By: Kim Womack
Why, as Christians, do we fast? I personally did not grow up in a church that practiced fasting, so the first time I heard my pastor call for a church-wide fast I was taken back. Why would we fast? What do I have to fast? What will fasting do to me physically? All these questions just flooded in, and I actually got a little nervous. The pastor then informed the congregation we would be doing the “Daniel Fast” for 21 days. We would avoid eating meat, dairy, and sugar, and only eat fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. We would drink only water. Yes, we had to give up coffee. My immediate reaction was, Nope. I’m not doing that. I was training for a half marathon that was six weeks out and instructing 15 group exercise classes a week. I couldn’t imagine giving up my main source of protein (meat) and energy (coffee) and still be able to do all my training. You see, I was worried about the flesh. How would “I” be able to do this? How could “I” survive not having meat and coffee? How am “I” physically going to keep up? The answer was simple, “I’’ was going to turn to God and trust Him.
Why fast? Fasting is mentioned several times throughout the Old and New Testaments. People fasted for God’s help, His favor, His guidance, His comfort, His protection, His forgiveness, and His grace. King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:3), Ezra (Ezra 8:21-23), Esther (Esther 4:15-16), David (2 Samuel 12:14-16), Paul (2 Corinthians 11:27), and Jesus (Luke 4:1-13; Matthew 4:1-11) are among some of those in the Bible that used prayer and fasting to seek out God.
Fasting is a spiritual tool we can use today. When we are faced with temptations or addictions, trials or important decisions to be made, when we have gotten off track and are repentant, and/or we just need to draw closer to God, we can fast. We can humble ourselves before God, pray, and fast to deepen our relationship with Him.
What is fasting? The dictionary defines fasting as “an abstinence from food, or a limiting of one’s food, especially when voluntary and as a religious observance.” It’s basically a discipline of abstaining from food for a set period of time. We put away what gratifies our flesh and look to God.
Fasting shifts our mind to see things from God's perspective and not our own limited perspective. By doing the Daniel Fast, I found out that I could think outside the box and not be dependent on meat and coffee. It also forced me to try new recipes and explore new foods. But more importantly, it taught me to draw near to God and to pray when I didn’t think I could make it on my own. I had to place my trust in Him to get me through this challenge.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 NKJV
Are there any physical benefits from fasting? Yes, several! The New England Journal of Medicine has this to say: “Fasting is embedded within our physiology, triggering several essential cellular functions. Flipping the switch from fed to fasting state does more than help us burn calories and lose weight. The researchers combed through dozens of animal and human studies to explain how simple fasting improves metabolism, lowers blood sugar, lessens inflammation, which improves a range of health issues from arthritic pain to asthma, and even helps clear out toxins and damaged cells, which lowers the risk for cancer and enhances brain function.” These results are from fasting for 16 hours and eating in an 8 hour window.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:14 ESV
God designed these wonderful bodies, and in Matthew 6:16a it says “Moreover, when you fast,” not if. Jesus was telling us how important fasting is as a believer. Not only will we seek God and draw close to Him, but we will trust in God and be following the greatest example in the Bible, Christ Jesus.