What should Christians do to help them connect to God? What are the ‘spiritual rhythms*’ that help us in our relationship with Christ?
I think we’re all familiar with the concepts of prayer, church community, Bible study (private and corporate) and singing. And we probably also would include financial giving in that as we know that money can have a hold on us so giving a proportion of it away is part of how we find personal freedom and express our dependence on and gratitude to God.
But what about fasting? Is that on our list?
For most people I think it is not and I think there are two main reasons for that. Firstly, because we’re not sure why we fast so we’re not motivated to. Secondly, because it’s hard…particularly in our consumer culture where instant gratification is the expected norm; when we’re hungry we eat, when we feel low/down/tired/frustrated food and drink (and sugar, caffeine and alcohol) are probably the main way we help ourselves, they’re the first place we turn for help.
Now God made us need food and he made food good. Food should be enjoyed and we should be grateful for the food we have and the joy it can bring. That’s why as a family we always say/sing grace before meals and part of the reason we go to the pub each week. However, all that said, fasting was a big part of Jewish piety and Jesus assumed that we his followers would continue to practice it. So why?
Well here are 6 reasons why I think we should fast.
(1) To pray
Fasting in scripture is usually linked to prayer. By fasting and abstaining from food you both (a) create space in your day (when you’d normally be eating) to pray and (b) give yourself a focus to pray. The intentional abstention from food can help create an intentional focus on prayer.
So fast because you want to seek God over certain issues in your life or the world.
(2) To develop your hunger for God
In Matthew 9:14-15 we read:
14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, ‘How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’
15 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.’
So fasting is tied to Jesus being absent and that absence creates a hole in lives and in the world. We long for him. We desire him. Fasting both expresses and enhances that hunger to find satisfaction in God. John Piper in his brilliant book on fasting A Hunger For God says:
“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great…
“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night.”
So fasting focuses your mind to say to your soul, “don’t nibble and be desensitised by the things of this world…rather develop a hunger for God and a taste of him that really satisfies.”
So fast because you want to know God more and experience him more in your life.
(3) To mourn & repent
The New Bible Dictionary says:
Fasting is a way of expressing grief, whether over the death of a loved one, a national tragedy or the reality of sin in one’s life. Nearly half of the 150 Psalms are prayers of lament; that is prayers that help us express and process grief, anguish, sadness and turmoil. We live in a world that is full of hard things and we know our lives too are full of things that do not honour God. Fasting helps us seek God in mourning, repentance and humility.
(4) To learn dependence & gratitude
It is said that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’, in that when we are used to something we take it for granted and no longer appreciate it. Whether a loved one, a job, a car, a hobby, a holiday, a house…or food. God famously said to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 8 that when they entered the Promised Land and things went well for them that “When you have eaten and are satisfied…Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God…” (vs10-11).
When life is tough we often find ourselves reaching out to God for help (point 3). But when life is going well, we can easily put God to the back of our minds. That is why fasting and feasting are important practices for the Christian as I spoke about previously from Esther 4 & 9. John Piper puts it like this:
…Which means that bread magnifies Christ in two ways: by being eaten with gratitude for his goodness, and by being forfeited out of hunger for God himself. When we eat, we taste the emblem of our heavenly food—the Bread of Life. And when we fast we say, “I love the Reality above the emblem.” In the heart of the saint both eating and fasting are worship. Both magnify Christ.”
So fast because you want to grow in dependence and gratitude on God and not drift in your relationship with him when things are going well.
(5) To learn about yourself
Richard Foster in his book The Celebration of Discipline says:
More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.
Fasting reveals our idols. It will reveal the things you turn to for confidence, happiness, comfort, satisfaction and security. It’s easy to start to think that we’ve got it all together and we’re quite impressive people. Well, abstain from food for just 24 hours and you’ll discover all kinds of things about yourselves – negative patterns of thinking, irritable habits, self-doubt, envy of others, anger, impatience…and all the things Jesus says are in our hearts in Mark 7:20-23.
If you want to grow in Christlikeness, it’s important to learn about the things that currently control you so you can repent of these (point 3) and start to submit them and your whole life over to God in a deeper way. This self-examination and self-renewal is essential to spiritual growth. If we don’t take a deep look at our hearts we can be ‘busy’ with religious and church activities, without any transformation in our lives (see Psalm 50:7-13 and Psalm 51:16-17).
So fast to learn about yourself as part of the process of allowing God to help you overcome the things that control you.
