Excerpt from The Making Of An Ordinary Saint

Fast­ing is the vol­un­tary denial of an oth­er­wise nor­mal func­tion for the sake of intense spir­i­tu­al activ­i­ty. Remem­ber, there is noth­ing wrong with these nor­mal func­tions in life; it is just that there are times when we set them aside in order to con­cen­trate. Once we under­stand this, we can see both the rea­son­able­ness of fast­ing as well as the broad­er dimen­sions to it. 

Ordi­nar­i­ly we think of fast­ing from food, which is the nor­mal way the Bible speaks of it. But we can fast from many things. We can fast from media. We can fast from noise, hur­ry, and crowds. We can fast from exces­sive talk. We can fast from our tech­no­log­i­cal devices, our com­put­ers and our cell phones and more. What­ev­er in our lives is pro­duc­ing an addic­tion in us is a prime area for fast­ing. In this way we are learn­ing to depend upon God alone. 

Through­out Scrip­ture, fast­ing is a well-rec­og­nized spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­pline rang­ing from Daniel’s par­tial fast1 to Jesus’s absolute fast2. The list of bib­li­cal per­son­ages who fast­ed reads like a who’s who” of Scrip­ture: Abraham’s ser­vant when he was seek­ing a bride for Isaac; Moses on Mount Sinai; Han­nah when she prayed for a child; David on two sep­a­rate occa­sions; Eli­jah after his vic­to­ry over Jezebel; Ezra when he was mourn­ing Israel’s faith­less­ness; Nehemi­ah as he was prepar­ing for the trip back to Israel; Esther when God’s peo­ple were threat­ened with exter­mi­na­tion; Daniel on numer­ous occa­sions; the peo­ple of Nin­eveh, includ­ing the cat­tle (invol­un­tar­i­ly, no doubt); Jesus as he began his pub­lic min­istry; Paul at the point of his con­ver­sion; the Chris­tians at Anti­och as they sent off Paul and Barn­abas for their mis­sion endeav­or; Paul and the oth­ers as they appoint­ed elders in all the church­es; and more. In his teach­ing on the sub­ject, Jesus sim­ply assumed that the chil­dren of the king­dom would fast and was giv­ing instruc­tion on how it could be done with spir­i­tu­al suc­cess3. Not only that, but many of the great Chris­tians through­out his­to­ry fast­ed: Mar­tin Luther and John Calvin, John Knox and John Wes­ley, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney, and many, many others. 

We fast for many rea­sons. We fast because it reveals the things that con­trol us. We fast because it helps to give us bal­ance in life. We fast because there is an urgent need. Most impor­tant of all, we fast because God calls us to it. We have heard the kol Yah­weh, the voice of the Lord, and we must obey. 

In Jesus’s day, fast­ing was a well-under­stood prac­tice. Today, how­ev­er, there is an abysmal igno­rance of even the most ele­men­tary aspects of fast­ing. Hence, we need basic instruc­tion in how to go about fast­ing: how we begin a fast, how long we should fast, how much water we need to drink dur­ing a fast, how we break a fast, and much more. 

While the phys­i­cal aspects of fast­ing intrigue us, we need to remem­ber that the major work of fast­ing is in the realm of the spir­it. The spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­pline of fast­ing can bring break­throughs in the heart and mind that will not hap­pen in any oth­er way. It is a means of God’s grace for the con­tin­u­ing for­ma­tion of the human per­son­al­i­ty into the like­ness of Christ.

Fos­ter, Nathan. The Mak­ing of an Ordi­nary Saint: My Jour­ney from Frus­tra­tion to Joy with the Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines. Bak­er Pub­lish­ing Group.

In Nathan’s book, intro­duc­tions to each chap­ter — like this one from the Fast­ing chap­ter — were writ­ten by Richard Foster.

[1] Daniel 1:3 – 17

[2] Matthew 4:1 – 11

[3] Matthew 6:6 – 18

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Originally published September 2014

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