Why should Christian people fast? What is fasting for? Let’s explore.
Hunger for Christ
To understand what fasting is, there is a key passage which appears in three of the gospels:
Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
Eating is a symbol of joy. For example, we feast at weddings to rejoice. On the other hand, fasting is a symbol of mourning or humbling ourselves.
When Jesus was on Earth, His disciples therefore had no reason to fast; what a blessing it must have been for them to be with Jesus!
After the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples could rejoice at the good news of the Gospel and at the Holy Spirit being with them, but still Jesus was not there. His full presence will only be enjoyed in Heaven. In the mean time, the Church (i.e the bride) is longing for her bridegroom and can’t wait to meet Him again.
Is it time to rejoice? No, it is time to work and to get ready!
It is time to prepare ourselves for the wedding and the Bible tells us that there will be a banquet (Mat. 25:10). When the wedding will start, then it will be time to rejoice, but not yet.
We can obviously rejoice in this world and we are even encouraged to do so (Phil. 4:4). We can rejoice for the hope that we have and we can also enjoy the good things of this world that God has given us, but true rejoicing is only found in the full presence of Christ!
Too many Christians are living as if they were going to live forever on Earth. They enjoy life on Earth and its pleasures, and forget that the true rejoicing is yet to come. They see their religion as a way to live happily on Earth and they forget to deny themselves and to carry their cross.
Fasting is the longing of our hearts to see the bridegroom. It is a cry of our hearts to express our desire for Him and Him alone.
By opposition, the devil uses the comfort of this world to try to suffocate Christian people. We live in a consumer society telling us that to be happy we need to consume. The more we have, the happier we get. This is a lie and we know it, but many live as if this were the truth.
The devil tells us to enjoy this world (Mat. 4.8-9) as much as we can.
Fasting is a declaration that our happiness comes from God alone. Staying away from the pleasures of this world helps us to hear God better and to have a closer walk with Him.
Fasting is understanding that spending time in the wilderness helps us to be closer to God and therefore strengthens our spiritual walk.
Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
The pleasures of this world often act as pollution to our spiritual walk and make us forget what we are living for. Staying away from them temporarily helps us to remember the true purpose of life and our daily need of Him.
Fasting is taking a break from eating physical food in order to eat more of the Bread of Life (John 6:35).
“Fasting means love for God — hunger for God.” (John Piper, A Hunger for God)
Bowing down before the King of Kings
To bow down means to humble ourselves before someone. It is to bend our bodies, to put ourselves in an uncomfortable position in order to show our submission.
Fasting is to bow down before the King of Kings. It is to express our need of Him. We don’t simply love Jesus, we need Him. He is not just a bonus in our lives. He is a necessity.
Fasting is humbling ourselves before God.
We don’t humble ourselves with resentment. We do it with joy, because we are the servants of a faithful and loving God. Here is a promise for us:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? (…) Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
Fasting should also be a time where we examine ourselves, confess our sins and assess our lives (i.e to assess what can be improved and what needs to be changed).
Fasting is a time for humility, to get rid of any self-righteousness and to seek what is right in the eyes of God.
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,
Eating is a necessity, but eating every day isn’t.
We need to control our hunger, otherwise our stomach becomes an idol (Philippians 3:19) and we become a slave of its desires. A lot of modern diseases are caused in part by our diet and are the consequences of a sinful attitude towards food (which can be unconscious).
There is a need for self-control and fasting is a good way to do this. When returning to normal after fasting, you will feel less hungry and will be content with less.
What is Biblical fasting?
Being in the wilderness is a good picture of what fasting is. It is to have a break from earthly pleasures (which are not necessarily wrong in themselves) to meet with God.
So, abstinence from food is the obvious choice, but you could also abstain from television, hobbies, money (living with less)… any form of earthly pleasure.
There is no explicit description on how we must fast, so we are free to do what we believe is best.
Having said that, abstinence from food is probably the best way to fast as food is something that has such an important place in our lives. Food is what makes us feel good in our body and is also a great source of comfort for many.
In the Bible, fasting generally gives the impression of only drinking water (and sometimes not even that!). However, simply reducing our food intake is a good first step. There are hundreds of ways to fast.
When you fast, do not look sober as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Fasting is about being humble.
I tell people that I fast because I believe that it is a great thing to do and that Christians who do not fast (mainly because they do not want to) are missing out, but (aside from my wife) God alone knows when I fast and for how long. It is not a competition.
The actual fact of fasting does not make you a “better” Christian.