Fasting is a big topic. It’s surrounded by mystery and in my experience, is one of the most remarkable ways we experience God. But before we dive in any further, we should address one thing…what IS fasting?
The most basic definition of fasting is not eating food for a specific period of time. These days, fasting often looks like giving anything up for a period of time, like social media or watching television. So…what ISN’T fasting?
Fasting is not trying to impress others with your own spirituality, and it isn’t something done to earn closeness with God. Finally…WHY fast?
The Bible is sprinkled throughout with stories of people fasting and there are a few that I particularly LOVE.
- First, there’s the story of Moses fasting before receiving the covenant. If you take a look in Deuteronomy 9, Moses says that he remains on the mountain for forty days and forty nights and doesn’t eat bread or drink water. After forty days, the Lord gives Moses the tablets of the covenant. Unfortunately, Moses comes down the mountain to find the Israelites are worshiping a golden calf. He destroys the tablets and starts yet another forty day fast. God wanted to make a covenant of his righteousness to his people, but they couldn’t remain faithful long enough for him to offer it. Once the golden calf enters the story, God is angry because he just wants the love and devotion of his chosen people. Moses fasts to receive the details of the covenant and then again to find peace with God. Both times it’s about hearing from God and removing whatever might be between Moses, on behalf of God’s people, and God.
- Most everyone has heard of the “Daniel Fast,” which originated in none other than the book of…Daniel. Throughout Daniel’s story, he fasts more than once. However, the fast in Daniel 10 caught my special attention. Mourning over others is what moves Daniel to fast in this instance. For three weeks Daniel doesn’t eat meat and he doesn’t eat or drink anything other than what grows straight from the ground. Eventually, a mysterious “man” appears to Daniel and gives him a vision and restores his strength. The Bible says that from the first day that Daniel set his heart to understand and humbled himself before God, his words were heard and the mysterious man appeared because of Daniel’s words. In other words, when Daniel began to clean out the clutter in his heart and start to seek God, God showed up. And even more crazy is that Daniel’s encounter with this man ends with the man saying he has to go back out and keep fighting. Essentially, there are some major spiritual battles going on in and around Jerusalem, and Daniel leads on the frontlines through prayer and fasting. As a result, nations are impacted.
- In Matthew 4, Jesus fasts prior to temptation by “the tempter”. He spends forty days and forty nights fasting. He’s weak, tired and lonely (He just spent 40 days out in the wilderness by Himself). Rather than God showing up with a covenant or a mysterious man appearing to Him granting Him strength and restoration, Jesus meets the end of His fast with the beginning of great temptation. And let me tell you, Jesus knows His scripture (no surprise there…). With every lie the devil offers, Jesus responds with Truth. He claims Truth repeatedly until the devil leaves and is replaced by angels sent to minister to Jesus. Here, Jesus fasted in preparation for the temptation He would endure.
The more I examine fasting, the less I understand it. There are parts of fasting that are truly mysterious, and I’m not sure we were meant to make sense of it. What I do know is this: when I read about God’s heart softening because of Moses, Daniel’s influence in the heavenly realm and Jesus unshakably withstanding temptation…I just know I want a relationship with the Lord like they had.
At times in their stories, each of them cried out to God in despair, wrestled with weakness and asked really honest questions. For varying reasons, they ended up willing to make sacrifices in order to be with God. Let me clear—God has paid the ultimate sacrifice and we now owe nothing. But fasting has never been about getting God to show up. It’s about realizing where He already is and what He already wants to do.
Sometimes we fast in order to get serious with God, to remove distractions or go to battle for the thing we’re up against. Other times, it’s simply to prepare for whatever lies ahead. Ultimately, it’s just about experiencing God.