Every year during the season of Lent, millions of Christians decide to practice the ancient discipline of fasting. Yet many cannot explain why. What is fasting, and why is it important?
To be clear, fasting is not a hunger strike. Nor is it a weight-loss program disguised in spiritual garb. So what is fasting? Fasting is going without something for a specified time in order to devote oneself more fully to God. It’s a habit of choosing to feast on the presence of God rather than feeding your other appetites. Through the grace of God, fasting enhances your prayers and empowers you to connect with His presence on a deeper, more potent level.
Fasting often involves going without food, but not always. It could mean going without something else that you enjoy… something you decide to do without for a time in order to devote yourself more fully to God. Food, social media, television, relationships… whatever. You give something up for the sake of something better.
At its core, fasting is a choice—an intentional act. You do not reach the end of the day, realize you haven’t eaten, and then decide you have been fasting. Fasting is something you do on purpose, not by accident. It must be deliberate.
A complementary habit to fasting is prayer. The two really do go hand-in-hand. During times of fasting, then, your prayer time should become more focused and intense. If you are fasting a meal, for example, devote that time to prayer. When your stomach begins growling, use each growl as a reminder to pray. Fasting by itself misses the point; fasting coupled with prayer is powerful and life-changing.
Bill Bright was one of the most influential Christian leaders of the twentieth century. The founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, he authored a popular evangelistic tract, The Four Spiritual Laws. He also oversaw the production of The Jesus Film, which—with over 6 billion viewings—has become the most viewed motion picture on the planet. After more than three decades, it is still used worldwide to share the message of Jesus.
Bright was also a regular faster, and he wrote about his experiences with fasting. [See “How to Fast”]. What he discovered is that there is a powerful connection between fasting and prayer. “Fasting is the most powerful spiritual discipline of all the Christian disciplines. Through fasting and prayer, the Holy Spirit can transform your life… I believe the power of fasting as it relates to prayer is the spiritual atomic bomb that our Lord has given us to destroy the strongholds of evil and usher in a great revival and spiritual harvest around the world.”
Bright’s words echo those of Christians throughout the centuries. Those who have practiced the discipline of fasting have always proclaimed the power and the intimacy they have experienced as a result.
Every believer should incorporate fasting into the Christian walk. Speaking to His followers, Jesus Himself said, “When you fast…” (Matthew 6:16). Not “if”, but “when.” Jesus did not present it as an option; it’s an expectation.
For more about why fasting is essential for your spiritual development, stay tuned for the next post…