I was raised in a Jewish family. As a child, fasting was a yearly event, part of Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. We gave up food as part of the ritual of purifying ourselves before God. As a Christian, my first fast was for eight days and was within the first month of my salvation.
In my earliest Bible studies, I read about fasting and assumed God wanted me to fast. Because of my Jewish upbringing, it was natural, and, to be honest, I was puzzled to see that few Christians fast. From the beginning, fasting lifted me to a new level of sensitivity toward God.
The bottom line is this: Most American Christians have never learned to fast. In my first thirteen years of ministry, I never heard a sermon on fasting. Not one! Yet the Old and New Testaments are replete with examples of godly men and women who fasted.
Anyone raised in the Roman Catholic Church knows what it means to give something up for Lent. And many Christians have skipped a meal or two on the National Day of Prayer. In fact, fasting is most often mentioned merely as the second half of the phrase, "prayer and fasting." But serious, ongoing fasting has, for the most part, been absent from our daily lives.
That changed for me in early 1998, when God called Marj and me to a radical fast. I am not writing this article to make anyone feel guilty about eating; obviously we all need to consume food to survive and flourish. And I am not attempting to flex my spiritual muscles. Rather, I pen these words because I have seen firsthand the spiritual power of fasting and believe it should be a vital part of every believer's life. We have seen repentance, deliverance, healing and revival follow fasting. But most of all, when we fast and pray, we humble ourselves and become more intimate with Jesus.
As a pastor, one of the most common questions people ask is, "How can I hear from God?" A variation of that might be, "Why isn't God speaking to me?" As Christians, we want to know God's will for our lives. We pray, but often we fail to fast. Then we wonder why we receive no answer or feel so distant.
We fast to hear from God. We fast out of obedience, for spiritual insight and for protection. In Acts 13:2-3, the believers were worshipping the Lord and fasting. The Holy Spirit called Barnabas and Saul into ministry. After fasting and praying, the believers laid hands on the two, then sent them out. The key thought is, they prayed and fasted and the Holy Spirit spoke. Prayer coupled with strategic fasting, provides insight into the will of our Lord.
Who Should Fast?
If fasting were easy, everybody would do it. That's why most American Christians don't have breakthrough. We live defeated lives. Am I saying that we will not be victorious if we don't fast? Yes, I guarantee it! Whenever we fall short of the potential we have in Christ, we don't lead triumphant lives.
God does not merely suggest that we fast, He insists upon it. Fasting is as important to Christians as praying, reading the Bible and assembling with other believers. Moses, Samuel, Daniel, Esther, the Disciples and Jesus fasted. When we look at most major Biblical events, we find that someone was fasting.
Who should fast?
--Any Christian who wants spiritual insight
--Any person who wants to be closer to God's Holy Spirit
--Any man, woman or child who wants to hear God's voice
--Anyone who wants to cast unbelief out of his or her life
--Any believer who is involved in spiritual warfare
Jesus made it clear that after the Bridegroom departed, everyone should fast. (Luke 5:33-35).
When Should We Fast?
--A man faces a decision about changing his career.
--A woman feels distant from God and desperately wants to draw closer.
--A husband has failed in his marriage and wants to repent.
--A mother longs to be a good parent.
--A Christian senses he or she is on the verge of breakthrough and needs a heightened level of spiritual awareness.
--A church wants to see its city reached with the Gospel.
--A believer wants to remove all distractions and simply focus on Christ.
Each of these situations, and a million others, sparks the need to fast. But we must make sure we fast because God has led us to do so. Like prayer, it is a spiritual discipline, not a way to manipulate God. Fasting acts like the zoom lens on a camera--we sacrifice clarity in other areas, in order to get God's close-up view of a particular issue. For example, I fasted before I asked Marj to marry me. I could not afford to be out of God's will on that decision!
For the most part, fasting has been missing from modern-day Christianity. It is time to shine the spotlight on this Biblical practice and reap the rewards of being obedient to God!