Rethinking the Spiritual Discipline of Fasting

 

This year at First Baptist Church, we are working through 12 spiritual disciplines seeking to draw closer to the Lord and more devoted to Him. Each month we emphasize a new spiritual discipline. We studied meditation in January, worship in February, prayer in March, and this month we are studying the discipline of fasting.
 

Fasting is not the most popular of the Christian disciplines. If the spiritual disciplines were a family, meditation would be that weird uncle that you learn to love. Worship would be that patriarch of the family that everyone names their children after and aspires to. Prayer would be the matriarch that everyone loves, but never finds time to go visit. Fasting would be like the black sheep, that no one really likes and only loves them because they have to.

 

At First Baptist, though, we have begun to rethink the discipline of fasting and it has been a tremendous blessing to our family of faith. I hope you will consider the practice as well. Here are some things that came out of our study and practice of fasting.

 
 
1. When you fast you are practicing the devotion of your body to the Lord. In Mark 12:30, Jesus instructed His disciples that this was the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” That last item, “all your strength,” involves the devotion of your very body. Often times this is the most overlooked aspect of devotion.
 
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” This insinuates that it is possible to devote your heart, mind, and soul to the point that you are preaching the gospel to others, and still neglect the devotion of your body (strength) to Him. This can result in you being “disqualified” despite your perceived devotion. Fasting is a good way to discipline your body so that you do not fall into this trap.
 
2. When you fast, you join the camp of the who’s who of the Bible and church history. Moses, David, Elijah, Esther, Daniel, Anna, Paul, and Jesus all fasted on occasion. In addition to these Bible characters, there were also many church fathers who fasted regularly including, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, Johnathan Edwards, and Charles Finney to name a few. Why should we not also make fasting a regular part of our devotional life just like worship, prayer, and giving?
 
3. When you fast, pride is exposed and you learn humility. We have a tendency to get moody when we go without food for an extended period of time. Some call it “hanger.” However, there is another way of looking at hunger induced anger. Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline, explains that what we might call hanger is really our pride making its way to the surface. Most of the time we keep this pride suppressed with food and other substances. When those substances are removed, pride rears its ugly head where it can be repented of and forgiven.
 

4. When you fast, you are doing what Jesus expected that you would do as His disciple. If you look at Jesus teaching on fasting, you will find that while He never commanded us to fast per se, He did expect that we would fast as a part of our devotion to Him. Many people like to point out that Jesus condemned the Pharisee’s fasting, however, He did not condemn the discipline of fasting. His condemnation was for the way that they made a show of their fasting. His instruction began with these three words, “when you fast…” which assumes that you, as a disciple, would be fasting at some point as part of your personal devotion to Him.

 

I do not mean to suggest that you should just launch into fasting today. Certainly, there are some who are not healthy enough to fast. If you have any doubts, then you should speak to a Doctor first. There are also a wealth of books on the topic. Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline is a good place to start. I only suggest that you rethink the black sheep of the spiritual disciplines.