Ok, this is perhaps a slightly controversial one. Who knows. Fasting is not the topic of conversation in many churches right now. (Maybe that’s a stupid comment, as I only attend one church…)
Anyways, Jesus says, in Matthew 6:16, ‘when you fast…’ which kind of assumes that his disciples will be doing it, doesn’t it?
Looking through the Bible, I reckon that fasting tends to fall into one of the following brackets:
1) Fasting when you’re in desperate need. Take Esther as an example. An absolute fast is declared (no food or water at all) when the nation of Israel is on the brink of extermination.
2) Fasting to show sorrow and repentance. Jonah’s one example (the Ninevites, strictly speaking, not Jonah himself).
3) Fasting as a way of preparing for something. Jesus did this. His ministry was preceded by His time in the desert. His focus was on His Father, not His food.
4) Fasting as a time of fellowship. The Bible makes plenty of provision for feasting as a fellowship. This is often a sign of gratitude to God for something He has done. Perhaps fasting is more a sign of reliance on God as a community. It draws the people together.
So I decided that yesterday would be a fast day. (I meant to write this at the weekend, when it would have been something in the future. I wonder if writing a #standorfall after the event is kind of cheating…) There were probably a number of reasons for fasting on this occasion.
First of all, I sometimes have a dodgy relationship with food, and I wanted to make sure that my focus was more on God than on food. A sort of realignment.
Secondly, there are a number of things going on right now that I wanted to bring to God during a fast. I don’t think there’s any sort of magical extra bonus powers that fasting brings to prayer, but certainly the Bible has a number of accounts which support the discipline of fasting as you bring certain requests to God.
Thirdly, there are things that I’m trying to prepare for which I wanted to fast in preparation for (I’m thinking, as I write this, perhaps one day of fasting was a bit stingy given the amount of stuff I was wanting to cover!) 🙂
Anyway, as I said, the fast was yesterday. It wasn’t quite to plan, as Little Boy couldn’t go to nursery, having thrown up in the night, but other than that, the day went as I’d hoped. I also found out that someone I follow on Twitter has Tuesday as their church fast day, so it was nice to feel that I was part of a fasting community on the day.
No lightning bolts or anything, but I did feel that I’d been able to give more time to God yesterday, and I felt the benefits of that, particularly in housegroup last night, where I felt … uh … (not sure how to express this really…) like I’d given less and gained more (that’s a more positive feeling than it sounds!)
Speaking of housegroup, we were celebrating the birthday of one of our housegroup members last night. I’d decided (in advance, not as a capitulation!) to break my fast with birthday cake after our Bible study. There’s something biblical about times both of fasting and feasting. I have to admit, as the one who made the birthday cake earlier in the day, it wasn’t easy to keep myself from eating some of it before I should have! But it felt really great having a celebration to end my fast with.
That feels like a really messy post, perhaps because it covers both the plan and the execution in one post. After the questions, I’ll copy and paste a few tips on fasting from my book. Feel free to read them if you’re considering fasting yourself 🙂
Have you ever had teaching in church about fasting?
Have you ever fasted, and did you feel you had benefited from it?
- Make a conscious decision about when to fast and then stick with it. If you decide to fast, for example, on the first day of every month, it’s likely to be easier to stick to than waking up one morning and saying to yourself, ‘I think I’ll fast today’.
- You may want to have a specific purpose for your fast. If so, be realistic about what you can achieve and how much time you can (or should) give it. Examples might include a particular situation that is concerning you or a decision that needs to be made.
- Be realistic about what a fast should involve. Don’t start with an absolute fast. You might start with giving up food but still drinking normally. In fact, make sure you drink plenty when you’re fasting, otherwise you’ll dehydrate. You may wish to give up any drinks other than water, or just cut down on them and substitute them with a glass of water. You might want to fast from lunch to lunch (so you miss dinner and breakfast) to start with. This is a sensible way to get into fasting. It’s effectively a 24 hour fast, but you only miss two meals, and are still fasting for an entire day.
- Bear in mind that you may be more tired and cold while fasting than normal. You haven’t given your body any energy, so don’t expect as much as you would normally. You may need to take it easy when you’re fasting. This can turn out to be a great benefit of fasting – lots of us need to slow down sometimes.
- You may want to fast at the same time as a friend or group of friends, so you’re going through it together. It’s good fellowship.
- Remember fasting is more to do with God than with your stomach.
- You might want to think about things other than food to ‘fast’ from. If you spend an hour eating every day, and three hours on the computer or watching TV, then fasting from TV and computer time will give you more time for God than fasting from food.
- It’s not helpful to go around telling everyone that you’re fasting (though if your mum’s cooking you dinner, she’ll probably need to know more than ten minutes in advance). The danger of telling everyone is that you might end up thinking what a wonderful and holy person you are, and forget that you’re actually supposed to be focusing on God, not yourself! This isn’t to say that fasting should be on the same level as National Secrets – you don’t need to lie about it if anyone asks. Just explain honestly and humbly what you’re doing.
- Don’t ‘fill up’ on food before you start a fast. Just eat what you would normally eat. If you have a huge meal before fasting, it will actually make the fast harder.
- Finally, and very importantly, if you suffer from any eating disorders, or have struggled with them in the past, then it’s not necessarily wise to fast from food. Consider other things to fast from instead of food. Don’t put yourself in harm’s way. Likewise, if you have any medical conditions (like diabetes for example) that would make fasting more risky, then don’t do it without getting some clear advice from your doctor first.