Fasting is perhaps the most feared as well as the most misunderstood of the spiritual disciplines.
We fear fasting because we don’t want to feel hungry. We misunderstand it because of the famine of biblical teaching on the subject. When was the last time you heard a sermon or saw an article on fasting?
Perhaps the main reason we don’t hear much about fasting, even in churches where the Bible is believed and taught, is because it isn’t practiced. After all, it’s hard to be a vigorous advocate of something you don’t do. It’s one thing to exhort people to meditate on Scripture or to pray even though inconsistency sometimes marks your own practice of these disciplines. But it’s another thing to preach about fasting when you never fast.
To a much lesser degree it’s probably also true that we don’t hear about fasting because Jesus taught us in Matthew 6:16-18 to fast in a way that “may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.” The context of that makes plain that what Jesus was condemning was the kind of fasting practiced by the Pharisees where they played up their suffering so that people would be impressed by their supposed piety.
But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong for people to know that you fast anymore than it is wrong for people to know that you read the Bible and pray. The motive and the purpose behind your talking about your spiritual disciplines is what matters. Done properly, we teach one another a great deal from our experiences with these biblical practices.
It is in that spirit that my pastor, Ryan Fullerton of Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, posted these reflections following a 40-day fast.
I, for one, am grateful to have a pastor willing to discipline himself for the purpose of Godliness (1 Timothy 4:7) in this biblical way, and for his commitment to be an example and teacher to his flock in these things.
I would commend to you each of the materials on fasting from which Pastor Fullerton quotes. Also, I present a survey of the Bible’s teaching on fasting in chapter nine of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Mentioned are the various kinds of biblical fasts, the expectation of Jesus that His followers would fast, the importance of having one of the biblical purposes behind your fast, and many practical recommendations for fasts of various lengths.
What resources have you found helpful in the practice of fasting?