I originally wrote this article as a volunteer writer for the CCF Magazine. I’m republishing it here, because I’m doing a mobile phone fast for the upcoming week. I’ll be using this booklet to guide my reflections throughout the week.
The subject of fasting comes up approximately 77 times in the Bible, according to Donald S. Whitney of Lifeway. Jesus fasted when he was tempted by Satan, King David fasted when he was mourning his young son, and Queen Esther fasted before she put her life in danger to protect the Jews from Haman. We consistently see the players in the Bible demonstrate the importance and power of fasting.
The loss of appetite is a natural response to hardship or depression. However, fasting is different in that it’s purposeful. When we fast, we aim for growth.
How to Approach Fasting
But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Matthew 6:17–18)
The verse above makes sense when you realize that fasting is not always meant for times of mourning, sadness, or trial. Christians are encouraged to fast regularly, not because God wants us to be periodically in mourning, but because he wants us to continue to grow. Fasting is a form of spiritual devotion, not something that should be done to “impress” God.
In the Bible, many people fast for a number of reasons. They may be repenting, strengthening themselves spiritually, purposefully sacrificing to demonstrate their desire for God, or waiting on God to answer a question or need.
Food vs. Lifestyle
One of the most common ways to fast is to give up food. You can only have one meal a day, you can eliminate something from your diet, or you can give up food completely. However, fasting isn’t exclusively about about food. It’s a lifestyle discipline, designed to remove temptations and things that aren’t good for you, with the end goal of bringing you closer to God.
For example, if you find yourself on Facebook for much of the day, commit to taking a break from social media. If you’re usually on your phone when you’re out with friends or at church, try going a few days without your phone (it’s a little extreme for our society, but not impossible). Do you spend time on Reddit and Imgur at work? Uninstall the apps and un-bookmark the websites. There are a lot of things you could do, but take a while to identify what is pulling you away from more important things and taking up your time. At the end of the day, what’s important is your intention and what’s in your heart.
Prayer and fasting
When you fast, you give up something with the aim of gaining something. This could be an answer to a question, an improved relationship with God, or peace in a time of trial. When we fast, our goal is to enjoy time with God through prayer. Fasting without prayer is fasting without purpose.
When you give something up, you gain time. Instead of browsing social media for 20 minutes before bed, you can read a book, take a walk and talk to God, read your Bible, have quiet time, or do a devotional.
You may not realize it immediately, but the time you’d normally spend eating (or doing whatever else you decide to give up) adds up. By fasting, you turn that time into an opportunity to become closer to God, even in as little as 10 minutes a day.
Fasting as a group
If you want to fast with others to keep you accountable, reach out to some friends and ask if they’d be willing to do a week of fasting with you. The advantages to doing this with a group of friends is you can reach people who haven’t accepted Christ yet, and you can arrange to meet up regularly to encourage each other and talk about how God is answering your questions and otherwise working in your life.
You can also fast as a family (although don’t force anyone to join). It’s likely that you spend a lot of time with your family, and doing a fast together will help remove temptations. For example, if you have dinner with family but are giving up one meal, you could use that time to go through a devotional as a family instead.
Finally, you can fast with your church. The church I’ve been attending has regular weeks for fasting, such as Intercede in January and other events mid-year.