Spiritual Disciplines Ep. 5: Fasting

Show Notes:

Matt: J.D., our next spiritual discipline is fasting. J.D., tell us about it…

J.D.: I mentioned this in our prayer episode, but as we’re recording this, our church is in a season we do every year called 21DOP and fasting. Fasting is basically eliminating something from your life – traditionally, food is what gets eliminated – in order to focus the time and energy you would’ve put into that thing on God.

Fasting is sometimes relegated to the “varsity level” of Christianity, as if it’s only for super-Christians.

But that’s not true. Fasting isn’t given to us as an option. Jesus in Matt. 6 says, “WHEN you fast…” – not “If you fast.” So how do we do it?

Years ago, I wrote a blog post called “I Hate Fasting.” The title is a little tongue-in-cheek, but many Christians, in honest moments, agree with me. Fasting days put you in a bad mood. You rarely come out feeling more spiritual, you come out feeling like you could eat a raw goat.

The reason for that is that though many Christians know they ought to fast, they don’t know why they fast. They know it is connected to prayer, but they don’t know what the connection is and they end up fasting in a way that is completely out of step with the gospel.

Often, we fast because we assume that “punishing” ourselves somehow makes us and our prayers more acceptable to God. Fasting shows God how badly we want and deserve whatever we are asking for. God is moved, we believe, by our culinary flagellation and he grudgingly grants us what we ask for, since we’ve suffered so much in our fast.

That, of course, is a not-even-very-well-veiled version of works-righteousness, and a flagrant denial of what the Gospel teaches us about God. Rather than making God more willing to answer our prayers, it offends God by acting like Christ’s work is not sufficient

So the question is, why do we do it? 

Bottom line: it’s not to put God in a better mood to hear us; but to put us in a better position to God.

  • It gives God a chance to purify our hearts from idols–to remind us that we need God’s voice more than we need anything else in the world, including food. It demonstrates to God that we understand that, that we crave it, and trains our own souls to think that way. 
  • It also gives us a greater sensitivity to the “voice” of the Spirit.

In short: Fasting doesn’t change God; fasting changes us.

Matt: We had a listener question from Shannon who asked, ” Should fasting be food like it was in the Bible? Can you explain food fast vs abstaining?”

  • So, Shannon, great question. Like I mentioned, many people at our church are fasting right now—and we encourage them to start with food, but we don’t limit it to that. 
  • I know many, many people who have benefited greatly from fasting from all kinds of things.
    • Social media
    • TV
    • This is not unbiblical, btw–Paul talked about a married couple abstaining from sexual activity as a kind of fast. There’s a principle at work–I am depriving myself of something I desire to train my soul how much more I desire, and am desperate for, God and his power
  • But like I said, I personally think fasting from food is the “best” option.
    • There are a lot of things our minds and our bodies enjoy, but food is one thing the body needs. 
    • To deprive your body of its usual “fuel” very quickly creates a noticeable void, and if we’re fasting correctly, we’ll fill that void with both dependence and communion with the Holy Spirit.
    • (Obviously, you have to do this safely. You should only do it if you are physically or psychologicaly able) 
    • I’ve heard fasting from food described as “Praying with your stomach,” and “temporarily starving your body so you can better feast with your soul.”

Matt: Alex asks: “In Isaiah 58, (God) speaks of fasting (one of my fav passages). What’s the right way to fast? You’re awesome!” (Make a joke about “You’re awesome!”)

  • Alex, hopefully I’ve answered some of what you’re asking by talking about the right way to fast earlier in this episode – but I think the passage you’re talking about, Is. 58, is a great example of how not to fast. 
    • In Isaiah 58, God addresses hypocrites. They sin, and go on sinning, like the fast pays off their sin. 
      • That is an abomination to God. 
      • It’s like God said to Saul, “i’d rather have simple obedience than lavish sacrifice.” Better to just do what he says than to disobey him and try to pay him off with the most extravagant offerings.
  • Matthew Henry said about this passage, “A fast is a day to afflict the soul; if it does not express true sorrow for sin, and does not promote the putting away of sin, it is not a fast.
  • So there’s an incorrect heart posture being shown here – and then there’s the correct heart posture, which is to fast in order to draw yourself closer to God who has already fully received you, in order to know and enjoy him more.

  • Matt: Next week, we’ll continue our series on the spiritual disciplines by discussing the discipline of giving. Don’t miss it next week!
  • We’re now on YouTube; subscribe to @J.D.Greear.


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