Day #2 Why We Fast | by Ashley Pittman
Hey y’all! This is Ashley, jumping on to talk a little about WHY we fast. Feel free to either read or watch the video. The content is almost identical.
For the last 10 years the churches I’ve been part of have begun the year with 21 days of prayer and fasting. This was totally new for me, as churches I had been in previously didn’t spend much, or any, time teaching about fasting, let alone encouraging us to do so.
I jumped in with a Daniel Fast which, you probably know, calls primarily for fruits and vegetables, and excludes meats, sweets, dairy and leavened bread. A sign that I was pretty much missing the point is that I decided that Fritos were acceptable because the ingredient list was: corn, vegetable oil (hello, oil made of vegetables), and salt. And all those items were allowed on the fast. Kind of. The following year I may or may not have advised other people who were new to the Daniel Fast that Fritos were compliant. Bless my heart. Suffice it to say I didn’t really have a why for the fast, besides, “This is what my church is expecting so I’m doing it.”
I recently heard it said that if we don’t know our why when we fast, we run the risk of fasting for the wrong reasons, such as, “I hope I lose a few pounds!” or “This will be a great cleanse!” Those are not reasons for a spiritual fast, as they are not really very spiritual. Clearly. Knowing why gives some direction and focus, and a sense of meaning to your self-inflicted pain.
I thought I’d take a few minutes and share some whys I’ve learned from others, and from Scripture, to maybe give some food for thought for those of us entering into this spiritual discipline.
First, a quick thought about the spirituality of the body, our flesh. In Deuteronomy we find the Shema, the greatest commandment, which Jesus later reiterated: love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. The Hebrew word for soul actually refers to our entire being – our lives, desires, appetites, neediness, the seen, and the unseen parts of us. Creatures that have breath are referred to as souls. So to include our bodies in worship is a right and good practice.
Scot McKnight calls fasting a “whole body response of a human being to some sacred, grievous moment.”
One of the most common reasons we see for fasting in Scripture is repentance. At times God’s people would realize (usually after being called to account by a prophet) how far they had drifted from their first love, and in response would enter a time of mourning and lament before God. Fasting can be a wonderful way to give physical expression to the sorrow we feel inside.
Another motivation might be to enter into the suffering of others, when we are moved by injustice, tragedy, grief, or poverty. Ecclesiastes tells us there’s a time to rejoice and a time to lament. There are simply times that indulgence and celebration feel wrong. When a loved one dies, a tragedy takes place, or we are moved by the pain of others, fasting gives us a way to identify with their pain. The early church fathers would often fast meals and either give the food, or the money they would have spent, to those in need. In addition, we can enter into God’s sorrow over sin, lost people, and the things people do to one another when they are driven by evil desires. In these cases fasting becomes a way to humble ourselves and seek to know His heart.
Fasting can also simply be a discipline. In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul instructs us not to be mastered by anything. He said all things are lawful but not all things are beneficial. Fasting is a way to bring our appetites into submission to the spirit and to put our comforts in their rightful places. If we can master the little things, we will be better equipped for the bigger things – the out of bounds, sinful, desires and lusts.
Sometimes we want a circumstance to change. In times of national crisis (like in the book of Esther), impending danger, broken relationships, or serious illness, for a few examples, we might choose to fast and pray for God to intervene. It’s simply a declaration of our total dependence upon Him and a recognition that we are ultimately powerless to change circumstances that lie outside of our control. It reminds us that He is the judge and we live before Him.
Finally, we may simply want to set aside distractions, like social media, Netflix, or even a hobby, for a period of time and use the time we would have spent on those things to seek God, instead. Maybe we choose not to shop for a period of time and give the money away.
There are probably many other reasons to fast, as individual as the person fasting, but in general, fasting is a response to something. The main thing is, whatever you do, have a why in mind so you’ll have some direction and purpose. It will help you stay with it and have a healthy mindset about it. And you won’t be eating Fritos so you can have your cake and eat it, too.
Let us know if you’re joining us and even your why, if it’s not too personal! We’d love to know how to pray for you.