The odds are good that fasting has come across your radar in the past month or so, whether it be through scrolling Instagram or reading your Bible. What was once considered a spiritual practice and maybe even a foreign concept to many is now becoming more commonplace for health purposes. If fasting is simply the act of abstaining from food for a set period of time, then is all fasting created equal? Or does the Bible shed light on the significance of a spiritual fast?
Fasting is mentioned all through scripture and we see a variety of examples of how and why God’s people fast.
- Ezra called the Israelites to a fast in order to “humble ourselves before our God, and seek from him a safe journey” (Ezra 8:21).
- We see Daniel fast in sackcloth and ashes as he pleads for mercy from God, confessing the sins of his people (Daniel 9:3-19).
- When Nehemiah hears that the wall of Jerusalem has been destroyed, he fasted and prayed in grief and confession on behalf of the people of Israel (Nehemiah 1:4-11).
- Daniel fasts in the midst of affliction, as he humbles himself and seeks an answer from God (Psalm 69).
While these are just a few of the many examples in the Old Testament, a common denominator between all of these instances is humility paired with seeking the Lord. So what is the connection between abstaining from food and humility? How does fasting serve as a means to humble ourselves before God?
Consider the things you do on a day-to-day basis. There is a short list of activities I can say I do every single day, multiple times a day. But one that I count on (and look forward to) is eating. I eat three meals a day and probably some snacks in between. The moment that cycle is interrupted with the abstention from food, my body, and even my mind begins to feel the effects of that. I feel weak. I’m quickly reminded that my body is actually dependent on an outside source of food.
When I choose to fast, the cycle of my every day is interrupted and it serves as a natural reminder for me to seek the Lord. As much as I depend on something as small but as significant as food, how much more should I depend on and put my faith in the One who is living and in control of all things (Isaiah 45:5-7)? The One who knows best and can be trusted in all circumstances (Romans 11:33)? Fasting wakes me up to this spiritual reality that can often get lost in day-to-day life.
Isaiah 58 and Matthew 6 emphasize and confirm what we’ve already seen. Fasting is meant to serve as a means of true humility before God, not to be used for the sake of appearance before God and others.
Lastly, fasting is a spiritual practice that God expects his people to participate in as a way to seek him. But this is only intended for a time. Fasting is temporary. In Mark 2, Jesus makes the argument that the need for fasting doesn’t make sense when the bridegroom is present, but only when the bridegroom has left them. That would be like putting new wine into old wineskins, it’s incompatible. But we know that the bridegroom, Jesus, will one day return for His bride and when that day comes, we will no longer need the means of grace like fasting to humble ourselves and draw near to God because we will be with Him and perfectly humbled in His presence. So until that day, we fast as a means to humble ourselves, seek the Lord, and we do so with longing and hope for the day that Christ returns.