Today is Fat Tuesday. That’s the day before Lent starts. The season of Lent is a time many Christians choose to fast. In 2017 Lent begins on Wednesday, March 1st (Ash Wednesday) and extends until Easter Sunday, which is April 16th this year.
The following are some reasons for fasting, and not just for Lent. Fasting may be beneficial at any time.
1. DEDICATION. Fast as an Act of Dedication- After his baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days. He did this as preparation for entering into his ministry. Perhaps fasting gave him clarity as he intensely focused on the Father. This provided confirmation that He was the Son of God who had come to save the world. You may fast as an act of dedication to the Lord, and to seek confirmation about his calling in your life.
2. DISCIPLINE. Fast as an Exercise of Discipline- Learn to say no to “me.” All of the temptations were for Jesus to act expediently and egotistically. If Jesus had given in it would not have been an exercise of faith, but, rather, the wildly alternating swings between self-doubt and presumption. Our consumer culture is about self-indulgence, not self-discipline. It is about pursuing pleasure and satisfying desire. This is why we’re overweight and in debt. It is important to set limits for our time, money, eating and drinking. Lent is a good time to discipline yourself in one or more of these areas.
3. DEPENDENCE. Fast as an Affirmation of Dependence upon God- Learn to rely on the power of God. Jesus’ first statement in response to Satan’s temptation demonstrates this. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3 as quoted in Matthew 4:4, also John 4:34). When I give up something I truly want, I will need God’s help to keep my commitment. The third affirmation of the AA 12 Steps recognizes our need to do this. “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God…” This is essential if you’re to overcome a particularly stubborn habit or addiction.
4. DETERMINATION. Fast to Establish Determination- Believing is not a feeling. It is an act of the will. Believing genuinely means I am willing to do something about it. Additionally, faith must endure or it’s worthless. Learn to have a tenacious and unshakeable faith. Jesus’ disciples encountered a boy whom they could not help. When Jesus cast out the spirit that afflicted the child, his disciples asked him why they were powerless. Jesus replied, “This kind can only come out by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29, Matthew 17:21). Not everything happens instantly. In fact, most issues require determination and tenacity to overcome. Remember, although faith is an act of the will, it is not about willpower. It is about trust. I must be determined to continue to trust God, no matter the circumstances.
5. DESPERATION. Fast as an Act of Desperation- We must come to an end of ourselves if I want to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit. I must realize how truly sinful I am, and how depraved I will become without God’s help. I’ve got to take sin seriously. Cry out to God in repentance (Joel & Israel, Jonah and Ninevah). “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” (Joel 2:12 NIV). I need to hear from God at all costs (Daniel 10 & 21 days of prayer, David seeking the healing of his 1st child by Bathsheba).
6. DETOXIFICATION. Fast as a means of Detoxification- Because of constant exposure to an impure environment your body collects all sorts of toxic and destructive substances. Consider Daniel and his friends who would not eat the meat and rich food offered them by their Babylonian overlords. Instead they ate only vegetables and drank only water. They were healthier as the result. A vegan or even vegetarian diet that allows only organic foods can be a healthy way to rid your body of toxins. When you abstain from food altogether, drinking only water, especially for longer periods, the digestive system and liver and kidneys can be cleansed of accumulated poison. The same applies to your mind. When you remove TV, movies, video games, godless music, social media, you give your mind the opportunity to rest. Replace these things with worship and saturation in Scripture.
7. DIET. Fast regularly to Diet- Limiting the amount of food you eat is a means of controlling calorie intake. Most of us eat too much. We take in more calories than we burn off, so we gain unneeded fat. Periodic fasting if done in moderation and balanced with a healthy, calorie controlled diet, is an effective tool in losing fat and maintaining a lean body.
Whatever you decide to do, remember the following principles.
- Choose something that will really require discipline to give up.
- Be consistent. Discipline requires consistency to take hold and be effective.
- Giving up what you shouldn’t be doing to begin with is not fasting, it’s obedience.
- If you make a commitment to God, keep it. Better not to vow than to vow and not keep it.
- It is not a good idea to make promises to God, better to rely on his promises for you. So, you aren’t fasting to get God to do something for you. Trust him to help you through.