Is Fasting Just a Ritual? How Does It Help a Christian?

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MP3 Audio (7.29 MB)


Is Fasting Just a Ritual? How Does It Help a Christian?

MP3 Audio (7.29 MB)

When done with the right attitude, fasting is more than a ritual. It is an outward expression of a real spiritual change taking place within.

Biblical fasting means to deny yourself both food and water for a period of time. For example, God asks that we fast for a full 24-hour period as part of His instructions for the fifth of His annual Sabbaths, commonly known as the Day of Atonement. Other than that, fasting is done voluntarily. The duration of such a voluntary fast is a matter of personal choice.

Fasting can help you grasp your limitations—your lack of power and control over the life you now enjoy—and the future life God would like to give you.

Voluntary fasting is recorded in both the Old and New Testaments. In addition to general references to fasting, Scripture specifically mentions that David fasted, Jesus fasted and Paul fasted.

The choice to fast is a choice to humble yourself before God

People often think of fasting as a way to gain insight from God, or to seek His favor. However, both these ideas miss the mark. Fasting should not be considered as a technique for getting something from God. God gives insight and His favor as He pleases and to whom He pleases, not as the result of our performance of a particular set of actions (such as fasting). Such an approach would reduce fasting to a mere ritual. The point of fasting is to humble ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally (Isaiah 58:3-5).

However, it is good to remember:

It pleases God to give favor (grace) to the humble (Proverbs 3:34).

It pleases God to give wisdom, insight, and instruction to the humble (Psalm 25:8-9).

How does fasting humble us?

The key to fasting is a change in attitude. A change from pride and confidence in our flesh and blood to a humbling acknowledgment of our body’s weakness. We have a constant need for sustenance from external sources like protein, carbohydrates and water.

Deny yourself food and drink for 24 hours, and you are quickly reminded of your physical neediness. Before long your digestive system starts yearning, you get weaker and tired, and by the end of the day you often start feeling colder. Fast too long, and you will die. Fasting is a voluntary act undertaken to remind yourself that the power of life in your physical body is not permanent. It has been given to you temporarily and must be sustained.

A body lesson is also a spirit lesson

Your physical body cannot be sustained forever and when it dies you do not live on as some form of living thinking spirit. But God does offer to raise you up again to life. See what God’s Word says about this important topic in our free Bible study guide What Happens After Death?

God your Father and creator wants to give you permanent, everlasting life. He has the power of life in Him and what is truly amazing is that He wants to put that same power of life in you. The process begins when you receive God’s Holy Spirit through baptism and the laying on of hands.

However, while you are still flesh and blood, the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in you must be maintained and sustained. Think of it as a fire that must be continually fed with more fuel (consider 1 Thessalonians 5:19; 2 Timothy 1:6). If you let it die out, then the power of everlasting life is no longer in you. Without the living, active presence of the Holy Spirit within, you would have no expectation of resurrection to everlasting life after you die. Whenever you fast you should also consider your spiritual neediness.

The humbling physical effects of fasting remind us that we are totally dependent upon continual supplies of food and water to live out our days in the flesh. Likewise, we are totally dependent upon on God our Father and creator for any hope of life after our physical bodies die.

Humility also affects how we act

Fasting can help you grasp your limitations—your lack of power and control over the life you now enjoy—and the future life God would like to give you. This more humble outlook should then flow out into all other areas of our life: how you treat others, how you approach God, how you think, etc.

It is comforting to know that it is God’s good pleasure to give the gift of everlasting life to those who humble themselves before Him and submit their lives to Him in faith and obedience. Fasting can help put us in the right frame of mind to receive the good things God has to offer.

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  • twocents

    A suggestion for those who are unable to fast completely (without food and drink) for 24+ hours: You can devote a 24-hour period to intense prayer, Bible study and meditation while replacing most optional activities; and perhaps skipping one meal, if you are able.

  • nkthgreek

    After praying for wisdom in dealing with this very situation, I was led to the answer in an archived Day of Atonement sermon. Referencing Lev. 23:27 regarding fasting being afflicting one's soul, he stated that the elderly and those who were ill were already afflicted.

    Under the circumstances, that was a great relief!

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