Spiritual Arsenal #4: Fasting

Are you one of those Christians who believe that you don't need to fast? Some have never done it and have no desire to do so. Maybe they think it belongs to the pre-Christian era rather than to the life of the church. Or perhaps they just don't want to give up food for even a few hours. Regardless, many Christians don't ever fast. What about you? What's your take on fasting?

There is some truth to these misgivings about fasting. Jesus and his followers were known more for eating than fasting. His critics considered him to be "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:33) because of his willingness to dine with just about anyone. The Pharisees were suspicious of Jesus because he and his followers didn't "fast and pray regularly" in the expected, visible manner of other religious leaders (Luke 5:33-34).

In the book of Acts, the Christian gatherings were often described as "breaking bread" together, clearly signifying the presence of some sort of food. Table fellowship has continued as a hallmark of Christian assemblies through the ages. The Lord's Supper, for example, involves the eating of real bread and the drinking of real juice—rather than abstaining from food and drink. Eating and drinking together, therefore, is far more central to life in the church than fasting.

Yet fasting ought to play a crucial role in the life of believers. Jesus said, "When you fast do not look somber as the hypocrites do . . ." (Matthew 6:16). Notice that Jesus did not say, "If you fast" but rather, "When you fast." 

The only time in Acts where we find Christians described as "worshiping" together is in Acts 13:1-3. As they worshiped the Lord in Antioch, they fasted and prayed. It's fascinating that the author Luke doesn't describe their order of worship or the song selections or even the sermon title. He strips it down and merely says that "while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke." In the midst of this time of communal fasting and prayer, the Holy Spirit broke through in a powerful way that changed the course of Christianity: Paul and Barnabas were sent out on the first missionary journey. Would they have heard the Spirit if they had chosen to break bread instead of going hungry? Would Paul and Barnabas still have been sent out if they had been unwilling to fast?

The early church fathers often believed that fasting was the key to overcoming many sinful obsessions—from gluttony to sexual lust. They believed that spiritual healing was not a matter of psychology or willpower but of learning to refrain from one of life's basic needs, food. Many Christians around the world fast each year during Lent, a time of preparation leading up to Easter. They temporarily fast from something (meat, television, coffee, etc.) in order to renew and focus themselves on their Lord and Savior.

It's ironic that we often remember our deepest needs and discover God's provision in times of deprivation. When things are rolling along with our plates and cups overflowing, we tend to forget how much we need God's constant care. When we have everything we need, we tend to become numb to the needs of others. But when we go hungry, our senses can suddenly awaken to our own finitude and even to the plight of others. When we literally go without something as basic as food, we have the possibility of hearing the Holy Spirit in surprisingly powerful ways. And we have the chance to (re)turn to God for renewal, forgiveness and strength.

As you build up your spiritual arsenal, consider the importance of fasting. Some tools are of an interior nature: right thinking, right attitude. Some, such as our walk, are of an exterior nature. Fasting can help us in ways that we can't imagine until we take it on as a regular part of our faith-walk. I pray that you will join with me in learning how to use fasting as a real help in the work of defeating our enemy the devil and partnering with God for the sake of the Kingdom.

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