In the previous post, we defined what fasting is and looked at why it is practiced. Today, let’s look at what fasting is NOT:
(1) Fasting is not a diet. Let’s say you decide to give up desserts for a season of time, but then you don’t replace your dessert-eating time with prayer, or Bible study, or something spiritually enriching – that’s not fasting. That’s a diet!
So, don’t go on a diet and claim it as fasting – that’s not cool :-)
(2) Fasting is not choosing a sin habit to do a little bit less now than before. You can’t really FAST from gossip or drunkenness or lustful thoughts or… I mean, you can’t say, “well, I’m giving up insulting people for Lent this year…” A fast is by definition a temporary discipline. For instance, I don’t want to just give up the sin of having a quick temper for a few weeks – and then pick it back up again once the fast ends!
Now, if you are struggling with some habitual sin in your life, Lent/Easter is a great time of year to bring those things before God – to lay them down at His feet and to ask Jesus to nail them to the cross for you forever. That is called repentance, and this is a perfect time of year to repent of sin with fasting!
But we can’t just stop doing a sin for a few weeks, and call that a fast. The implication of that is that we are planning to do it again once the fast is over, and so that’s not real repentance – does that make sense?
So, truly repent of sin with fasting – YES! But just fast from sinning for a few weeks – no, we can’t really do that… :-)
(3) Fasting is not a spiritual magic trick. Nothing mysterious or magical happens when we fast. It is a spiritual discipline, just like exercise is a physical and mental discipline.
(4) Fasting is not a spiritual bargaining tool with God.
Isaiah 58:1-4 – “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to My people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek Me out; they seem eager to know My ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask Me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and You have not noticed?’ Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.”
Isaiah 64:6 – …all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…
“Maybe God will answer my prayer if I fast.” “Maybe God will listen to me if I fast.” “Maybe God will give me what I’m asking for if I fast.” Y’all – that’s not how fasting works – and that’s not how God works.
Fasting doesn’t convince God of anything. Fasting isn’t meant to be a way for us to twist God’s arm or manipulate God into doing something for us.
Listen: we do not fast & pray to GET God’s attention; we fast & pray because we HAVE God’s attention. AND His affection – BOTH!
(5) Fasting is not a way to impress man. It’s not meant to be a way to “show off” spiritually.
Matthew 6:16-18 – “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.
Jesus says, do not boast about your fast. Don’t go around announcing to everyone what you are fasting from. Let it be something intimate and special you share with God.
There are two reasonable exceptions to this:
(a) You are fasting with a group of people. If you are sharing in a corporate fast with others, together – then obviously they will know – but you still should not brag about it outside of that small group – and
(b) if you just need the accountability and encouragement of a best friend or a mentor while you are fasting, then of course it’s fine to share it with them and talk about how it’s going with that person. That’s no problem.
The point is, we’re not supposed to make a big, showy, public display of our fasting. Fasting should be private – something shared just between you and God – and maybe with just a few close friends or mentors.
(6) And finally, fasting is NEVER a stand-alone activity. In the Bible, fasting is always accompanied by prayer. If you were to search out every instance of fasting in the Bible, you would find that in each passage where it appears, fasting is never done on its own. It is always accompanied by prayer, or some other means of connecting oneself more deeply with God.
In the next post, we will take a closer look at this and answer the question, “what is this close connection between fasting and prayer?”
Other Links on Fasting: