most Christians in America seem to have very little interest in fasting. In fact, they usually flee the subject as if it were a curse. Why should we concern ourselves with fasting?
First of all, fasting is one of God’s commands. God instructed his chosen people Israel to fast each year on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26). This day was a solemn reminder that God is holy and sin cannot be trivialized. Fasting is an act of humility before God, recognizing our need for his forgiveness.
Second, the Bible gives us many positive examples of God’s people fasting. When Moses was in the presence of the LORD receiving the Ten Commandments, he went without eating bread or drinking water for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 34:28). Apparently Moses was so enraptured with the proximity of God that he gave no thought to physical sustenance.
In the days of Samuel, God’s people were ensnared by idolatry. As a result, God allowed the Israelites to be oppressed by the Philistines. The people of God repented. They assembled before the LORD and confessed their sin and fasted. So God delivered them from their enemies. Fasting was an expression of their humble yearning for God’s powerful intervention.
Daniel, in exile with God’s people in Babylon, fasted and prayed to God. He interceded for the people, confessing their sin and crying out to God for his forgiveness and restoration to the Promised Land. While he prayed, God sent the angel Gabriel to give Daniel insight and understanding (Daniel 9). Fasting resulted in an amazing word from God.
God’s prophets in the Old Testament instructed the people on the proper way to fast. Isaiah told the people that fasting is not a substitute for obedience (Isaiah 58:1-14). Joel explained that fasting is an appropriate expression of repentance before God, one that God honors (Joel 2:12-13).
Jesus did not begin his public ministry without a time of fasting, forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:1-2). He warned his followers not to fast in order to impress people, but to gain the reward that only God can give (Matthew 6:16-18).
Jesus pointed out that fasting is not always appropriate. When the Savior is present, joy and celebration are the customary responses (Matthew 9:14). True fasting is not a duty, but a voluntary response motivated by a sincere heart.
Finally, we should fast because Jesus expects his followers to fast (Matthew 9:15). After he returned to the Father, the Early Church engaged in fasting. They incorporated fasting into their public worship and as a result, the church heard from God’s Spirit (Acts 13:1-2). They also included fasting when it came time to make appointments to missions and church leadership (Acts 13:3-4; 14:23).
We fast as an expression of self-control that enables us to exert greater focus on experiencing God. By denying a legitimate physical need for a short period of time, we concentrate on hearing God’s voice.
Our fasting does not obligate God in any way. He remains sovereign. Fasting does, however, demonstrate our seriousness in seeking him out. Fasting also teaches us to control ourselves, exercising a fruit of the Spirit.
We may think that the grumblings of our hunger would easily drown out the voice of God, but that is not the case. With very little practice, our hunger becomes servant instead of master. And with a little faithfulness, our spiritual ears become fine-tuned to the voice of the Lord.
May God give us the desire to seek him out with all our heart,