Recently I was asked to preach on fasting. Better yet, I was asked to preach on fasting on Super Bowl Sunday. In my mind I was being asked to preach on a super spiritual topic to the super spiritual people in our church who would actually show up to our services.
Because I’m still being trained for ministry and never turn a preaching opportunity down, I pursued this curious assignment with excitement. As I studied and tried out what I was learning, I began to realize what a normal and important practice fasting was for believers in Jesus’ day, and more importantly I experienced why.
We talk a lot about spiritual disciplines (rhythms of grace, or whatever term you want to use for personal disciplines that help line our lives up with all that we have in the gospel) in the church today—and rightly so, because we need them. But for some reason we treat fasting as this abstract discipline reserved for only the spiritual elite, removed from normal, everyday Christian life and discipleship. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus only talks about three spiritual disciples (giving, prayer, and fasting), and treats them with equal weight (Matt. 6:1-18). In Matthew 9:15 Jesus explicitly states that he expects his disciples to fast.
So what is fasting? And why does Jesus treat it as important and normal in the Christian life? Fasting creates hunger to experience more of God.
Creating hunger means we take something out of our lives for a period of time that will hurt. Usually this is food, but it can also be other morally neutral things that are staples in our lives and would hurt to go without (like Facebook, email after work hours, TV, shopping, etc).
To experience more of God
We are not ascetics that just enjoy pain. The hunger we create is so we can feast on something greater. So fasting involves not just the cutting out but adding in—you have to fill that space with something. Use the time you would have spent consuming food or something else with feasting upon God. It’s for this reason that fasting in the Bible is always tied to prayer.
Why fast? Here’s three ways we specifically see this play out in our lives:
1. To plead with God/seek guidance.
This is one of the most common ways we think of when we think of fasting. For me, it was the only way I had thought of fasting before this sermon. Some examples include the Jews when facing annihilation (Esther 4:3) and the church at Antioch considering whether or not to send out Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2-3).
In this way, fasting creates space for us and reminds us to pray. It helps align our soul with an appropriate seriousness and tunes us to hear from God. Martin Lloyd Jones says it this way, “One any important occasion, when faced with any vital decision, the early Church always seemed to give themselves to fasting as well as to prayer.”
2. To help fight besetting sin.
Just as we might train in a gym for a big triathlon, so God calls us to train ourselves for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). Fasting is one of the ways we do this. When we say no to bodily urges in the form of food or something basic, we are exercising the muscle to resist in other areas (i.e., sexual temptation).
Fasting trains us to not just gratify our bodily urges. This strength to resist will transfer to other areas where we fight against sin. Martin Luther says, “Of fasting I say this: it is right to fast frequently in order to subdue and control the body.”
3. To remind us of God’s presence.
Have you ever gotten through a day and realized you forgot about God all day? Me too. It’s madness! You know when this doesn’t happen? When you’re fasting. The hunger pains serve as a reminder that there is more going on beyond what we can see. Fasting tunes us to a deeper and truer reality. The sovereign King of glory is with us, in spite of how we are doing, and this is where we find true life in the midst of our crazy circumstances.
As I got up to preach this sermon to my church family, I was really preaching to myself all that God had been teaching me . Fasting is not something we must add to our lives in order to earn God’s love, rather fasting is a gift to help us live more awake to the undeserved love of God in Christ and to stay clear of distractions that numb and take our life .
If we’re serious about walking in the joy, freedom, and life of the grace of God, how can we neglect fasting? Incorporating fasting as a regular discipline into my life has taken me into much more vitality in my walk with the Lord .
What do you need to take out of your life, where do you need to create a hunger, to help you tune your thoughts, affections, and energies toward God?
Chad A. Francis (@chadafrancis) serves as the Ministry Coordinator at Garden City Church, where he is being assessed and trained for future pastoral ministry. He’s obsessed with grace and passionate about being a waker where complacency exists. You can read more from Chad at www.chadafrancis.com.