Why do we fast?
As a church community, we encourage prayer and fasting on a regular basis – typically with a longer, more engaged fast during January of each year. But, is fasting actually relevant now in 21st century Britain? Here are a few super-quick thoughts.
1. simple obedience.
As a community, we want to be intentional about becoming like the the one we claim to follow – Jesus. And for all the deep, nuanced theology, the narrative examinations, the considered formational benefits, the traditions, the history… if I were being honest, for me, the most important answer is simple.
Jesus prayed and fasted. And he assumes we will be people who pray and fast too. And so, I want to do these things.
Note, it’s not “if you fast”, but “when”. Jesus is a Jewish rabbi (and much more, but culturally speaking…), and fasting was a part of the Jewish calendar.
Not only that, but Jesus lives out a rhythm of work and retreat. He’s regularly going off to spend time with God. And, if Jesus needed to, how much more might we?
2. it demonstrates that our dependence is upon God, and grows our expectancy
Food is a human need. We need it to function, grow, have energy to expend. We are made to enjoy taste, texture etc. And we build our lives around food – most of us eat three regular meals a day, and actively plan our days around those meals. So, giving up these foods/meals to instead use the time to seek God sets our bodies, our minds, our spirits on a new reality: we need more of Jesus.
3. It gives us a rhythm for seeking the god.
As above, we plan our days around meals. Part of fasting is using the time we would spend eating to actually seek God and pray. And, in my own experience (Tom), it’s not that hard to fast – but it’s more difficult to priortise praying in place of the meals. This is a tongue-in-cheek comment, but if we fast without praying, we’re just being hungry.
But, in theory, it creates at least three spaces to pray. Try different things too! Maybe breakfast is reading and praying over a verse-or-two of Scripture. Maybe lunchtime is sitting in silent prayer for a few mins. Maybe your afternoon coffee break is a simply as repeating the Lord’s Prayer. Seek him, be with Him. Each one us us has different ways in which we enjoy and experience God. So explore!
4. it's good for us
Like so many of the practices, fasting is good for us in the deepest way. It creates space for God to speak (and more so, for us to listen). But it is also helping curb our appetites, retraining our consumption. This doesn’t sound terribly spiritual – but one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. In our day-and-age where one of the cultural idols we face up to on a daily basis is the ‘god of the self’, this practice is sacrificial. It means we’re submitted our wants, desires, our literal hunger to God. But it’s good for us. It might alter our workout routines a bit. We might need to plan our time, our schedules. We may need to change what we are eating. But, we give Jesus 100% – our bodies, our minds, our works, our play etc.
EXTRA: SHOULD I ONLY FAST FROM FOOD?
I’m a fan of fasting from food. Not in an ‘I enjoy it’ way, but because I see it in the Bible. That being said, I think it’s totally valid to fast from things like social media, Netflix etc too. These things, like food, provide comfort and schedule our lives to one degree or another. So, maybe giving up Netflix and giving time to worship, pray, read Scripture for the next 23 days is actually something more manageable for you. Great! Some of us barely sit down and pause to eat, but you’ll spend hours scrolling through Instagram or TikTok. Give them up! Fast, abstain from them. And where there are perhaps medical concerns (e.g. diabetes etc), you could fast from certain food types etc too, in a sacrificial way.
Some would say this isn’t in a Biblical fast. I would disagree somewhat. For sure, Paul suggests that married couples might abstain from sexual intimacy for periods of time (1 Cor 7:5) to seek the God. So, I think there’s room for other kinds of fasting too! Ultimately, we encourage prayer and fasting because it is good for us in ways we cannot see or understand.
There is an awful lot more that could be said about fasting, but we want to keep it brief. Chat to others if you’re still unsure what it’s about. And, if you’ve never tried fasting before, chat to those who have, they might have tips, advice, thoughts.
If you’re someone who is dead set against fasting, or is just sceptical about it, could I encourage you to explore that with Jesus? Let’s be really honest. If you’re against it, whatever I write here probably isn’t going to change your opinion. But, Jesus might have an invitation for you.
Written (very quickly) by Tom Nicholson, one of the senior pastors at Nene Valley Vineyard along with his wife Ashleigh. Get in touch with Tom here. You can share and reuse this content as much as it is helpful.