Beginning next week, our Engedi family is embarking on 21 days of prayer and fasting. Often when we think of fasting, we focus on what we’re giving up. But what about the greater things that we gain through fasting? This week, we’ll learn why God calls us to fast as well as practical steps for how to fast.
- Read Matthew 6.2–16.
In these verses, we see that Jesus calls His followers to do three things: give, pray, and fast. When we give, our focus shifts from the present to the eternal, preventing us from slipping into greed. When we pray, we declare our dependence on God rather than falling into self-sufficiency. And when we fast, we give the Holy Spirit dominion and authority over our body, saying no to ourselves that we may say yes to God.
There is often confusion about fasting. Some believe that it is a form of penance, that somehow denying ourselves pays a debt that we owe to God. However, the Bible declares that Jesus paid the ultimate price, and through grace and faith in Him, we’re no longer in debt to God. Others believe fasting allows them to prove their spirituality, to prove that they’re higher than those who don’t fast, but this thinking only leads to prideful downfall. Others believe that if they fast, God is inclined to answer their prayers however they wish. However, fasting is not about changing God but about changing ourselves.
Question: What is your view of fasting? What role or purpose does it play in your life?
- Read Matthew 9.14–15.
These verses reveal what fasting is really about—being with Jesus. Fasting is about making Him a priority, about giving up our daily comforts to gain what is greater—Jesus’ presence, guidance, freedom and power. Just like Jesus’ original disciples, we, too, are commanded to fast. There are levels of spiritual maturity, freedom and effectiveness that we can’t reach without prayer and fasting (see Mark 9.28–29).
- Read 1 Thessalonians 5.23.
Scripture tells us that we’re tri-part beings—body, soul, and spirit. Our body makes us aware of ourselves—of our needs and desires. Our soul makes us aware of others and the emotional needs around us. Finally, our spirit makes us aware of God and of eternal realities. These three parts are constantly competing for supremacy in our lives. This is the struggle that Paul speaks of in Romans 7—this battle explains why we often don’t do the things that we want to do.
Our bodies struggle with physical addictions that require supernatural power to overcome; fasting gives us this power. Our soul bears emotional addictions and poor habits from past wounds and broken relationships. Fasting leads to freedom from these habits as well. In the struggle between body, soul, and spirit, which aspect will remain supreme? The one that we feed most!
Question: How have you experienced the struggle between body, soul, and spirit? Which of these aspects are you pouring the most time, energy, and resources into?
The key to a victorious Christian walk is to daily feed our spirit so that it can exercise dominion over our body and soul. The discipline of regular fasting not only feeds the spirit, but it also starves the body. This fasting consists of not only food but also other fleshly/emotional appetites that pull us away from God—mindless or sinful entertainment, distracting or dangerous relationships, habits that value others or ourselves over God. As Christians, we lose spiritual authority and victory in our lives when we give into these fleshly appetites.
Question: What area(s) of your life threatens your relationship with God? What steps are you taking to overcome this threat?
Keys to Effective Fasting
- Read James 4.2–3.
There are several keys that help us fast effectively.
- Have a clear objective.
This objective could include declaring our dependence upon God, asking for forgiveness, praying that everyone would hear about Jesus, inviting God’s presence into our lives in a greater way, or seeking answers to specific needs in our lives.
- Decide what and how to fast.
There are several different kinds of fasts; check out engedichurch.com/21days for ideas of different fasts. Once you have decided what and how you’ll fast, share your commitment with a friend who can help hold you accountable. Most important, seek God about what and how to fast; the end goal of fasting is not what we’re giving up but about the God that we’re seeking.
- Prepare spiritually.
Joel 2.12–13 says, “‘Even now’, declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” Before fasting we should start asking God to prepare our hearts. We can ask Him to show us what we need to change in our lives—what things we need to give up, what needs need to be met and how He plans to use us.
- Prepare ourselves physically.
When we give up things that our bodies are used to having, they often respond with discomfort and complaints. Romans 8.13 tells us that when we live by the Spirit, we put to death the misdeeds of the body. Anytime something is being put to death, it’s uncomfortable. Prepare for this discomfort by weaning off the things that will be fasted.
- Make the necessary adjustments.
- Read Isaiah 58.3–4.
During a fast, we are to not only get away from things that only feed our flesh but also plan for extra time for things that serve our spirit—prayer, Bible reading, serving. Avoiding food without focusing on prayer is just a disappointing diet!
- Expect big results.
Isaiah 58.8–9 shares the things that God promises us when we put Him first. When our motive for fasting is a pure desire to please our Heavenly Father and seek His face, He will show Himself to us. We can expect to be transformed in His presence and for things to be different in our lives.
- Set up for continued victory.
It’s important to prepare to end the fast well. There are some things that need to permanently vacate our lives. When we end a fast, we must be careful not to slip back into bad habits that are trying to hold on and to be prepared for counterattacks. Luke 11.24_26 warns us that Satan doesn’t like us dying to flesh that we may live for God; he will do everything in his power to pull us back to deadly lifestyles. Praise God that His power far exceeds the devil’s, and by His strength we can overcome! Through prayer we can receive strength against the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6.10–18).