Fasting is a discipline that has been practiced by Christians throughout the ages. Jesus and his disciples fasted, the early church fathers fasted, and the Desert Fathers fasted. But for many years, I struggled to see the purpose and benefit of fasting. I thought it was something we did when we wanted something from God. I thought it was something we did to prove ourselves to Him, as if our momentary “suffering” could earn His favor.
It took several attempts at fasting, a one-day experiment with monastic life (that’s a story for another time), and a church sermon series on Isaiah 58 (thank you City Fellowship!) for me to begin to understand the true meaning of fasting.
But more than that, fasting give us a tiny glimpse into the suffering of our Savior. The momentary pain and discomfort we experience during a fast should ultimately point us to Christ, who suffered more than we could possibly imagine so that we might be saved. Fasting allows us to identify with Christ’s suffering so that we can cultivate a spirit of gratitude and worship toward the One who laid down his life that we might live in Him.
But it is important to remember that fasting is a discipline. Anyone can go without food for a period of time, but it requires discipline to orient our hearts and minds around Christ during our times of physical discomfort. It requires discipline to turn our complaining into thanksgiving, our self-pitying thoughts into worship and our idolatry of the stomach into submission to the King.
And in our moments of discomfort and submission to God, we begin to see a glimpse of His heart. We begin to see that this life is not about us and never will be. It’s about making much of Christ, defending the poor and fatherless, standing up for the oppressed, fighting for justice and building the Kingdom of God all through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Fasting is an interruption that reorients our days, our weeks and our lives around Christ, who came to reconcile the world to God, to break the chains of injustice and to set the captives free.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”