In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave some directions for giving money, praying, and fasting in a way that was not hypocritical (Matt 6). Jesus wants these actions to be motivated from a heart that loves God, not one that is striving to earn the praise of men. No doubt we could all continue to grow in the grace of giving, praying, and fasting, but of these three disciplines, fasting is most likely the one in which the majority of us have the biggest room to grow.
Whether we do it as often as we should, we know why we should give—there are needy people. And we know why we should pray—we need God’s help daily. But why should we fast? Here are a few, by no-means exhaustive, thoughts.
Because Jesus said his disciples would fast
I believe many people do not fast because they do not understand why they should. This was myself for a long time. However, Jesus simply assumes his disciples would fast (“when you fast…” Matt 6:16, “…then they will fast” Matt 9:15). And so, I then began to view fasting as an act of obedience. I believe that all God’s commands are for my good, even if I do not understand them. And so, I did not need to fully understand why I should fast, I simply needed to obey and begin to fast.
My relationship to God is one of a son to a father. If my son needed to understand why he needs to do the things I ask him to do for his good, he wouldn’t get very far. Moreover, it would end up not going well for him. And so similarly, I considered that I should fast for my good—even if I don’t fully understand why—as an act of obedience to a loving Father.
Interestingly it was in the “doing” that I began to understand fasting a little better.
Fasting reminds you of your mortality
If you’re anything like me, missing one or two meals and you can feel yourself to be within an inch of hospitalization! We are extremely—yet so often obliviously so—mortal people. We are from dust and to dust we will return. We are not in control of our lives, we do not know what a day will bring, we are in the hands of a sovereign God. Fasting reminds us of this great truth.
Fasting reminds you of God’s good provisions
We are surrounded by so many comforts. We feel discomfort when we can’t afford a new pair of jeans, a seventh pair of shoes, or a newer comfier mattress. We don’t need to work the soil through sweat worrying about famine and blight for our basic needs like food, we simply go to Kroger and load up for the week. Yet this is not how most of the world lives. Moreover, these comforts cause us to take for granted the real blessings that God has provided for us. Paul says to Timothy “if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Tim 6:8). More of us would be more content in our present situation, if through fasting, we realized the abundance of food and clothing God has provided us.
Growth in self-control
Admittedly, it can seem strange to say “no” to food. But in so doing, we are exercising the spiritual fruit of self-control. Food is good! And so, if we can learn how to say “no” to something good (see also 1 Cor 7:5), how much more can that spiritual ability translate into saying “no” to sin.
Moreover, for many of us, fasting may actually reveal that food is an idol—something that is “lawful” yet controls us—because we find it a great struggle to say “no” to food. Paul says to the Corinthians “all things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Cor 6:12). Thus, Christians need to be people who can exercise self-control, those who can say “no” to sin, and those who can say “no” to any lawful thing that may dominate them.
Through this “training” ourselves for godliness (see 1 Tim 4:7) in the area of self control, we will have greater self control in other areas of our lives. We will have greater strength to say “no” when the temptation rises to say that harsh word; we will have greater self-control not to let our smartphones “dominate us”; we will have greater ability to say “no” to clicking on that link.
Because you miss Jesus
Fasting is really an act of mourning and often associated with a more intense season of seeking God (e.g. 2 Sam 12:16, Joel 2:12). Jesus acknowledged that his disciples could not fast while he was present—how could they, they were with Jesus!—but that they would fast when he was taken away from them (Matt 9:15). There are things that make us all sad and mourn. We know what they are. But do we realize that, in some way, this entire age until we see Jesus face to face, is one of mourning and longing for Jesus?
We, the bride of Christ, are absent from our groom, Jesus. Can you image a bride living as if everything is normal while she waits day after day for her absent groom? Would not her desire and longing for her groom create a mourning within her? Our separation from Jesus should be a source of significant grief in this world.
So often though, we mourn over trivial things, worldly things, without an ounce of apparent grief that we are separated in this life from our dear Savior and Lord. Fasting can help. It will produce hunger pain. When this pain comes we can “interpret” this groaning our bodies as the appropriate spiritual pain we should be feeling for being apart from Jesus. The self-induced physical pain of hunger is a concrete reminder that we should be grieving our absence form the Lord. Over time, we can “renew our minds” will this truth, and, through fasting, our mournful longing for Jesus will become more authentic.