The Spiritual Practice of Fasting

"Lord, you are more important than food."

Plain and simple, fasting is abstaining from food to turn our attention to God.


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In Christianity fasting is an essential spiritual practice, recorded from the time of Jesus and his first followers to present day.


Fasting is one of many spiritual disciplines or spiritual practices that Christians historically have relied on to exercise the spiritual life because spiritual disciplines function to carve out opportunities and greater capacities for prayer.


Fasting is neither instrumental nor transactional. We do not and cannot make God do anything or cause God to work on our behalf. God already loves us, and God is already at work. Fasting instead is our response to God, God’s work, and sacred experience, which includes our desire or hunger for God. We might think of fasting as “whole- person” prayer, our words and bodies together turning in response to God’s initiative.


Fasting helps us identify with Jesus who fasted and prayed, as recorded in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. Like Jesus, when we fast, we recognize our human limits. We are demonstrably agreeing with Jesus that what God has to offer is more important than anything we can offer, perform, or acquire. The answer to our great need for God is God, nothing else.


PRACTICALS FOR FASTING

  1. Before you fast, determine the “ground rules” and stick to them: what are the firm dates and times when the fast will begin and end? What are you fasting from? What is permissible for you to eat and/or drink? Set reasonable, achievable goals. Fast for reasons that you can clearly articulate.  

  2. When you fast, give yourself some grace. It’s not easy. It is uncomfortable. Don’t be a superhero or unwise when it comes to medication or ignoring serious health problems. Talk to a physician about any medical concerns. Reach out to a pastor or trusted friend about what you are doing and why.  

  3. Fasting is not an excuse to do stupid things.

  4. If you are unable to fast from food completely, consider abstaining from a specific type of food, an activity, or some other “appetite,” such as red meat, caffeinated drinks, desserts, snacking between meals, television, email, smart phones, social media.  

  5. If it would be unwise for you not to eat for an entire designated period, fast for one meal or for one meal every day. Consider fasting for one 24-hour period during a multi-day fast.  

  6. Drink LOTS of water. If you feel physically uncomfortable or emotionally low, then get a big drink of water—more than you think—before you move on. Then drink more water.  

  7. Set aside dedicated time to pray. This includes not only spoken prayer, but also personal worship and devotional reading. Let pouring out your heart, singing, reading, and silence take the place of food and nourish you.

  8. Fasting is about practicing a new rhythm of life and exercising refreshed attention to God. The experience of physical emptiness is our catalyst to look to God to meet our need. First, turn meal times into prayer times. Second, whenever you experience hunger, discomfort, or neediness, immediately turn those moments into pointed prayers. Let very real sensations of need and lack become the stepping stones to turn your attention to God and to invite God into your need.

  9. Take time to think about what you are doing. Time appears to slow down during a fast, so take advantage of that extra time to quiet down for self-reflection.

  10. If you are fasting for the first time, start small. You have nothing to prove.

  11. Be wise in breaking a fast: eat and drink healthy stuff and continue to drink more water than you think is necessary. It will take a meal or two for your body to come back to normal. For breaking longer fasts, eating gradually and carefully becomes more important.


A FEW THINGS TO REMEMBER

  1. Fasting reminds us that food is a gift to enjoy and worth giving thanks for.

  2. Fasting reminds us that the body is part of prayer and indispensable to the spiritual life. Fasting does not excuse or condone self-hatred, bodily harm, or eating disorders.  

  3. Fasting does not make God do anything.

  4. Fasting is not a silver bullet.

  5. Fasting reminds us that God is more important than we are. What God brings to the table is of immeasurably more consequence than what we bring.