Tim Alford explains the importance of fasting and why we should use it as a regular rhythm of our life.
“Fasting begets prophets and strengthens strong men. Fasting makes lawgivers wise; it is the soul’s safeguard, the body’s trUsted comrade, the armour of the champion, the training of the athlete.” Basil, Bishop of Caesarea AD 330-378
Regular fasting as part of normal Christian behaviour was taught by Jesus, exercised by the early church and has been a spiritual discipline for his followers throughout church history. But what is it, and why should we continue to incorporate fasting into the regular rhythm of our life and leadership?
1. Fasting is an act of obedience
Jesus said ‘when you fast’, not ‘if you fast’ (Matthew 6:17). Ultimately, that should be the end of the discussion. We fast because we are disciples who imitate our master and order our lives in surrendered obedience to his instructions.
2. Fasting is an act of worship
While fasting can and should come with specific petitionary prayers, it is first an act of worship before it is an act of intercession. John Wesley writes, “First, let it [fasting] be done unto the Lord with our eye singly fixed on him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven.”
Fasting is a demonstration of our devotion. It is an act of worship.
3. Fasting is an act of intercession
We fast when we are asking God to move in a specific circumstance, or seeking to hear God; to understand his purpose and will in a specific situation (see Acts 13:2-3). I have found the practice of fasting has been indispensable to my leadership in this way. By fasting regularly I am in turn praying consistently for specific aspects of our ministry; areas in which we have seen God move in powerful and surprising ways over the years. Coincidence? Perhaps not …
4. Fasting is an act of denial
The Psalmist writes, “I afflicted myself with fasting” (Psalm 35:13). It’s the choice to forgo something of value in demonstration of who has true lordship of our lives. Why? Because as Jesus says, ‘Who- ever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it’ (Matthew 16:25).
In following Jesus, and through the discipline of fasting in particular, we discover this truth; that true fulfilment does not come through the satisfying of ourselves, but through the denying of ourselves in order to participate in something greater than ourselves.
5. Fasting is an act of dependence
When fasting, we redirect energies that would usually be focused on consumption towards God and in so doing remind ourselves of what we truly need; a relationship with him. We remind ourselves of where our strength and provision comes from.
Jesus reminded himself of this as he fasted and was tempted in the wilderness: he answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God,’” (Matthew 4:4).
Fasting, then, is a deceleration of our dependence upon God.
6. Fasting is an act of spiritual formation
When we deny ourselves of something that we can, we are training to deny ourselves of something that we can’t. This is why, when counselling someone with a pornography addiction, one of the first things I always suggest is that they pursue a regular discipline of fasting and prayer.
Richard 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 surface.” Fasting creates a vacuum into which God can move. Thus, fasting is an act of spiritual formation.
7. Fasting is an act of resistance
Fasting is an act of resistance against the tyranny of the secular age. It flies in direct opposition of the cultural narrative which tells us that happiness requires we identify the desires that are most authentic to us and fulfil them. It wages war against the self-centred individualism we so easily surrender to.
Martin Saunders writes, “This is what 21st-century humans do: we consume. We don’t stop there, though. We don’t just consume; we consume gluttonously. We buy, horde, and eat far more than we need
… And all this takes place in the context of the culture of entitlement … Just as consumption and gluttony focus not on what we need but on what we want, entitlement means that we are never satisfied solely with what is good and right for us. We want more, and if we want it, we should be allowed to have it. The discipline of fasting stands opposed to our culture of consumption, gluttony and entitlement.”
8. Fasting is an act of justice
The prophet Isaiah powerfully reminds us the spiritual practice of fasting comes hand in hand with the practice of mercy and justice: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6-7) As with all spiritual disciplines, then, fasting is not a type of spiritual individualism, because every discipline that forms me into Christ-likeness turns my posture away from myself and toward others – particularly the poor, the broken and the lost. As I become more like Jesus, I align with the priorities of Jesus.
• Adapted from an article on Elim’s website: www.elim.org.uk. Used with permission.