A Guest Post by Andrew T. Holm
Much of our understanding of fasting is based on tradition (namely – we fast to gain some benefit, like an answered prayer). The selfless biblical understanding of fasting, however, seems to be completely lost.
I don’t know for sure, but perhaps we’re in this position, at least in part, because we seem to ignore this act of piety in our modern culture. It’s unfortunate because fasting is one of the ways we can live out our righteousness and hear God’s heart.
Fasting is “the complete and voluntary choice not to eat (or not eat or drink) for a specific period of time.” Biblically speaking, it is an act of Christian piety that connects us with the life of Christ:
The Christian is the person who has absorbed the Story of God in Jesus Christ, and that gospel Story teaches us that God’s grace comes to us in a way that redounds to the glory of Jesus Christ – not to ourselves. One might even say that Jesus’ own fasting (4:1-11) perfects any fasting we might do, and our task is simply to participate in his fasting the way we participate in his life, death, and resurrection.” (Scot McKnight)
But why do we respond with fasting? Here are three reasons:
In fasting we deny ourselves our basic need of food and water to focus on the situations around us. For example, Nehemiah fasted in response to the past sins of Israel (Nehemiah 9:1). It was an expression of humility and self-denial before God as they were about to rebuild Jerusalem.
Esther gave us another example. Before she brought her request to the king, she fasted as an act of self-denial knowing that a good result would be beyond her own ability (Esther 4:16).
We fast today as an act of self-denial and humility as we respond to grievous moments behind us (death, sin, sickness, or pain), or big moments before us (fear, threats, needs, or taking a faith-based stand).
Fasting aids in our ability to have self-control.
Paul used the metaphor of an athlete. Just like athletes need to discipline their bodies for success, we need to spiritually discipline our bodies (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
We have to remember that our bodies are God’s temple. Fasting, then, actually helps us to guard ourselves against the sin of gluttony. With that said, we certainly shouldn’t fast to lose weight or to try and bring “suffering” upon our bodies – that would be immature. The goal should simply be self-control and discipline.
Fasting helps us understand those without food.
The fast is for sharing “bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house” (Isaiah 58:7). In fasting, we hear God’s heart for the broken.
We may not always be able to physically feed someone, but fasting should help us become more aware of the need in our world and cause us to act appropriately. On a day-to-day basis, this could mean setting aside a regular “lunch fast.” It could even be a time to sacrifice a lunch and offer it to someone else in need.
Biblical Fasting and Prayer
Prayer is simply communicating with God. So, yes, prayer and fasting work together. But fasting is more than giving up food and drink to speak to God.
Biblical fasting is about our selfless response to sacred and/or grievous moments. In our journey of faith with Christ, fasting brings about self-denial and humility, self-discipline, and self-awareness so we can hear the heart of God.
I encourage everyone to make this a regular part of their Christian faith and journey.
Question: How has fasting been a meaningful spiritual practice for you? Leave a comment below by clicking here.
You might also like the post “What is Discipleship? More than Praying and Reading the Bible.”
This post was first published on “The Journey Holm,” at http://andrewholm.com/.
 Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 200-201.
 Adopted from: John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1985), 136-138.
 Scot McKnight, Fasting: The Ancient Practices (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009), xviii-xxii.