Last night our youth group’s discipleship group met to discuss the topic of fasting. We have been reading through Donald Whitney’s book, “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life,” and last night the chapter that was due was on fasting. Whitney’s book is an amazing book dealing with various spiritual disciplines that are for the purpose of growth in Godliness. One of my favorite sentences from his book (which by the way, has become a yearly read for me because his book is THAT GOOD!), is, “discipline without direction is drudgery.” If we do not have direction and purpose in our discipline, we will lose heart and quit. Think of how true this is! If you are reading your Bible just to cross it off your list and say you did it, then the moment that “saying you did it” doesn’t really matter to you, then you’ll stop cold turkey! But, if we are reading for the purpose of seeing Christ, growing our affections for the Savior, growing our arsenal of weapons against sin, temptation, our flesh and the enemy, then we will have real motivation and direction that will turn our discipline into dutiful delight and not drudgery!
So, what is the motivation for fasting? What direction does God’s Word give us in regards to fasting? If we have lost the direction and purpose of fasting, then we surely will find it nothing but drudgery! When was the last time you fasted? What was your reason for fasting? I would contend that the majority of evangelicalism has simply fasted from fasting! So, why fast?
Before we see the “why,” maybe it would be helpful to understand the “what,” a little better. Is fasting refraining from food? Yes, but it is so much more than that. The definition I like to use for fasting is this: “Fasting is the putting off of something good for the purpose of gaining something greater!” This is important to understand. Fasting is NOT, for instance, putting off something bad or sinful. You can’t biblically fast from being angry at people. That’s not fasting, that’s called obedience to God’s command not to be angry! Fasting is the putting off of something GOOD! And it can be much more than just food! It can be television, movies, video games, facebook, reading for pleasure, exercising, hanging out with friends, talking on the phone, sleeping, etc. But the putting off of a good thing still does not fully qualify for biblical fasting. To fully qualify for a true fast, you must PUT ON something in place of the thing that you are putting off. And what are you putting on? You are putting on anything that would enable you to treasure Christ more and to help others do the same! To give you a glimpse of some reasons for fasting, here are Donald Whitney’s ten reasons for fasting: to strengthen prayer, to seek God’s guidance, to express grief, to seek deliverance or protection, to express repentance and the return to God, to humble oneself before God, to express concern for the work of God, to minister to the needs of others, to overcome temptation and dedicate yourself to God, and to express love and worship to God. Each point is made biblically and soundly by Whitney and is fleshed out in encouraging application for our own lives from the text of Scripture. And those are not the only reasons to fast or the only things you can be putting on! But the bottom line is that we have several reasons to fast, the least of which is the fact that it is EXPECTED by Christ! In Matthew 6, Jesus states, “when you fast…” It is an expected spiritual discipline alongside two other expected disciplines in Matthew 6: when you give (of your money) and when you pray. Even the most lazy, undisciplined, nominal “Christian,” will usually pray at least three times a day at meals! Hopefully we are praying much more than that for longer periods of time before the throne of grace! But for some reason, though we do not think of giving of our money or praying as optional, we tend to think of fasting as optional, or pertaining only to the “spiritual elite.”
Can I encourage us all to break the fast from fasting? I challenged the students last night to pick one tangible “good thing” that they can fast from and in its place put on a better thing! Many are fasting from television, facebook, video games, some from food on certain days, some from other things, but all are putting off something good and putting on something better! All are putting on extended times in God’s Word, reading ahead in their yearly Bible-reading plan, memorizing specific verses, spending lengthy time in prayer, etc. Might you join us as we fast for two weeks from something that isn’t inherently sinful, but rather is an opportunity to practice self-control and self-denial, (two other disciplines which are sadly misunderstood and unappreciated in the church in America) to put on a discipline that will enable you to treasure Christ more, and point others to do the same? I know that God will bless us as we seek Him and desire to grow in Godliness! And as we do, it will become our delight, for our discipline will not be without direction, and therefore will not be drudgery!