WHY SHOULD I FAST?
There are several positive effects, both spiritually and physically to be attained through the discipline of fasting. Fasting comes with some challenges and yet, if God is in agreement with your fast, He will give you amazing grace to carry it out. I know many examples of people who were so amazed that their hunger for food became hardly noticeable and was replaced by a deep hunger for God. That is God’s grace! Many find that through fasting they become more able to stay focused in extended prayer times. Clearly, through fasting, a person’s senses become sharper both physically and spiritually. Many people testify to being able to discern a situation more rapidly and with greater accuracy; others share how they experience more ‘downloads’ from God in their Bible reading; often while sleeping, people experience more ‘God dreams’; and I can testify that you can watch a person’s own spiritual gifting become much more pronounced during an extended fast. “Yeah God!”
These are all good reasons to develop a lifestyle where fasting is practiced. Here are a couple of other specific reasons why we should fast.
First, Training Ourselves
“Everything is permissible for me but not everything is beneficial”
A pastor friend of mine describes fasting as “spiritual muscle-building”. This is when our ‘spirit man’ (see Eph. 3:16, 17) enters into training to hunger less for the things of this world and more for God and his kingdom. Through fasting we soon discover the power of the appetites that seek to control our lives. By periodically denying ourselves by fasting we are asserting that we will not be controlled or mastered by the appetites but, rather, we will serve notice as to who is in control. In his book ‘The Celebration of Discipline’, Richard Foster says, “More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that seek to control us.”
In his book, ‘The Coming Revival: America’s Call to Fast, Pray and Seek God’s Face’, the late Bill Bright states, “Food is the grandfather of all lusts.”
I would say that most of us could identify with this quote for we have all had our own struggles with the power of food over ourselves. One way or another, we are bombarded with our appetite for food. Food has become a hobby! I just read an article this morning in today’s paper that stated “immigrants arrive healthier than native-born Canadians but start to lose their health advantage within a decade.” Because of embracing the Canadian diet and lifestyle, many are developing adverse health issues. The article lists many factors, such as a pre-disposition to diabetes, but basically, our love with food and indulgence in North America is unfavorably affecting our immigrants.
There are other appetites that originate from the need for self-gratification, for example, the need for praise, or impulse shopping. Speaking to the Corinthians, Paul openly associates our appetite for food and our appetite for sex claiming they both should not have mastery over us.
“Everything is permissible for me but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. He then says: ‘food for the stomach and stomach for the food, but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord.” 1Cor. 6:12ff.
I believe that Paul is speaking from personal experience regarding the victory that one can have over appetites that would seek to control us. Do we really get this? That same victory is applicable to us! We no longer have to be controlled by the various appetites; fasting can help to put us into the driver’s seat. Take a look online sometime at the success that the discipline of fasting has had in helping to strengthen men in overcoming addictions to pornography. (In saying this, I’m not indicating that this is the only remedy to this challenge, but simply that it has proven to help many). It is also interesting that Ezekiel, when speaking of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, he doesn’t immediately focus on the sexual immorality, but rather identifies being arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned, as their main sins. The sexual deviances were the “shoots” from deeper “roots” that are listed here. The sins of self-gratification had become out of control and led to greater and greater manifestations of more blatant sins.
(Ezekiel 16:49,50). See how this relates to James 3:16.
“A man who eats too much cannot strive against laziness, while a gluttonous and idle man will never be able to contend with sexual lust” ‘The First Step’ Leo Tolstoy
Second, Going Deeper
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled’. Matt. 5:6
True spiritual fasting focuses on God. This involves our attitudes, our actions, our motives, desires, and even our very words. We can become dull to the reasons behind our actions, which are seen, in our attitudes and especially our motives. In our pursuit of God by prayer and fasting, God allows a ‘Holy Interruption’ from our normal routine where the Holy Spirit begins to put His searchlight on our inner lives. He begins to reveal:
What He resists in you, like: pride, unforgiveness, double-mindedness, or indifference.
He reveals your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and then joy and a transformed life.
He reveals His Word to you and it becomes even more dynamic and powerful in you.
Through the personal revelation of His love, He leads you to a dynamic personal revival causing you to bring others into this newness as well.
God’s purpose in all of this is never to ‘punish’ his children, but in His loving mercy, He prunes us, or disciplines us, so that we will hunger more for Him and less for the world and resulting in a greater fruitfulness for His kingdom, Hebrews 12:5-8.
Third, A Searchlight on our Motives
We have to be careful that fasting does not become just a ‘religious act’, or something that is performance-based. That performance can lead us down the path of expecting something from God and seeking to gain notoriety from our peers. We need to remember that our fleshly tendency is to view ourselves, and others, from the outward, but God views us from our hearts, or our motives. God often reminds me of Paul’s statement in 2Cor.10:12:
“When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”
In doing so, we easily open ourselves up to the ‘spirit of religion’ which attaches itself to any outward Christian behavior, see the context of Matt. 6:1-18. Fasting is high on this list.
In Zechariah 7:4-6, like Isaiah 58, God overthrows the false notion that fasting in and of itself is a meritorious act, without any inner transformation. The text reveals that the motive for their fasting was purely selfish and therefore, became a matter of utter indifference to God. In their very act of trying to win over God, they were bringing upon themselves even greater separation from Him. God will not be used to gratify the selfish motives of man.
The bottom line is that we cannot make God love us more, He already loves us infinitely more that we could ever imagine. When we fast, we are doing so, not for the motive of gaining God’s nor man’s approval, but, we are doing so to press into God and say that we hunger and thirst for Him.