The Mystery of Fasting
Fasting, after falling out of favor, is being reclaimed as a viable spiritual discipline. While I admit to regularly fasting, I also admit to being regularly perplexed by its practice.
Fasting is simply going without something (usually food) for a time to draw closer to God. When I fast, this does happen, but I’m not sure why. In a theoretical sense, when I fast, my craving for food (a physical need) heightens my craving for God (a spiritual need). While I comprehend this, it explains little.
My fasts are from food, usually for 24 hours; I endeavor to do this weekly. Occasionally God has told me to cut my fast short and a few times he has prompted me to extend it (and once or twice, I bailed midway through). When I fast, the times I would normally spend preparing and eating a meal are reallocated to spiritual activities, such as praying, meditating, journaling, or simply listening. At times this is an effort, but usually it is a significant spiritual experience. As such, I generally approach my weekly fast with joyful expectation.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned about fasting over the years:
- Fasting is not about earning spiritual Brownie points; it is not about manipulating God or getting his attention.
- Fasting is best done with little fanfare and not to gain the “respect” of others. I only let people know I am fasting if it will be an encouragement to them (which is why I’m blogging about it) or to explain why I’m not eating when they are.
- For me, fasting also has side benefits (I am more productive when I fast and I lose weight), but whenever the side benefits become the focal point, the fast loses its spiritual power.
- The hardest part of my fast is ending it well; that is, not overeating at its conclusion.
Despite my frequency of fasting and the significant spiritual aspect, it is still largely a mystery to me. Nevertheless, I will persist in it because it more fully connects me to God than when I don’t fast.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.