Should I Fast?
“by asking the priests who were at the house of the Lord of Hosts as well as the prophets, “Should we mourn and fast in the fifth month as we have done these many years?”” (Zechariah 7:3, HCSB)
The question is one that Christians ask quite often. They ask themselves, just as the people in the time of Zechariah asked themselves:
Should I fast?
In reality, everyone fasts at least once a day. You have just fasted the night before when you eat breakfast. This is the meaning of the word breakfast (to break the fast). You have slept all night and now to break your fast, you eat a small meal.
So the question is not “Should I fast?”, but “When should I fast?”
The people were asking if they should continue to fast the same way they have been fasting for years. They had been fasting for 70 years, while they were in exile. They were fasting and weeping to remind themselves of the destruction of the Temple. They would take a time in the month and they would memoralize this event in the lives of Israel.
They took time in one month of the year to mourn and fast.
Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1).
Paul fasted for a short time while making a vow.
Daniel fasted from rich foods for 10 days (Daniel 1:12).
Esther and her friends fasted for 3 days and nights (Esther 4:16)
There are many different examples of fasting in the Bible. There is no one specific method. You can fast for a day or you can fast for a week. You can fast from rich foods or you can fast from food altogether.
Just like every tradition that happens for a long time period, the meaning got lost. While in the beginning, the people were mourning the loss of the Temple, now they were just mourning. While in the beginning, the people were fasting as a way to ask God to help them, now it became a ritual.
And ritual without reason is meaningless. This is the key to understanding how I should fast.
How should I fast?
STEPS TO FASTING FOR A PURPOSE
1. Look to a challenging decision that needs to be made.
Fasting is not for every occasion. We are to pray for every occasion, but fasting is reserved for very important decisions. Fasting is way to prepare yourself spiritually for a challenging decision that needs to be made. Perhaps you want to move. Perhaps you want to start a family, or get married. When you see that you have to make a decision about a direction your life may take, you can fast. When you do, you will receive more wisdom from God than when you regularly pray.
Fasting is setting aside physical pleasures to seek God’s pleasure about a matter. Therefore when you fast, you want to pray to God regularly during this time. You don’t just stop doing something. You take the time you would use doing that something (for which you have fasted – or stopped), and you spend that time with God.
For example, suppose you say: I will fast from television for a week. This is a good way to fast. You are setting aside the physical pleasure to the mind and eyes of what is on the screen. What are you going to do during the times that you normally would watch television? You spend time in worship and prayer. Perhaps you read the Bible. Perhaps you spend time playing your guitar singing praises to God. Then you spend some time in prayer. The point is clear. You don’t just stop doing something. You replace the time spent doing something else with time you give to God.
Now you can’t say: I am going to fast from television, but I will spend that time playing tennis. You have to give that time to God. That is the whole point of the fast.
3. Set aside a time, place, and object of your fast.
Ask yourself “when” you want to fast. Decide how long the fast should take place. Then decide what you want to fast from. The fasting object should be something that really takes you away from God. The fast should be challenging. Fasting from chocolate is not enough. Fasting from all foods for a day would be challenging. Fasting from television for one hour is not enough. Fasting from TV for a week would be challenging.
4. Fast from the object
When you have decided on the length of the fast, honor God by committing to your fast.
5. Feast on God
But when you fast, you are to replace what you desire physically with spiritual nourishment – feasting on God. This is where prayer and worship meet. You need to praying to God and you need to be worshipping God. God will reveal to you what should do about this decision. He will be pleased with you because you set aside a special time for Him, and you decided that what was very important to you would be given to God.
Fasting is not to be just a time of separation from something. Fasting is a time to get closer to God. Fasting is where worship and prayer meet. That is how you need to look at fasting. Fasting is not just starving yourself. God is not a God who wants to starve his children like some prisoners in a concentration camp. God wants you to have some self-control so that you can focus on Him. When you focus on Him through fasting, God honors it. You get a feast in a relationship with God. This spiritual food is what Jesus talked about in John. He said:
“I have food that you know nothing about.” He was saying I don’t need food. He was saying that He has another food supply. God wants you to feast on this spiritual food supply. Enjoy your feast experience with Him.