Fasting to Grow Closer to God
Fasting is not a popular practice. In fact, it is a mostly forgotten practice, or one that is antiquated and out of date. It’s not the kind of thing that people usually look forward to in eager anticipation. But fasting has been a part of the Christian story since before there was even a specifically Christian story. (By that, I mean that it is a practice that Christians learned from our Jewish brothers and sisters and carried over to Christian practice.) But it has been and still can be an incredibly meaningful way to connect with God.
Fasting is ultimately a self-denial, which is an important thing for Christians to learn how to do since that is a major task of Christian spirituality and Christian living. Jesus tells his disciples, and us too, that in order to follow him they must: “deny themselves and take up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). For Christians to become like Christ and to follow Jesus, we must learn to deny ourselves.
In fasting, we turn away from the normal necessities of life, or the things that we have built up to be “necessities” in our life. Typically, fasting is in reference to food, such as when Jesus fasts at the beginning of his ministry (see Matthew 4:1-11). However, fasting can also be a denial of other things or items that we use in our lives to avoid boredom, or to feel significant. We can fast from technology (a great practice that I will always support), we can fast from spending money, we can fast from the need to always be accomplishing a task, and so much more.
Now, when we fast, we typically get engrossed and entirely wrapped up in deciding what we are going to fast from and how difficult we think that experience is going to be. But, there is much more to fasting. Abstaining from something is only part of the equation. Because now that we have denied ourselves from something, even something good, we now turn to give our attention and focus to something better: God.
This is where the spiritual richness of fasting comes into play. If you are fasting from food, then during typical meal times, you now have the opportunity to spend that time focusing on something other than eating, namely, on God. When the hunger pangs come, we have an opportunity to deny ourselves, (possibly to say thank you to God for providing you food, the ability to eat, and the physical reminder that our bodies provide us at every meal time), and spend that time instead of meeting a need ourselves, trusting that God will meet our needs and provide for us always.
So, in fasting, we practice denying ourselves, we learn to trust in God and to connect with God, and we also have the opportunity to reflect on our relationships with one another. Fasting is an excellent exercise to use in the field of repentance and reconciliation. In fasting, we learn to deny ourselves, and we can then also lift up others that we see around us. We can pay attention to the ways that God is instructing us to repent and to change our lives. We can pay attention to systems and structures that are broken and in need of God’s healing. And we can learn to participate in bringing God’s healing on earth as it is in heaven.
Isaiah writes about this in Isaiah 58. He sees an opportunity for Israel to repent of the ways it has done harm to the poor, and to return back to proper worship of God and care of neighbor. Isaiah says:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry, and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)
In fasting, we have the chance to seek God’s will not only for our individual lives but also for our society and for the people who are our neighbors.
This week, we invite you to join us in fasting on Saturday from 6am-6pm. Whether you fast from food, from technology, from the need to accomplish something, the need to be needed, or something else, we invite you to give your attention and focus to God. As you fast, practice denying yourself, giving God your time, and learning to seek God’s will for all of God’s children.