People in the Bible loved to get their fast on. Perhaps they didn’t love it, but they fasted regularly. God called his people to fast for a myriad of reasons. Fasts were personal, communal, and national. People fasted for the salvation of others, as an act of worship, and when times were bad. Fasting was a big deal in both the Old and New Testament.
If you’ve ever participated in a fast, then you know the experience is rich and rewarding, and somehow, brings you closer to God. As we deny ourselves the satisfaction of a full belly, we are more prone to listen to God. There is a deep hunger stirring within us, but this hunger can be directed towards a more meaningful fulfillment. Laruen Winner said “When you are fasting and you feel hungry, you are to remember that you are really hungry for God.” That is part of the experience—realizing that God is enough to satisfy us. Kind of like what Jesus reminded Satan when said, “Man does not live on bread alone” (Matthew 4:4). Food alone is not enough to satisfy us.
It’s important to understand though, that biblical fasting is more than just the absence of food. It’s not so much what you give up when you fast, but what you decide to replace it with. Fasting is a discipline where we invite God to be at the center of our lives—spiritually, physically, and even emotionally. During a fast, we take away something we desire and use the time for spiritual purposes. When you don’t have to prepare food, or watch TV, or log onto Facebook ten times a day (a personal addiction), you have a lot of free time on your hands; free time that can be spent hanging out with the Father.
Fasting also provides an opportunity to grow in love with one another. Some of the more poignant examples of fasting in Scripture happen when the nation of Israel fasts as one, or when the early church spent their time praying and fasting as a community. Our youth group is preparing for a national event called 30 Hour Famine. We’ll be abstaining from food for thirty hours in an effort to raise money for hungry people all over the world, and also to experience what it’s like to go without. The experience will be eye opening for all who participate. John Piper said “Fasting is meant to awaken us to the hunger of the world, not just our own hunger.” That is our prayer for this event—that our group will be awakened to the powerful workings of God in our lives and community. We’re praying for a night of encounters with Jesus, and conversations with one another that will help us love and care for each other in the name of Christ.
Fasting, like other spiritual disciplines, reminds us that God can be found in our every day happenings. I love the emotion the psalmist employs when he says “where can I go from your presence!?” How can I escape you!? God is like a clingy girlfriend (or boyfriend) with no concept of personal space. God is very near. Fasting can help us open our hearts to this truth and allow his goodness to change us.