At the beginning of a new year, many people choose to fast as a way to desire Jesus more. If you’ve never considered fasting, or haven’t outside of a few isolated times, then allow me to deepen your desire to fast and to expose three lies we often believe about fasting.
Longing for Jesus
Let’s go back to the source of Christian fasting. One day the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked, “Why don’t your disciples fast?”
Jesus replied, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:15)
In this passage, Jesus is talking about Himself. He is the bridegroom. His physical presence on earth was reason to celebrate, not fast. When Jesus left the earth, then His disciples had reason to fast.
Fasting is a way to express longing for Jesus. I love what Jesus said at the last supper:
“I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
What is He saying? He’s saying that HE—Jesus—is fasting from wine—a symbol of celebration and community—until we drink it with Him in heaven.
That passage makes me want Jesus, because I begin to realize how much He wants me.
To rephrase a quote from Francis Chan, while we desperately need God but don’t really want Him most of the time, God never needs us yet still longs for us.
“Christian fasting,” says John Piper, “at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God.”
So we fast.
3 lies we believe about fasting
1. No one I know fasts, so I shouldn’t need to, either.
Don Whitney, author of “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life,” recently said that fasting is the most neglected spiritual discipline.
The reason, he says, is a lack of example. “By and large, people will not practice what they have not been taught to practice.”
Just because we haven’t seen fasting modeled for us doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. I agree, it’s weird being the first person you know to fast. But Jesus said, “When you fast…” in Matthew 6:16, not “if you fast.” The idea here is that fasting was never meant to be foreign. That leads us to lie number 2.
2. I’m not a seasoned Christian, so I won’t fast.
Many people misconceive fasting as an activity exclusive for “elite” Christians. Moses and Elijah and Jesus all fasted for 40 days without bread or water, so that must be what they expect out of us, too.
But if fasting is really about a longing for Jesus, then don’t make it about food alone. When I was a teenager, I decided to fast from video games. I can honestly say fasting from video games was harder for me than fasting from food. Give up something good so that you can gain something great.
3. I don’t feel a longing for Jesus, so I shouldn’t fast.
Maybe you read the first half of this blog and said, “That’s great; but I just don’t desire Jesus like that.” The lie we’re believing is that we need to have a deep emotional response to Jesus before we can fast.
But I think we have it backward. We’re used to thinking of fasting as an expression of longing for Jesus, but often I find fasting to be a creator of longing for Jesus. In other words, it’s often by fasting that I desire God most.
Don Whitney says everyone faces three thoughts when fasting (from food in this example): “Man I’m hungry!” followed by “Oh yeah, I’m fasting.”
Those thoughts are normal. What’s important is the third thought.
- We either think, “When is this over?!” Dwelling there leads to misery.
- Or, we can choose to think, “And I’m fasting for THIS purpose.”
Reminding ourselves of our purpose—ultimately, to know God more—will always help to refocus our mind and prayer on God—developing a greater hunger for Him.
2016 has begun, and I hope one of your resolutions is to know God more. Fasting is a difficult but powerful way of saying, “Before everything else, Jesus.”
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your feedback or answer to these questions in the comments below:
- Should fasting be emphasized more in churches?
- How should fasting be balanced with the rest of life?