Summary: Fasting on a regular basis draws us closer to God and strengthens our faith and resolve to do God’s will. Fasting, like going to the gym, builds the muscle of your faith. Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. Instead, the purpose of fast
Fasting: A Means of Grace
In both the Old Testament and the New, to fast means to abstain from food. This is so clear that it would be useless to quote the Scriptures from David, Nehemiah, Isaiah, and the prophets and even the New Testament. All agree that to fast means not to eat for a prescribed time. Fasting is more a matter of obedience than it is the actual act of going without food. It’s an outward sign of an inward commitment to refuse to surrender to the will of the flesh and allow the rise of the desires of the Spirit of God within us. There is a constant battle between flesh and spirit. Richard Foster writes, “More than any other single discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface.” Fasting on a regular basis draws us closer to God and strengthens our faith and resolve to do God’s will. Fasting, like going to the gym, builds the muscle of your faith. Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. Instead, the purpose of fasting should be to take your eyes off the things of this world to focus completely on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God, and to ourselves, that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God.
Fasting is the most powerful spiritual discipline of all the Christian disciplines. And yet, fasting is one of the most neglected of all spiritual disciplines. It is almost a lost practice in the church today. And yet John Wesley, who fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays, called all Methodists to fast once a week because it was one of the Means of Grace.
But why fast? What is the purpose of fasting? First is to seek deliverance. King Jehoshaphat prayed and fasted for God to deliver him from opposing armies (II Chronicles 20:3-4) Esther prayed, fasted and asked others to fast on her behalf for the deliverance of her people from annialation. Saul fasted when he and his army was under attack from the Philistines asking that God would deliver the Jews in battle. (1 Samuel 28) In Acts 27, when Paul was in the midst of a storm and had no hope to survive, he and his fellow passengers fasted for 14 days.
Second is to express grief. Three of the first four references to fasting in the Bible connect it with grief. When David learns of King Saul's death: “David and his men tore their clothes in sorrow when they heard the news. They mourned and wept and fasted…” 2 Samuel 1:11 Ezra mourned over Israel’s unfaithfulness with fasting – Ezra 10:6
Third is repentance. When a person was convicted of their sin, they begin to fast as an act of repentance. Examples include the Israelite’s confession of the sin of idolatry at Mizpah in (I Samuel 7:6), Nineveh’s fasting for repentance (Jonah 3:5-8) and Saul’s fast after his experience on the road to Damascus. (Acts 9) Fasting as repentance was often accompanied by the wearing of sackcloth and placing of ashes on the head.
A fourth reason is to draw closer to God with prayer. Prayer in the Bible is often times accompanied by fasting to show the earnest desire for God’s answer. This is what Cornelius the Centurion did as he prayed. He fasted hoping that God would grant his prayer request which he did by sending Peter to him. Fasting doesn’t change God’s hearing as much as it changes our praying. Fasting with prayer is kind of like the difference between a lamp and a laser. The first is diffused and unfocused light while the second is focused and concentrated. It is in the times when prayer and fasting are done together that our prayers are focused and our hearts and minds are are desirous of God’s answer while our ears are attuned to hear His voice.
Fifth is to discern God’s will. Daniel fasted 21 days for God’s guidance in understanding. When Jesus fasted in the wilderness, it was so he could discern God’s will for his life and his ministry. The apostles joined in fasting and prayer when they desired the blessing of God before any great endeavor. Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted for God’s guidance with the appointment of elders (Acts 14:23) Fasting makes us more receptive to God’s guidance.
These are the reasons people have fasted in Scripture. By why should we fast today? John Wesley answered it this way: Because we are commanded to “Give alms, pray, fast, in such a manner, is a clear command to perform all those duties.” But there are a still further motives and encouragement to fast: Fasting and prayer can restore the loss of the "first love" for your Lord and result in a more intimate relationship with Christ. Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to move more fully in your life as you are more attuned and receptive. Fasting will quicken the Word of God in your heart and His truth will become more meaningful to you! Fasting can transform your prayer life into a richer and more personal experience. Fasting can result in a dynamic personal revival in your own life-and make you a channel of revival to others. Lastly, fasting is a Means of receiving more of God’s grace.