Fasting. I don’t know when I was introduced to the concept. I first tried it while I was attending Bible college. I never really did it out of my own volition but at the prompting of leadership — usually in response to some specific situation (e.g.a sick person in the congregation or the financial woes of a ministry). Each time I was called upon to fast, I wrestled with knowing it was the right thing to do while being bummed out about the prospect of going without food. (I’m being honest here.)
I’ve pretty successfully avoided fasting for the most part (feeling vaguely guilty about it). The fact that you rarely hear sermons on the topic helps. And on the occasion that someone does preach on fasting, he rarely elevates it to the level of importance of the other spiritual disciplines. So it’s easy to think of it as optional — something reserved for a crisis or for the very spiritual.
My search on Boundless for articles about fasting came up with “Best Sermon Ever,” which happens to be written by Jesus (I’m not kidding). So other than Jesus, who really talks about fasting?
Seeking the Lord
I recently wrote a Sunday school lesson on Acts 13 for kids. This is the passage where Saul and Barnabas are sent out from the church at Antioch as the first missionaries. Seeking the Lord for guidance, the believers begin with a time of worship and fasting.
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off (13:2-3).
It seems that for the early believers, fasting was an ordinary mode of communicating with God and seeking guidance. In other areas of Scripture we see it linked to repentance, mourning and even a believer’s everyday walk with the Lord.
Just as I was giving fasting another look, a guest speaker preached a sermon on it this past Sunday. He presented seven purposes for fasting (supported by Scripture):
- To intensify prayer
- To seek God’s guidance
- To reveal what or who controls you
- To expose sin
- To display repentance and remorse
- To demonstrate serious concern over a matter
- To demonstrate humility
The speaker then asked us what we were burdened to fast about. I immediately thought of my single friends who desire to be married. Perhaps I can fast on their behalf, I thought. Then I was struck with a thought: Why, during all those years I was single, did I never fast about my desire to be married? It certainly qualified as fast-worthy, given the list above. For one thing, no one ever encouraged me to fast about finding a spouse. (Then again, no one ever really encouraged me to fast.) Clearly, fasting is not a formula for getting what you want anymore than prayer is. However, if you read up on fasting in Scripture, you can see that it clearly has power and gets results.
So will you join me in thinking more seriously about fasting? What’s on your heart to fast about? Fasting isn’t just about going without food; it’s about connecting with the Creator in a deeper way. I suppose a big part of going without food is realizing that the deep refreshment and nourishment we long for is found in abundance in Him.
Copyright 2011 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.