What’s Up with Fasting?


I recently asked the West Campus congregation to join me in a couple of days of prayer and fasting for our church, and there were a handful of people that responded and showed up. Even still, I notice that there’s often some resistance to this sort of thing. I even feel it myself. I have a tendency to be very productivity focused, and well… prayer often doesn’t feel like a very productive thing to do.

So I thought this topic might be a good thing to open up for discussion. Specifically, what’s the deal with fasting? Is it like a starvation protest where we twist God’s arm and get Him to do what we want Him to do?

What about prayer? Why do you think churches and people don’t pray more often? Why does an hour of prayer seem impossible to most of us? Do you prefer to pray alone or with a group? Is it difficult to keep you attention focused?

I’d love to hear what you guys think, so please post your comments.

10 thoughts on “What’s Up with Fasting?

  1. I have fasted from food, entertainment, shopping for wants, on occasion over the past 17 years. It’s amazing how attached I found I was to these things and how very little in comparision to what I was taking in I needed to survive on. I came to appreciate how very dependent I; all of us are on God and that there truly is a spiritual battle going on. In our culture everything has become instant and there is an air of entitlement, and parish the thought of depriving ourselves, but in God’s Kingdom we are told to die to self and that God is sovereign and supplies He our every need. Most of us could fast from food for 20 even 40 or more days without any ill effect in fact the health benefits are phenomenal although not the main goal in a spiritual fast. Fasting unto the Lord places us right in the palm of God’s hand and causes one to be very acutely aware that we are in great, great need of God’s mercy and you find He is faithful to answer your prayers, to break bonds, to set you free of burdens, and to create in you a clean heart. I have experience all these as result of fasting.

  2. I get an incredible headache when I don’t eat every four hours or so. Of course, I know that God can remove or work through my pain. So maybe it’s a question of faith?

    How do you pray for an hour? I either feel like I’m “fluffing” my prayers to draw them out longer, or that I’m saying the same thing over and over with a different person’s name attached. I get bored with what I’m doing, so I assume that God is probably bored listening to me!

  3. An hour in prayer has sometimes felt like an impossibility to me as well. Here’s my take on that:

    When thinking about spiritual disciplines, I’ve found that it’s helpful for me to think along the same lines as physical exercise. I don’t know about you, but I hate running. I think I’d rather have my spleen removed than run a mile, and if I had to run for an hour, I’m sure that I’d die. I’m guessing that my heart would explode.

    But even though I couldn’t run for an hour, I could probably run for five minutes… that is, if I really had to. For instance, if a huge wild boar was chasing me through the woods. And over time, if chased by enough wild boars, I could probably build up to running for much longer, maybe even an hour.

    I believe that the spiritual disciplines work in much the same way. We have to start at a reasonable pace when reading the Bible, committing our finances, fasting, praying, and the rest. But we can and should build up our capacity and enjoyment of these things over time. If not, we’re just being spiritually lazy.

    In addition to our spiritual stamina, our methodology can make a huge difference too. For example, an hour can fly by when I’m praying out loud in a group, or when I take time to write out my prayers or journal my thoughts (helps me focus my attention). Also, I’m learning more and more to make Bible study and prayer a part of the same experience – using Scripture to guide my prayer – rather than separating out the two from one another.

  4. Rolanda’s comment has caused me to think about this topic several times since I read it at the beginning of the week… it’s an interesting concept that fasting doesn’t simply have to be from food. If fasting is giving something up in order to make more time to spend with God or to make that time more meaningful, then perhaps food isn’t the first thing that people should give up. What is it in my life that is impeding my prayer time — that is what I need to fast from, that is the thing which is taking away from my relationship with God.

  5. Richard J. Foster has written a classic book on the spiritual disciplines called Celebration of Discipline. It is an excellent work, and he has an outstanding and very practical chapter on the topic of fasting. I thought I would share a few excerpts here:

    “In Scripture the normal means of fasting involves abstaining from all food, solid or liquid, but not from water… [Jesus’] teaching on fasting is directly in the context of his teaching of giving and praying. It is as if there is an almost unconscious assumption that giving, praying, and fasting are all part of Christian devotion.” (p 49 & 52)

    “It should be obvious to all that there are some people who for physical reasons should not fast: diabetics, expectant mothers, heart patients, and others. If you have any question about your fitness to fast, seek medical advice.” (p 60)

  6. A few more quotes from Foster’s Celebration of Discipline:

    “To use good things to our own ends is always the sign of false religion. How easy it is to take something like fasting and try to use it to get God to do what we want. At times there is such stress upon the blessings and benefits of fasting that we would be tempted to believe that with a little fast we could have the world, including God, eating out of our hands.” (p 54)

    “We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately…. Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear – if they are within us, they will surface during fasting.” (p 55)

    “It is wise to know the process your body goes through in the course of a longer fast. The first three days are usually the most difficult…. By the sixth or seventh day… hunger pains will continue to diminish until by the ninth or tenth day they are only a minor irritation…. Anywhere between twenty-one and forty days or longer, depending on the individual, hunger pains will return. This is the first stage of starvation and the pains signal that the body has used up its reserves and is beginning to draw on the living tissue. The fast should be broken at this time.” (p 59)

  7. The following is quoted from “The Spirit-filled Believer’s Daily Devotional” by Dick Mills.

    I humbled myself with fasting… (Psalm 35:13)

    Fasting is a form of self-denial. It is a cure for unbelief. It is a pride-deflator, because no one can be proud on an empty stomach. Fasting is part of the Christian discipline. It demonstrates that no appetite masters the Christian, no hunger dominates him. It reminds him, “I do not live to eat, I eat to live.”

    The primary definition of fasting is “abstaining from food.” It also includes the denial of pleasure, leisure, recreation, and hobbies. It is a self-imposed discipline so a person can concentrate on seeking the Lord.

    It not the denial of food or pleasure that makes fasting acceptable to God or helpful for the believer; but rather, it is the attitude of the heart and the focus of attention upon the Lord that both pleases and prospers.

  8. Quote from “The Spirit-filled Believer’s Daily Devotional” by Dick Mills.

    When the disciples proved powerless to cast out the demon of a child, they asked the Lord why they had failed. (Mark 9:14-28.) His answer is enlightening:

    “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”(Mark 9:29 NKJ.)

    Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
    To loose the bonds of wickedness,
    To undo the heavy burdens,
    To let the oppressed go free,
    And that you break every yoke?

    (Isaiah 58:6 NKJ.)

    This verse implies that fasting will release the power of God in ways not otherwise possible. Fasting makes possible great deliverances. It breaks yolks, delivers captives, frees prisoners, and releases God’s power in lives.

  9. This quote from Isaiah is also a great reminder that the type of fasting that is pleasing to God is not just a “religious activity.” Instead, it is something that is an outflow from our relationship with Him and should result in us living lives that make a difference in the world around us.

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