Spiritual Discipline Series: 5. Fasting

The mind and the body are something we are all quite aware of. Our mind is always running, gathering data from our senses and organizing it into information for our spirit to utilize. Our bodies are doing their part to keep us going, getting through the day, always demanding food, rest, stretching, food, coffee, extra coffee…

It seems we spend all of each of our days hearing our mind and body cry out to us for all sorts of things. Mental stimulation, exercise, entertainment, satisfaction, pleasure, and other “worldly” desires take over our soul if we are not careful. 1 John 2:16-17 tells us,

“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

The objective of the disciplines is to bring our two connections to the world under the control of the spirit. Meditation helps us to calm the mind and get control of it to focus on the spiritual. Prayer brings the mind under control, tuning it in to the wavelength of God so that we may speak with Him and build our relationship with Him. Both require control over the body to remain in one place long enough to complete these two disciplines. But nothing puts the spirit ahead of the body and the mind greater than the Spiritual Discipline of Fasting.

What is Fasting?

Fasting is the process of bringing the spirit into control over the mind and the body by depriving it of food for a period of time. The objective is to wrap our entire being into submission to God. The focus is on worshipping and praising God throughout the endeavor. The purpose is threefold:

  1. To praise God and honor Him with the whole self.
  2. To identify that which we have allowed to control us, consciously and unconsciously.
  3. To show that we are completely dependent on God, sustained by His Word.

There are many benefits that come from fasting, most notably an increased appreciation for what we have in this life, increased concentration, and the ability to endure hardships increases as well. There are a great number of books that can be read that go over a variety of the benefits attested to by those who practice sound Christian fasting. However, it is important to keep these three purposes in mind. We can not allow ourselves to make fasting into something for personal gain in non-spiritual senses. We can not boast about it, we should not make people aware of it by appearing like we are suffering through it (as Jesus advises in Matthew 6:16-18). Fasting is conducted in order to bring our whole self into submission to God. We should be in joy and peace when we fast, celebrating our Lord and appreciating all that we do while on a fast to His greater glory. We can praise the Lord under the pressures of fasting, and when combined with prayer and meditation, we will be able to connect with the Lord with greater clarity and presence.

Where is Fasting in the Bible?

As with all of the disciplines, we will find the discipline of fasting everywhere in the Bible. While there is no commandment to fast (though this is up to Theological debate), it is clear that Jesus expected that His disciples would fast. Matthew 6:16-18 is often referenced as it pertains to Jesus speaking on fasting:

“16 When you fast, do not look somber 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. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 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.”

Instead of listing off the variety of verses where fasting is being conducted, Here is a link to a collection of them for you to reference. http://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-fasting/. In reviewing these verses, you will find that in most cases, the fasting is conducted in response to  time of great need. When significant decisions need to be made, fasting is conducted with prayer. When times of trial and difficulty are being experienced, fasting is done. In times of peace and good living, fasting is done. A good time of study should be spent reviewing these verses in their context in order to gain greater understanding on the subject.

How do I Fast?

First, let’s go over the different types of fasting to aid in understanding how to go about it. The first type of fasting that should be mentioned is the one where only certain things are abstained from. Daniel gives us a good example in Daniel chapter 10. Here he abstains only from certain foods and drinks. I mention this first as this is an example of fasting where one may have additional duties to attend to that require great labor and energy. While Daniel does not provide us with a reason for only doing this “Partial Fast,” it can be understood that in His position he had to have energy to get through his duties. In our time, abstaining from certain foods and drinks is best utilized when we are discovering that something has control of us. Not necessarily those foods or drinks, but there is something going on that we need to bring under control.

The next type is the standard fast. This type of fasting is conducted by abstaining from all food, both liquid and solid, and having only water to drink. This is the type of fast that can be conducted for up to 40 days. This is the type of fast that Jesus was on during his 40 days in the wilderness, and His confrontation with the devil (Matt. 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13). During this type of fast, great care must be taken to ensure that you are capable of doing it, so consult a doctor if there are any medical conditions that you should take into consideration. This type of fasting is quite demanding, and is intended to be done for between 3 and 7 days as a regular, God guided occurrence. When it comes to doing such a fast, a time of prayer and meditation on doing it should be done to ensure it is something that ought to be done given your reasons for doing it. Perhaps there is difficulty and hardship that requires serious attention, or there may be a decision upcoming that is of great importance that you seek guidance on. But there need not be such significant reasons. This type of fast should also be done regularly as a discipline to keep one’s spirit in control over the worldly things. When you come to realize (on your own or by a fellow believer holding you to account) that your spirit is not out front in the lead, a fast should be done to set your life back in proper balance.

