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Habits of Grace: A "How To" On Fasting


Man with hands folded on a Bible.

In our last Habits of Grace blog, we discussed the purpose of fasting in the life of the Christian. The blog highlighted that fasting plays a pivotal role in the life of a Christian. In a world filled with temporary forms of pleasure such as food, there is no better way to honor God by faith than to turn away from those pleasures for a time to seek deeper satisfaction in Him. But, the question that remains is how should the Christian fast. In this blog, we’ll answer that question and discuss ways you can apply fasting to your walk with Christ.


How Not to Fast

In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus directly teaches how not to fast. “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” It is the temptation of every human to be celebrated or honored by other humans. It is easy when we are doing things for God to actually do them for ourselves. This is the point Jesus is making. When the Pharisees, or the hypocrites as he calls them, fast, they blatantly make it known so that they may receive respect and admiration from their counterparts. It is interesting that in his warning, Jesus states that the hypocrites have received their reward. So, what was that reward? It was admiration and honor from humans. The cost of that reward, however, was that they did not receive the reward that God offers. In short, it is important not to make the goal of your fasting to have the appearance of holiness towards your brothers and sisters in Christ but to conceal your fasting as best you can to obey the command of our Lord.


How to Fast Jesus’ Way

In Matthew 6:18, Jesus teaches that we should take measures to hide that we are fasting so that our fasting may be seen by our Father, who will reward us. This is the key to understanding how Jesus wants us to fast. Like many other spiritual disciplines, fasting is a Godward act, and it should be done for the sole purpose of seeking God. Jesus knows our hearts are easily tempted (Hebrews 4:15) to strive for human admiration, so the command to conceal our fasting is an important part of His teaching in Matthew 6. If we are to fast Jesus’ way, it means that we are not to broadcast our fasting to those around us but rather to keep our fasting between ourselves and the Lord. The goal of our fasting, as discussed in our last blog, is to lay aside worldly temptations to derive a deeper satisfaction in Christ. This is the reward that Jesus speaks of, a greater joy and satisfaction in our Lord and Savior.


The question that often arises from this teaching is the issue of corporate fasting. Is it acceptable to fast with other believers, given Jesus’ command to conceal our fasting? The answer to this question is yes, of course! In Acts 13:2, we see that the early church was fasting and praying together to seek guidance on who the Lord desired to send out to minister the gospel. Corporate fasting is a wonderful way to seek the Lord with the body of Christ, but we must be careful not to be tempted to use corporate fasting as a way to seek human admiration in our fasting.


Practical Fasting Tips

During the USG Academy, participants are encouraged to seek the Lord through the habits of sabbath and/or fasting. In an effort to prepare the participants for these exercises, tips are given on how to apply these disciplines to their lives practically. The tips for fasting are beneficial in understanding how exactly to put the habit of grace into practice.


One of the first tips discussed is that you can fast from just about anything! When we think about fasting, we often attribute it to fasting from food. While this certainly is the most common form of fasting, it is acceptable to fast from other things as well. Everyone is tempted by different earthly pleasures that can easily provide a pseudo-satisfaction that replaces the satisfaction of knowing Christ. For one person, it could be food in general; for another, it could be coffee; for another, it could be television. Whatever you choose to fast from, make sure that the goal of your fasting is Godward! Another common temptation is to fast for physical benefits, which is not the purpose of fasting in the Christian life.


Secondly, it is important to set a reasonable time period for your fast. It is easy to be tempted to fast for a long period of time, but in reality, that goal may not be achievable! Be sure to know your limitations and set goals you can reach during your fasting period.


Lastly, it is important to develop consistency in your fasting routine! Our human nature leads us to be forgetful, and without a plan in place, habits such as fasting can easily fall to the back burner. Consider your schedule and find a time of each week, month, quarter, or year in which you can practice fasting regularly!


Conclusion

In our first blog on fasting, we outlined the greater purpose of fasting as a Christian, which is to derive a deeper satisfaction in our relationship with Christ as we turn away from the pleasures of this world. In this blog, we discussed the application of fasting in our lives. As you begin to implement fasting into your walk with the Lord or continue to practice fasting, remember that the heart behind why we fast is greater than the act itself! As Jesus taught us, if we fast with the intention of seeking His face, we will most certainly be rewarded.


 

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