Fasting, the Forgotten Discipline
Fasting is an important – though often underappreciated and undiscussed – part of the Christian life. Jesus assumed that his disciples would fast (see Matthew 6:16-21; Matthew 9:15-17). And yet, for many modern, Western Christians, fasting is as foreign as memorizing scripture (I’ll leave that one for another day…).
In my experience, it’s seldom preached on, seldom discussed, and seldom practiced. Perhaps the lack of discussion stems from Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees for making their fasts known. Though he warned his disciples about prayer in the same way and every church I’ve attended has prayed during their services. So why no fasting?
Perhaps it’s because fasting is uncomfortable. And if there’s anything that we, as Americans, dislike – it’s being uncomfortable. Myself included.
So, I thought we could use a little prodding on the issue. Here are 6 Bible verses that discuss the practice of fasting.
Hopefully, they will encourage you to make fasting more than just a topic of conversation.
1. Jesus’ Instructions for Fasting – Matthew 6:16-21
Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
2. Jesus Practiced What He Preached by Fasting – Matthew 4:1-4
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word thatproceeds out of the mouth of God.’ ”
3. The Early Church Followed Jesus’ Example by Fasting – Acts 13:1-3
Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
4. God Humbles Us Through Fasting – Deuteronomy 8:2-3
You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.
5. Holiness Must Accompany Fasting – Jeremiah 14:10-12
Thus says the LORD to this people, “Even so they have loved to wander; they have not kept their feet in check. Therefore the LORD does not accept them; now He will remember their iniquity and call their sins to account.” So the LORD said to me, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.”
6. God Honors a Righteous Fast- Isaiah 58:3-7
Why have we fasted and You do not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’
Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,
And drive hard all your workers.
Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist.
You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.
Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed
And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?
Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?
Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
There’s More Where That Came From…
If you still aren’t convinced of the value of fasting, I’d encourage you to check out Exodus 34:27-28, 1 Samuel 7:5-6, Esther 4:15-17, and Ezra 8:21-23. God’s people have a rich history of fasting. It would be a tragedy if we dropped the ball on this one.
March’s TfC Book Club book is John Piper’s book on fasting, A Hunger for God. I read it earlier this month and it’s an essential read. I’d encourage you to get your hands on a copy and read it if you’d like to know more about the discipline of fasting.
And if you read it, leave a comment here with what you thought about it. Just don’t brag about all the fasting you’re doing as a result.