(6) To seek guidance in decision-making
In Acts 13:2-3 we read that “while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said…” So here as elsewhere in the scripture fasting is a sign of God’s people seeking God for guidance and decision-making. As with all the other five points mentioned above fasting is linked to acknowledging our dependance on God, we need him to help us as we move forward in life. The dictionary of biblical imagery puts it like this
Fasting is an act of abstaining from food for spiritual reasons and primarily connotes an openness to divinity and a posture of humility. It involves…seeking guidance…
Fasting and prayer are frequently associated with people seeking and preparing themselves for divine communications. Through fasting, they can devote themselves to communion with God.
So if you have a big decision in your life or you’re looking for guidance from God, put time aside to fast and pray and ask that (a) he’d give you wisdom as you make your decision, (b) he’d give you the right motives and perspective as you make your decision and (c) that you’d receive good counsel from others in your decision-making.
TWO BIG WARNINGS
For all the positive reasons to fast, when Jesus talks about fasting he is correcting/rebuking the false motives and practice of fasting he observes in the Pharisees. So we need to have our eyes wide open to the dangers.
- Physical health – if you are pregnant or suffer from low blood sugar or are ill or for whatever other reason, abstaining from food is not good for your health, find alternative ways (fast from certain foods, eat only bland foods – e.g. potato or rice by itself, or drink some smoothies etc). Remember there is loads of grace, so think of a way you can put some time aside to pray, seek God and do some self-examination.
- Spiritual pride – this is a great danger. We can think that fasting (like any spiritual rhythm) makes us a better Christian or makes us more acceptable to God. We can feel superior to others (or inferior if we find they’re fasting more than us). Fasting doesn’t make you a better Christian, it doesn’t put God in your debt and if you do it to impress others it’s in vain. Like any spiritual activity, the motivation for the activity is MUCH MORE important than the actual activity. Are we doing this out of gratitude to God and to know him and resemble him, or are we doing this to get something from him and make us feel better about ourselves? I outline this in more detail in our financial giving paper. We must remember that the only thing that makes us right before God is faith in Christ and the only reason we grow in Christlikeness is due to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. If we fast to express that faith and as a way of asking the Holy Spirit to move in our lives, we’ll discover many benefits. But if we fast to try and make ourselves right with God or show how we’re ‘improving’ as a Christian, it will accomplish nothing positive and only lead us towards pride and away from God. This is what Jesus is challenging in the lives of the Pharisees in Matthew 6:16-18 and Isaiah was challenging in his day. So beware and examine your motives!
Our Focus – Wednesday 1st November
So with those 6 positive motivations and the 2 warnings in mind, if you’d like to, please join the CCC staff team who will be fasting on Wednesday 1st November, and will be meeting together to pray at the monthly Prayer and Worship night that evening.
We’ll have 5 things in our minds during the day to help focus our prayers.
- The Intro Course – we have seen lots of people come along who are at different places in their spiritual journey, and we want to fast and pray that God will reach into their lives and they’d reach out to him.
- The weekend away – this is a big highlight each year for which we want to fast and pray, asking God to bless us, to meet with us, to build us up, to build us together and to equip us to be his ambassadors here in Dublin. The theme of the weekend will be ‘A Missionary People’ so let’s pray that God equips us for his mission in Dublin.
- Community needs – Each one of you will know different people with different needs, as well as the needs in your own life. Needs around health or finances or jobs or friendships or family as well as a whole host of other things. Let’s use this time to pray for one another and ask God to provide for the needs we have as well as enable us to trust him through the challenges we face.
- The Eighth Amendment – As Leanne has spoken about, this is a critical time in Ireland, and the laws around abortion are very contentious and divisive. Let’s pray that as a country we’d ‘love both’ and that we’d protect the rights of the unborn whilst helping those with dangerous or unwanted pregnancies. That God would use as a church to communicate grace and truth.
- Thanksgiving – as mentioned above, lets remember to thank God for who he is, what he has done and how he provides for us and satisfies us. It’s easy to ask…but let our time of fasting help us to give thanks too.
If you have any questions or suggestions do contact Steve and if you want to join us for prayer, do come along to Synge Street Secondary School at 7.30pm on Wednesday 1st November for our monthly night of prayer and worship.
For more resources check out
- Blog – Fasting for beginners
- Blog – sharpen your affections with fasting
- Podcast & Sermon – Why Christians Fast (John Piper)
- Book & Quotes – A Hunger for God (John Piper)
*Often called Spiritual disciplines but that phrase is unhelpful in my mind since it creates the potential connotation that it is through effort and striving that we achieve something…if we’re disciplined enough. Rather a rhythm is something that is a natural part of our lives that we have built into our lives, to give us equilibrium, balance, peace, stability and strength through the ebb and flow of life.