The Christian doctrine of fasting has fallen upon hard times. The contemporary view could be summarised by a friend’s comment who said “I can’t believe God would have answered my prayer but decided not to because I ate that piece of chicken”
This article is not about how to fast or whether Christians should observe lent or anything like that. The aim of this article is to explain the why of fasting and why it is important that we do not lose this precious gift from God.
Fasting is defined as the wilful refrainment from eating and or drinking for a specific period of time for a spiritual purpose. Nowadays it is fashionable to talk about fasting from technology or from entertainment, but this article is concerned about fasting as traditionally understood.
Biblically understood, fasting is a voluntary intensification of prayer. It is a decision to set aside a period of time to focus on bringing a particular issue before God in prayer. It is removing every distraction, including your own pleasure in eating and drinking, to seek the face of God until he answers a specific petition.
Understood this way, the emphasis is more on what fasting is for, not for what fasting is against. Fasting is for focusing on God. It is a mindset of persistence that Jesus commends (Luke 18:1-8). It is urgent, daring, and refuses to give God any rest until he comes forth in power (Isaiah 62:7).
Fasting is commended by the prophets (Isaiah 58). It is assumed by Jesus to be a normal practice (Matthew 6:16-18). It was practiced often by the early church (Acts 13:1–4; Acts 14:23) and has been commended throughout church history.
Why then does fasting seem strange to us? As Kevin DeYoung said, “Worldliness is whatever makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange”. The real problem is the moral distance between us and our spiritual fathers, the fact that we are so comfortable with this fallen world that we feel no strong compulsion to discomfort ourselves that the will of God may be done.
As the famous reformer William Wilberforce once said when speaking of the problems he saw in his own day, “Where is it, that in such a world as this, [that] health, and leisure, and affluence may not find some ignorance to instruct, some wrong to redress, some want to supply, some misery to alleviate?”
Oh, that we may have eyes to see like Wilberforce did! That the troubles of this current age would drive us to seek the face of God urgently and with fervor this year.