I must admit that I do not love fasting. I have been fasting on the Day of Atonement since I was 5 years old. For many years of my life, fasting was just a day that I had to endure—a countdown until sundown when I can finally eat again.
I’ve realized that when I focus only on how much longer until the next meal, I miss the purpose of fasting. God doesn’t get any pleasure out of seeing if I can go 24 hours without eating and drinking. It’s not a fast track to the Kingdom of God. So what is the purpose of fasting on the Day of Atonement, and what can we learn from fasting?
1. One thing that most everyone does each year prior to the Day of Atonement is talk about what they are going to have to eat before they fast.
Having a good, balanced meal and a full stomach before fasting makes us feel good. The next day is always easier when we don’t feel hungry or weak early in the fast.
The benefits of eating a filling, healthy meal are similar to the benefits of being close to God. We feel good, happy, have fewer problems and are less likely to feel spiritually sick. These all occur when we fill our lives up with God. We need to eat of His Word (Matthew 4:4) in order to be full and strong to weather the spiritual storms from Satan.
The day before a fast, I like to drink plenty of water. If I am well-hydrated going into a fast, I am less likely to suffer a dehydration headache. That crushing headache resulting from a lack of water makes it impossible to think clearly, concentrate on the sermon at services or even open your eyes.
2. Throughout the Bible, water is a symbol of God’s Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39).
When we are not in tune with God’s way, or when we have not been listening to God through Bible study, we become spiritually dehydrated. This can lead to similar debilitating side effects such as increased sensitivity to problems, lack of ability to make decisions, feeling tired and lethargic, and the general feeling of being overwhelmed. However, when we are connected to God, He helps us to overcome our problems and make decisions.
3. Chowing down on fast food, a large pizza or other salty foods before a fast is not a good idea.
Eating a meal with a lot of salt tends to make us thirsty, and junk food does not provide the nutritional energy we need in order to last an entire day. If we make the wrong food choices before fasting, we can feel parched, weaker and irritable.
Eating the wrong type of meal is like feasting on worldly things. Violent movies, foul language and TV shows with immoral values leave us estranged from God. When we partake of these things, we are feasting on a meal from Satan’s restaurant. Anger, moodiness, irritability and impatience are the result of this type of feast, which can only be changed to patience, peace, joy and gentleness through connection with God (Galatians 5:22).
4. When fasting, the empty feeling in our stomachs becomes pain that constantly reminds us of our discomfort.
This gnawing feeling can be so powerful that it is the only thing we can think of.
Atonement pictures a time at the beginning of God setting up His Kingdom. Satan’s influence on the earth will be gone. The world will be in extreme distress with wars, famines and diseases, after which God will take Satan and lock him up (Revelation 20:2). With him out of the way the Kingdom will be a wonderful time of peace, prosperity and contentment that we all look forward to. Feeding our bellies and ridding them of hunger are like locking Satan up and being in God’s Kingdom filled with contentment.
5. After fasting, we have the joy of eating once again.
We may want to eat a 16-ounce steak, a huge baked potato loaded with butter and sour cream, the entire salad bar, a liter of soda and a half gallon of ice cream! But after a few bites, we realize that our stomachs have shrunk. We can’t eat everything in sight at the first meal; we need to have moderation and self-control.
Spiritually, we realize after fasting how much Satan has influenced our life in negative ways. We should want to avoid him and any evil that comes with him. To do this, we need to replace the evil with good (Romans 12:21). Good and tasty things include daily Bible study, prayer, meditating on God’s Word and associating with people who have godly character.
Just as eating more food than you expend in energy can cause issues, spending 24 hours a day studying our Bible is unbalanced too. We need to balance Bible study, prayer and Christian fellowship with our other responsibilities at home, church, school and work. As we ingest God’s Word, we need to practice godly principles in service to others.
A voluntary fast or fasting on the Day of Atonement is something few people look forward to doing. It’s not on most people’s bucket list. However, even though fasting can be difficult, there are spiritual lessons that we can learn from it. By filling our minds with God’s Word and letting Him guide us with His Spirit, we can spiritually feast in a life that negates Satan’s influences, and share a godly life with others.
Fasting should remind us that we need to keep God number one in our lives. If we keep God as our primary focus, we will live a much more rewarding and fulfilling life.