The Spiritual Discipline of Fasting
Often when fasting comes to mind, we envision abstaining from food or drink. This can be a way of fasting, but we mustn’t also discount denying ourselves in any particular area of life where we give in to our passions. Food and drink, however, are most typical when this discussion arises. Jesus’ instructions about such is to conceal it rather than announce it (Matt. 6:16–18).
Our Lord, Himself, was led by the Spirit to the wilderness where for forty days and nights, He abstained from food (Matt. 4:1–11). Just as Israel wandered for forty years, so the number of days of Jesus’ fast corresponded to the years of His people’s sojourn. As humans, we might guess that when Satan would arrive to tempt our Lord, he would do so based on the fact that Christ hadn’t eaten in forty days. The first temptation was bread, but many ancient commentators believed that Christ’s fast was His conquering of the flesh so that He could deny sin. We too, when we fast, master our bodies rather than having them master us with their urges and demands. No, it isn’t always easy, but growth can derive from telling ourselves, “no.”
In the age of miraculous gifts, fasting often accompanied a revelation from God. The Roman Centurion, Cornelius was praying and fasting when he received a vision (Acts 10:28). When the Antiochene church fasted in the liturgy of worship (Acts 13:1–2), the Holy Spirit selected Paul and Barnabas to the mission of evangelism. We might conclude that the selection of Paul and Barnabas occurred during prayers as with the revelation to Cornelius. We also read about fasting accompanying prayers when decisions were made without a miraculous element to them, such as the appointment of elders in the churches (Acts 14:23). Suffice it to say that fasting accompanied prayer, and either a revelation was given, or a decision was being made. When married couples suspended copulation, they were to have given themselves to fasting and prayer (1 Cor. 7:5).
One particular occasion of fasting is observed relevant to the repentance of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:9). There are times elsewhere when it entailed corporate repentance too (2 Chron. 20:3; Neh. 9:1–2; Dan. 9:3; Joel 2:12). Joined to repentance is often mourning or godly sorrow. This leads to a contrite heart over one’s sins with the expectation of changed thinking and, therefore, behavior. To begin with, one might select the day to fast to start, and then allow it to grow from there.