Fasting for Beginners and New Christians

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If I were to guess, fasting is probably something you do not do often. Maybe you have fasted before for health reasons, such as juice cleanses, intermittent fasting, weight loss, etc., but fasting for spiritual purposes is often put on the back burner. It seems hard. It seem a bit painful. It feels like a labor.

As humans marred by sin, we don't like things that feel like labor.

In 2 Corinthians 11:16-33, we see Paul recount his labors for the Lord Jesus Christ (and it's an exhaustive list). Elsewhere in Colossians 4:12, Paul reminds the church in Colossae that he and Epaphras "labor on their behalf in prayers." 

And if prayer is labor, then how much more is fasting a labor in our spiritual disciplines and pursuit of Christ?

Evidences of Fasting in the NT:
  • Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness before beginning his earthly ministry (Luke 4).
  • Jesus taught on fasting at the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:16-18).
  • Paul teaches us how to fast (1 Corinthians 7).
  • The Apostles fasted before appointing elders in the churches (Acts 14:23).
  • Paul and Barnabas were set apart after prayer and fasting (Acts 13).

It's important to understand that fasting was also an Old Testament practice, often times used to seek the Lord before decisions were made and also for bringing burdens before the Lord (see 2 Samuel 12, Daniel 10, Deuteronomy 9, and 1 Kings 21 as examples). 

What is Spiritual Fasting?

It's important to note that spiritual fasting is not for health reasons. Spiritual fasting is for the purpose of creating hunger pains, so that, in and through our hunger, we seek Christ more fully, purposefully, and intensly. 

Christian fasting, therefore, is going without food, or anything else that is regularly enjoyed, for an extended period and for a specific and intended spiritual purpose. This purpose could be for growth in your relationship with Jesus. It could be for seeking the will of God in a decision that needs to be made. It could be for the purposes of extended prayer for a sin that is prevalent in your life.

Fasting is an intentional period of time set aside to intensify your hunger for Christ, His Word, and His will for your life. 

How to Begin Fasting:
  1. Decide upon which type of fast you will do. This is important for several reasons. Will it be a fast from food? Will it be a fast from something that you regularly enjoy? As you wade into fasting in your life, don't over shoot your target. The goal is not the completion of the fast. The goal is the rekindled angst for Jesus in your fast. In fact, the goal is always more of Jesus and less of our accomplishments. When fasting from food, decide upon a 12-hour fast, a 24-hour fast, a 3-day fast, or maybe even something longer. 
  2. Write out your plan. If the purpose is to seek Christ more, then you need a plan before you enter your fast. If you are going to fast from food for 3-days, then write out what you will do at 7am, 12pm, and 7pm (normal breakfast, lunch, and dinner times). Use those three hours intentionally seeking the Lord. Come up a plan for how you will use those 9-hours. What is more, come up with a plan for what happens when you begin to feel the continual hunger pangs. This will also be a time for which you will need to plan. 
  3. Tell a friend for accountability. The beauty of the family of Christ is that we have others who can bare our burdens for us. Don't publicize your fast on social media (Jesus actually warns us not boast publicly about our fasts), but do tell a few so that they will be praying for you, checking in on you, and holding you accountable through your fast.
  4. Seek advice from a physician, if needed. Finally, depending on your health, health concerns you might have, and the length of a fast, always consult a physician. It might not always be wise to fast from food, but there are always ways to practice fasting from the pleasures of this world, even if we can't fast physcially from food for whatever reason. 
Go Forth and Fast:

There is nothing stopping you from writing our your plan, picking the days of your fast, and moving forward to do it. In fact, I would suggest that if you've read this far, then your next step is to do just that. 

Go grab your notebook, grab your favorite pen, and begin to prayer make a plan for how you will cultive the discipline of fasting in your life. After all, it is a discipline, but disciplines have a way of allowing us to grow in every area of life. As the wise leader knows, it's the discipline you do in private that bring about the person you desire to be in public.