In my last two posts, “Wildfire Contagion” and “The Fire Continues” we established, through Scripture, fasting is just as much a normal part of the Christian life as giving and praying. Then we defined fasting according to the Bible. Today, we’ll look at why we should or would want to fast.
Numerous reasons exist to fast but topping the list is obedience in following Christ’s teaching and example. When I say teaching, you will not find a bulleted list of explicit details or instructions in the Bible under a heading, “Reasons to fast.” But the Bible references fasting many times throughout both the Old and New Testaments. With a little searching, I found over 50 incidents of it. We can observe recorded fasts in Scripture. This will assist in discerning the “why” in those particular times and places. Then our observations can help us understand reasons we may want to fast.
A Look at Jesus
Foremost, let’s take a close look at Jesus’ fast. It took place immediately after he was baptized. It’s recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry” (Matthew 4:1-2, CSB). We can make two observations from these verses. First, Jesus’ fast was “Spirit-led,” indicating God initiated or introduced this fast. Second, his fast is voluntary as in Jesus voluntarily submits himself to the leading of the Spirit. A student of Scripture knows Jesus is always obedient—yielding his human will to that of God the Father.
Next, we see Jesus successfully endure training to resist temptation. “Then the tempter approached him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ He answered, ‘It is written: Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ ” (Matthew 4:3-4, CSB). Two more times the devil tempts Jesus, and on each occasion, Jesus refutes the tempter with, “It is written” statements. Jesus declares truths from the Word of God.
His fast was a time of solitude with God. Spending intimate time with the Lord God moves us away from distractions of the world, just as it did for Jesus, allowing us to hear God more clearly. At the end of Jesus’ fast we see, “the devil left him, and angels came and began to serve him” (Matthew 4:11, CSB). Luke records it like this, “After the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time. Then Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. . .” (Luke 4:13-14, CSB). Now, Jesus was strengthened and prepared for ministry. It’s interesting to note that his fast began and ended with the Spirit.
Would you like a bulleted list from Jesus? Here are the “whys” we can extract from the verses we just went through:
• Fast when led to do so by the Holy Spirit.
• Fast in obedient submission to God the Father.
• Fast for greater intimacy with God.
• Fast for strength and training in resistance to temptation.
• Fast in preparation for ministry. (Making disciples is a ministry we are all commissioned for, see Matthew 28:16-20.)
Other Biblical Examples and Reasons
Fasting is often done to seek God’s guidance or intervention. Moses intercedes on behalf of Aaron and the rebellious Israelites, “I fell down like the first time in the presence of the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I did not eat food or drink water because of all the sin you committed, doing what was evil in the LORD’s sight and angering him” (Deuteronomy 9:18, CSB).
Ezra asked God to intervene with safety, “I proclaimed a fast by the Ahava River, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us, our dependents, and all our possessions. . . So we fasted and pleaded with our God about this, and he was receptive to our prayer” (Ezra 8:21, 23).
The Israelites sought guidance during battle, “The whole Israelite army went to Bethel where they wept and sat before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the LORD. . . The Israelites asked, ‘Should we again fight against our brothers the Benjaminites or should we stop?’ ” (Judges 20:26-28, CSB).
The Jews fasted on behalf of Queen Esther as they sought God’s intervention to spare their lives, “Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my female servants will also fast in the same way. After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law. If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16, CSB).
We carefully examined the fast of Jesus and looked at four more narratives each revealing reasons for fasting. Yet, there is more to explore next time.
Dear Reader, if fasting is not a normal part of your life, reread the bulleted list above and ask God about incorporating fasting into your life. I urge you to seek intimacy with your Creator.
Dear Father God, thank You for clearly revealing truth through Scripture. Thank You for showing us why we should fast. Holy Spirit, help us to apply the truth so that we will live as You called us to, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything You have commanded. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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