For the month of March, we will be focusing on the spiritual discipline of fasting. Today’s verse, Luke 4:2, is about Jesus’ 40 day fast in the wilderness at the beginning of His ministry. We are now in the season of Lent so some of you may be abstaining from something during this period of time. (Lent is the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter that is meant for reflection. It is to remind us of Jesus’ 40 day fast.) Not all Protestants practice Lent (we don’t highlight it at New Hope) so you may not be familiar with it, but I think this is a great time to take a look at fasting.
Although there’s no specific command in scripture to fast, verses like Matthew 6:16-18 certainly seem to imply that Jesus thinks fasting is important. We should also note that He considers how we fast to be important as well.
16 “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. 17 But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. 18 Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you." (Matthew 6:16-19, NLT)
In our book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster has included fasting as an inward discipline. Although fasting can certainly be done with groups, it is meant to be a personal discipline between us and God. Foster writes, “Fasting must forever center on God. It must be God-initiated and God-ordained” (Foster, p. 54). Because fasting is to be centered on God, our motivation for it is very important.
Fasting has become very popular today for health reasons; there are many benefits to fasting as long as your health allows for it. **Those who are diabetic, pregnant or have other health concerns should ask their doctor before fasting.** That being said, there’s a difference between fasting for health and fasting for spiritual benefit. Foster writes, “More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things will surface” (Foster, p. 55).
Fasts are typically 24 hours long and involve going without food, while still drinking water. If you are new to fasting, you may want to start with a partial fast of skipping a meal or two and working your way up. The point is really not how long can you go without food, it’s about focusing on God and taking a look at the things that control us. Other fasts that people do include fasting from social media, TV, caffeine, etc. But in spiritual fasting, the focus is always on God and spending time with Him.
Executive Director of Education and Outreach