The final type of fast is where you abstain from food and water for not more than three days. This type of fasting (the Absolute Fast) is intended for those times of dire consequence. In Esther 4:16, such a fast is called for by Esther to be conducted by all the Jewish people, including her and her maidens. This was due to the impending doom of her people at the hands of the king’s counselor. This type of fast should only be done in similar sorts of situations.

Each of these types of fast should be done individually. However, there is nothing prohibiting practicing a fast together in a group (plenty of Biblical evidence of it being done this way). It is best to do this when there is a shared need involved, and this is certainly helpful when starting out. It is a great thing to do together as a small group, adding to your plans of group worship and praise of God. As a local church body, this makes for a great way to come together, aiding each other through accountability. The main objectives always remain, to bring glory to God, to identify and conquer weakness, and to sustain yourself on the Word of God alone.

Building Up To It

When beginning to apply this discipline, you must prepare yourself for it. In ancient times, fasting was a regular practice for the reasons mentioned at the beginning of this article. These ancient people were raised up into the practice and it was very common. In our modern times of 3 squares a day, our bodies have been trained to maintain this. So going into this spiritual practice will require the practitioner to ease into it. This does not take away from the value of the discipline. It is a serious matter to ween one’s self into this practice, and I do highly advise consulting your physician to ensure no medical problems might be of concern.

Start out by setting yourself to do a 24 hour standard fast. Do not start out with the partial fast, as this will not sufficiently prepare you for the standard fast. Do not try to eat a great deal prior to the fast. Instead, make your meals smaller in the days prior to the 24 hour period you will be fasting. When you begin, do not start with the morning to morning practice. Instead, it is best to begin from one day’s lunch to the next day’s lunch. In other words, eat a small meal of fruit and vegetables about 11am on the first day, and do not eat or drink anything other than a water until the next day at 11am. This way there is only two meals being skipped at first. Doing this one day per week over several weeks will aid in training your body to break the bad habits of our modern approach to eating.

While going through the fast, there are some things to prepare for. Hunger pains being the most significant. While as a Marine, I was able to get by without food for a long time. But this was due to the wild situations my brothers in arms and I were in at the time. We hardly had time to notice the hunger pains. However, in civilian life, I certainly do feel those hunger pains while at work between job sites. These are not actual signs of hunger. Believe it or not, they are signals to eat that we have trained our bodies to do through the habits of 3 squares a day. Bringing these under control, getting past them, really is a bit of a liberating experience. If you can get through your 24 hour period without the temptation to eat as brought on by the “hunger pains,” you most certainly can handle the rest. This includes headaches (resolved easily by drinking glasses of water steadily and not quickly), weakness (which goes away in time and lasts only briefly), tiredness (who isn’t tired after lunch anyways?), and for some (like myself) crankiness.

Once you have gotten through a couple of weeks of disciplining your body, bringing it under the control of your spirit and into submission to God, you will be ready to try a 36 hour fast. Then from there, a full 3 day fast, and so on. It is wise not to eat large meals once you come out of a fast. Instead, be sure to eat fruits and vegetables with something liquid like a soup when you complete your fast. Small portions, and spread them out a bit until a day or so later. This can also make for a great time to consider a proper diet plan to get on to meet your health needs. Again, be sure to consult a doctor or nutritionist about a proper diet to get on to for your specific health needs. Also, to avoid the mild problem of constipation during the fast, be sure to eat fruits as your last meal before starting your fast.

Conclusion

As we have been covering over the last few articles, we are working on inward disciplines. These are focused on bringing the spirit out front and in control of the mind and body. This involves bringing God into our lives more deeply so that He can aid us in achieving this. In doing so, communication is the key as we seek to form this healthy relationship to God. The discipline of fasting is NOT a punishment. It is not some morbid act of self-deprivation or self-inflicted punishment for wrong doing. It is an act of bringing the mind and body into submission to the spirit so that our spirits can unite with the Holy Spirit in communion with God. Uniting meditation, prayer, and fasting together puts out hearts and minds into the proper wavelength with God, giving Him glory and praise and seeking after Him with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength. As we practice these disciplines, we will begin to hear that still, small voice of God become more and more clear. Our relationship with Him will grow, and because of His filling our hearts, we will be even more inclined to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Your Thoughts?