It’s that time of year! Fasting season is upon us. Our churches, small groups, and faith communities are gathered to position our hearts towards God. As we put together our fasting meal plans, schedules, and social media sabbaticals, here are some useful tips to get us started and keep us grounded on our journey.
What Does the Bible Say About Fasting?
This is important. Before starting a fast, we need to understand the biblical foundation for it and what purpose it serves. For me, this was as simple as typing “what does the Bible say about fasting?” into Google. From there, I was able to find a host of scriptures that not only displayed instances of God’s people fasting, but explicitly revealed God’s view on what fasting should be. I was particularly astounded by what I found in Isaiah 58. In this passage of Scripture, the people of Israel were up in arms. They complained to God that even after rigorous fasting and “being hard on themselves,” God had not taken notice of them. Take note of how God responds:
“I will tell you why!” I respond.
“It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
you keep oppressing your workers.
4 What good is fasting
when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
will never get you anywhere with me.
5 You humble yourselves
by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
Do you really think this will please the Lord?
6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
7 Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
What We Can Learn
After meditating on this verse for a few days, I felt prepared to begin my fast. I believe that through the same meditation on Scripture, you too will be able to find purpose and clarity in your upcoming, current, or future fast. Here is what I’ve learned from studying this scripture and others related to fasting:
1. Fasting is Not About Our Agenda
This truth completely wrecked me. Upon deep study of this scripture, I realized that I fasted countless times without knowing the biblical foundation for how it should be conducted. Many fasts I had done before were about my agenda – what I wanted God to do, when I wanted him to do it, and how I wanted Him to do it. Through this scripture, I now understand the basic premise of how our fasting should be conducted – it should be a time in which we surrender our plans to God’s.
2. Fasting is a Posture of Your Heart
Sometimes we put too much emphasis on what we will or will not eat during a fast. I am guilty of this. In times past, I have looked for the most strenuous meal plans, in an effort to achieve a more “holy” fast. Not only is this biblically illiterate, but it will get you nowhere with God! Fasting is not just about how much we restrain ourselves physically – it’s about the posture of our hearts and the display of Godly charity. As we see in Isaiah 58, the people of Israel got nowhere with simply “being hard on themselves.” God was looking for them to have a complete display of holiness – not just in bodily restraint but in the way they loved their fellow-man.
3. Fasting is a Time for Humility and Repentance
In addition to Isaiah 58, I was able to find plenty of instances when God’s people conducted fasts. I was surprised to learn that in many of these instances, the people of God were brought to a state of extreme desire of repentance. One such example is in the book of Joel. Joel begins by explaining the destruction that is to come on the nation because of sin. Locusts are promised to destroy harvests of all sorts, and there is prophesy for diverse and widespread disaster. In Joel 2: 12, the Lord himself urges the people of that nation to turn to Him with “fasting, weeping, and mourning.” He also instructs them not to “tear your clothing in your grief, but to tear your hearts instead.” He is asking them for total surrender and repentance, and it is the same with us.
Let the Word Be Your Final Authority
It is my hope that we all have powerful seasons of fasting this month and for the rest of the year. Let’s always remember to position the Word of God as our final authority, allowing it to shape how we approach these seasons. When we do this, I have faith that God will bless us immeasurably. God bless and happy fasting!