Excerpt from Celebration of Discipline

It is sober­ing to real­ize that the very first state­ment Jesus made about fast­ing dealt with the ques­tion of motive (Matt. 6:16 – 18). To use good things to our own ends is always the sign of false reli­gion. How easy it is to take some­thing like fast­ing and try to use it to get God to do what we want. At times there is such stress upon the bless­ings and ben­e­fits of fast­ing that we would be tempt­ed to believe that with a lit­tle fast we could have the world, includ­ing God, eat­ing out of our hand.

Fast­ing must for­ev­er cen­ter on God. It must be God-ini­ti­at­ed and God-ordained. Like the prophet­ess Anna, we need to be wor­ship­ing with fast­ing” (Luke 2:37). Every oth­er pur­pose must be sub­servient to God; like that apos­tolic band at Anti­och, fast­ing” and wor­ship­ing the Lord” must be said in the same breath (Acts 13:2). C. H. Spur­geon wrote, Our sea­sons of fast­ing and prayer at the taber­na­cle have been high days indeed; nev­er has heaven’s gate stood wider; nev­er have our hearts been near­er the cen­tral glory.”

God ques­tioned the peo­ple in Zechariah’s day, When ye fast­ed… did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?” (Zech. 7:5). If our fast­ing is not unto God, we have failed. Phys­i­cal ben­e­fits, suc­cess in prayer, the end­ing with pow­er, spir­i­tu­al insights — these must nev­er replace God as the cen­ter of our fast­ing. John Wes­ley declared, First, let [fast­ing] be done unto the Lord with our eye singly fixed on him. Let our inten­tion here­in be this, and this alone, to glo­ri­fy our Father which is in heav­en.” That is the only way we will be saved from lov­ing the bless­ing more than the blesser. 

Once the pri­ma­ry pur­pose is firm­ly fixed in our hearts, we are at lib­er­ty to under­stand that there are also sec­ondary pur­pos­es in fast­ing. More than any oth­er sin­gle dis­ci­pline, fast­ing reveals the things that con­trol us. This is a won­der­ful ben­e­fit to the true dis­ci­ple who longs to be trans­formed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cov­er up what is inside us with food and oth­er good things, but in fast­ing, these things sur­face. If pride Con­trols us, it will be revealed almost imme­di­ate­ly. David said, I hum­bled my soul with fast­ing” (Ps. 69:10). Anger, bit­ter­ness, jeal­ousy, strife, fear — if they are with­in us, they will sur­face dur­ing fast­ing. At first we will ratio­nal­ize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we know that we are angry because the spir­it of anger is with­in us. We can rejoice in this knowl­edge because we know that heal­ing is avail­able through the pow­er of Christ. 

Fast­ing helps us keep our bal­ance in life. How eas­i­ly we begin to allow nonessen­tials to take prece­dence in our lives. How quick­ly we crave things we do not need — until we are enslaved by them. Paul wrote, “‘All things are law­ful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by any­thing” (1 Cor. 6:12). Our human crav­ings and desires are like a riv­er that tends to over­flow its banks; fast­ing helps keep them in their prop­er chan­nel. I pum­mel my body and sub­due it,” said Paul (1 Cor. 9:27). Like­wise, David wrote, I afflict­ed myself with fast­ing” (Ps. 35:13). That is dis­ci­pline and dis­ci­pline brings freedom. 

Although the phys­i­cal aspects of fast­ing intrigue us, we must nev­er for­get that the major work of scrip­tur­al fast­ing is in the realm of the spir­it. What goes on spir­i­tu­al­ly is much more impor­tant than what is hap­pen­ing bod­i­ly. Fast­ing can bring break­throughs in the spir­i­tu­al realm that will nev­er hap­pen in any oth­er way. It is a means of God’s grace and bless­ing that should not be neglect­ed any longer. 

Excerpt­ed from Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline (Harper­One, 1998 — 3rd Ed.)

Pho­to by Kamil Szu­mo­tal­s­ki on Unsplash

Text First Published December 1977 · Last Featured on Renovare.org March 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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