The Apostle Peter drew his second letter to a close with these wise and pastoral words: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18). The word “grow” is an exhortation and a command, and it implies that if we’re to progress in Christ we must play an active role, by the grace of Christ, in building habits that nurture our progress. Therefore, I am offering a series of devotionals this summer on eight essential habits that help us to grow in grace. For today, let’s consider the place of fasting in the Christian life.
Midway through the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said to his disciples, “And when you fast...” Later he added, “The days will come when the bridegroom [Jesus] is taken away from them [Jesus’ disciples], and then they will fast” (Matthew 6:16; 9:15). The Lord said “when” not “if,” and “they will” not “they might.” Jesus assumed that fasting would be a regular part of his disciples’ lives, and so today I want to address three questions: What is fasting? Why should lovers of Jesus fast? How do we go about fasting?
First, what is fasting? To fast is to deny ourselves food or water or other necessities or pleasures of life for a time. It is putting aside good things so that we can feast on great things. It is a way of making space in our lives so that we can give more of ourselves to prayer and worship and the Word of God. And in this way, fasting is a way of intensifying our quest for God.
If you’ll think about this definition for a moment, you’ll see that we can only fast from things that are good. For instance, we can’t fast from stealing or gluttony or coveting or lust. We have to repent from these things. Indeed, the only things from which we can fast are good gifts from God. So again, fasting is putting aside good things for a time that we might feast on great things like prayer, worship, and the Word of God.
Second, why should lovers of Jesus fast? The primary reason we should fast is that Jesus fasted and taught his disciples to do the same. We don’t fast to be religious, or to deny ourselves for the sake of denying ourselves, or to earn the love of God, or to manipulate God into giving us what we want. Plain and simple, we fast because Jesus fasted and taught his disciples to do the same, and as Christians our passion is to be submissive to Jesus and our greatest hope is to be like Jesus.
Third, how do we go about fasting? Much needs to be said about this, and so rather than trying to answer this question here, I will simply refer you to Bill Bright’s helpful little booklet, Seven Basic Steps to Fasting and Prayer (available on our website at www.gcfmn.org, resources > articles).
My exhortation to us today is simply this: read Bill Bright’s booklet, ask Jesus to help you, take the seven steps, and learn to fast. Rightly understood and practiced, it is one of the most powerful disciplines in the Christian life.