Are There Health Benefits When I Fast?

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Are There Health Benefits When I Fast?

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Are There Health Benefits When I Fast?

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God created the human body and its various components to be interconnected. The Creator knew what He was doing when He designed mankind. Man was made to have a physical life and a spiritual life. These two aspects were intended to be intertwined and difficult to separate. As a result, things that affect our physical life, such as diet and sleep, can have negative or positive impacts on our spiritual life. And things from our spiritual life, such as prayer and meditation—or a life that exhibits the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23 Galatians 5:22-23 [22] But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, [23] Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
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)—has been demonstrated scientifically to have benefits in our physical life.

While science is just now doing the studies to prove these things, many people have understood this interconnection between the physical and the spiritual for some time, thanks to God’s instructions in the Bible.

If we are fasting specifically for the health benefits, we are fasting to receive something. We are not fasting for God’s purposes, with the appropriate attitude of seeking His will.

In a variety of passages throughout scripture, God instructs His people to use the physical act of fasting in order to impact them spiritually, allowing His people to humble themselves and draw closer to Him. King David records the use of fasting to humble himself (Psalms 35:13 Psalms 35:13But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into my own bosom.
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). Fasting was used to "afflict" oneself during the commanded Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32 Leviticus 23:26-32 [26] And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, [27] Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation to you; and you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. [28] And you shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God. [29] For whatever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. [30] And whatever soul it be that does any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people. [31] You shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. [32] It shall be to you a sabbath of rest, and you shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even to even, shall you celebrate your sabbath.
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). The writings of James discuss the importance of afflicting and humbling ourselves as we draw near to God (James 4:7-10 James 4:7-10 [7] Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. [8] Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded. [9] Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. [10] Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
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). Fasting is a spiritual tool which enables us to afflict and humble ourselves before God.

In recent years, with the resurgence of diets which advocate for either intermittent fasting, or fasting from specific foods such as carbohydrates, people have stumbled upon the positive health benefits of fasting and have become fierce advocates for its healthfulness. Some of the benefits described include, but are not limited to: a lack of "brain fog" and increased mental clarity, an ability to better focus on tasks along with increased productivity, steady blood sugar levels with fewer peaks and crashes throughout the day, and lastly and probably most important for many on these special diets, increased weight loss.

However, many proponents of fasting have also found that it helps them remain more balanced emotionally. They report feeling more humility, having fewer outbursts of anger and frustration, and having more patience with others. Is it possible that through experimenting with fasting they have tapped into some of the physical and emotional benefits of something that is spiritually designed to draw us closer to God and to seek His will?

Potentially, but God is clear as to the importance of fasting with the right attitude. He desires that our fasting is done in order to draw closer to Him. Not as a means to get something for ourselves but to understand and be open to His will—to humble ourselves and repent of our pride and sin. In Luke 18, there is an example of a Pharisee who prays to God, bragging about his fasting as a means of his own righteousness. In the parable, Christ illustrates that the humble tax collector, who beat his breast and repented of his sins before God, had the appropriate attitude in God’s eyes. In Isaiah 58, God takes His people to task over their attitude with regards to their fasting. They fasted for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness. The prophet Isaiah goes on to explain the appropriate attitude for fasting, and what pleases God, and that their fasting should ultimately be spiritually motivated, not physically motivated (Isaiah 58:3-7 Isaiah 58:3-7 [3] Why have we fasted, say they, and you see not? why have we afflicted our soul, and you take no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exact all your labors. [4] Behold, you fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: you shall not fast as you do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. [5] Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? will you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? [6] Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? [7] Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? when you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you hide not yourself from your own flesh?
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).

Is it wrong then for a Christian to fast for health benefits? No. The health benefits of fasting are numerous and documented, but these fasts should be distinct and separate from fasts undertaken for spiritual purposes such as seeking God’s will, repentance, or drawing nearer to God.

If we are fasting specifically for the health benefits, we are fasting to receive something. We are not fasting for God’s purposes, with the appropriate attitude of seeking His will. Because of how our bodies physical and spiritual aspects are interconnected, we will experience benefits physically during our spiritual fasts, and we will see spiritual benefits during physical fasts, but it is important to see the distinction between the two.

God desires his people to fast to humble themselves in His eyes—to seek Him and His will. When we fast, we afflict ourselves and recognize the importance of God in our life. We seek His will and direction, and to try to understand His purposes for us. We’re not fasting to receive or obtain the benefits, we’re fasting to hear more fully and to understand what He wants for us.

Please take a look at our free study aid Tools for Spiritual Growth for more on the spiritual discipline of fasting.