Fasting. Churches and Christians seem to fast a lot, especially at the beginning of the year or during Lent (which precedes Easter). You may have heard pastors and church leaders encourage the congregation to join in on a corporate fast. They’ve even given some examples on what you should fast from. Skip all three meals? Give up coffee? Now, you want my social media? You’ve convinced yourself to give it a try.
You joined the fast. Maybe it was a 21-day fast or, perhaps, you gave up something for Lent. How did it feel? What did you learn? Or, are you even less certain about fasting than you were initially? Why do Christians fast? Let’s dig into the who, what, when, where, why and how of fasting.
What is fasting?
Fasting, by definition, is to abstain from something — typically food — for a period of time. Maybe you’ve heard of intermittent fasting, where a person will fast for a certain amount of time each day. Is that the type of fasting Christians are partaking in?
That’s not the kind of fasting we’re talking about. Biblical fasting is an opportunity to grow closer to Jesus. It’s a chance to strip away the distractions and focus on God to become more in tune with His Spirit. According to Just Disciple, “The primary Biblical reason to fast is to take our eyes off of the things of the flesh and to open our eyes to the things of God.” This is reinforced in the Bible in Ephesians 4:22-24 (NASB1995): “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
Who should fast?
Contrary to popular belief, fasting is not mandatory for Christians. Fasting won’t absolve you from sin, but it may help you on your path to repentance. So the answer here is that Christians who want to grow closer in their relationship with Jesus should fast. Your reason should be spiritual.
Why do Christians fast?
The main reason Christians fast is to enhance their relationship with Jesus. That relationship growth may come in various different formats, including:
- Prayer — Many Christians use fasting to help deepen their prayer life or pray for a particular purpose. Some may take this opportunity to ask for guidance or wisdom for a specific event or scenario. God says that He will grant wisdom to those who ask for it, and fasting allows our minds to be quieted and more receptive to hearing the Holy Spirit.
- Worship — Christians also fast as a form of worship. Fasting offers Christians the opportunity to express their thankfulness and praise to Jesus.
- Repentance — Fasting also offers Christians an opportunity to examine their lives, which often reveals areas for repentance. Once God has revealed that there’s an area of our life that has sin in it (hint: we all have these areas), we can then focus on asking God for forgiveness.
When should Christians fast?
Christians should fast when God calls them to fast or when they sense that they need to strengthen their relationship with Christ. There’s not a specific time of year that’s better for fasting.
Tips for fasting (the how!)
Is there a proper way for Christians to fast? Sure. There’s a right way and wrong way to fast. Here are some tips:
- Don’t broadcast it. There’s a time and place for corporate fasting (fasting done in a group with a church or family or friends). But, for the most part, fasting should be done in private and remain just between you and Jesus. Once your fast is over, you can share what you learned if God provides an opportunity.
- Keep it focused on Jesus. It’s so easy to try to get some additional benefits from fasting such as shedding a couple of pounds or kick-starting your intermittent fasting goals. Spiritual fasting should focus on Jesus and your relationship with Him.
- You don’t have to fast from food. There are many different types of fasting. Some fast from food, some fast from coffee or alcohol, and others fast from media. You should fast the way you feel God is calling you to fast.
When it comes to Christians and fasting, there’s no one-size-fits-all. Fasting allows Christians to grow closer to Jesus, seek forgiveness, and offer praise and gratitude. If you feel God is calling you to fast from something, do it and be prepared to learn something new.