Yesterday I explained some of what fasting is not. So today I want to show you some of what fasting is, why it’s important, and some benefits of fasting.
Fasting is doing without something—usually food—for spiritual purposes. Biblical fasting is a private matter between an individual and God. While it is important in the Christian life and service, it is not something that is commanded, nor can it be used to judge the spirituality of others.
Fasting is a time to focus on God. Prayer and fasting go together like an RC Cola and a Moon Pie. Fasting is more than just denying ourselves of things that we want and need. Primarily it is a time when we focus more on God, and less on us. When we fast we seek to center our attention on God so that we can put Him first in every area of our lives. When we fast we get hungry. What we need to do is let our hunger focus our attention on God. This is a good time for us to say a “breath prayer”. A breath prayer is not an extended period of prayer. More like a single sentence about what I’m fasting for or just a prayer of praise to God.
One of the hardest things to do during a fast is to be sure we are focusing on this primary purpose. If we are skipping lunch it is easy to use this time to get some extra work done, get a nap in or watch some more TV. We have to guard against this and make sure that we use this time to focus on God through prayer or reading our Bible. Satan would love to hinder our fast by taking our focus off of the primary purpose of the fast.
Some spiritual battles can only be won through fasting. The disciples had failed to cast the demon out of the son of man who came to them for help. When they asked Jesus why they failed He told them because of their lack of faith (v20). Then He added: “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” Matthew 17:21 (NKJV) There are certain spiritual battles we’ll never win without prayer and fasting. There are certain breakthroughs we’ll never experience without prayer and fasting.
Jesus expected that we would fast. “Moreover, when you fast…But you, when you fast…” Matthew 6:16-17 (NKJV)
Did you catch what Jesus said there? He said WHEN you fast not IF you fast. Jesus fasted, His disciples fasted and He expected that we would fast.
Jesus promises to honor fasting. “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Matthew 6:17-18 (NKJV)
Jesus tells us that if we fast in the right way with the right motives we will be rewarded for it. The God who sees what we do will reward us. From this passage I am convinced that anytime we fast in the right way with the right motives we can expect that God will bless us for it. Now we aren’t specifically given any ideas of what these rewards will be. However I can tell you some I’ve experienced in my life.
Fasting improves my relationship with God. Any relationship will be improved with you spend a period of time focusing on the other person. Our relationship with God will be no different. I have never completed a fast without my relationship to God being better than what it was before I started. This has been true when I was close to God and when I wasn’t so close to God. I heard a pastor say once, “Fasting is only effective in as much as it brings me closer to God.”
Fasting reveals what controls me. At various points in our lives we all tend to let things other than God and His Spirit control us. When I have fasted God has used this increased time with Him to reveal to me what is controlling my life. Sometimes I already know what this is and other times I am surprised by what is revealed during my fast. Fasting has helped me remove these non-essential things so that my most essential relationship—with Him—can be put in the place it’s supposed to be.
Fasting makes me more sensitive to God’s voice. The more focused I am on God the more sensitive and receptive I am to His voice. The Bible teaches that through His Holy Spirit God wants to guide us in every area of our lives (Galatians 5:25). Rarely is the problem God’s unwillingness to lead us as much as it is our lack of sensitivity to His leading. It has been my experience that when I fast and focus on God I am much more sensitive when He wants to speak to me through His Word and more sensitive to the Holy Spirit.