Exploring Spiritual Disciplines: Fasting

Seth Garcia   -  

For centuries, fasting was an integral part of Jewish and Christian life. The Jewish leaders would often fast before making decisions; Christians would fast during times of sustained prayer following in the footsteps of Jesus. Nowadays, fasting is perhaps the spiritual discipline that feels most divorced from our modern context and reality.

We live in a culture of instant gratification. Whatever we want, we can have immediately, given we have the resources and money to obtain it. Want entertainment? Turn on the television and find whatever you want to watch on one of dozens of streaming services. Want news? Set notifications to push on your phone whenever a new story alerts. Want the latest hot products? Use you Amazon Prime account to get it by tomorrow, or get frustrated when it comes a day late. Want food? Hop into the closest drive thru lane and get your food in ten minutes or less. There are few things that we can’t obtain as soon as the desire pops into our mind.

And perhaps this is the reason why fasting eludes us now. Its not just that it is physically difficult; its that it is part of a foreign world, where food was not just a necessity but a luxury! Food took time, energy, and precious resources to create. Nowadays, we grab a meal on our journey from one place to another; we eat dinner around the television; we scarf down lunch during our short breaks. We simply don’t give as much thought to our meals anymore.

The purpose of a fast is to recenter us on the love and beauty of Jesus. It is to remind us that we are not simply sustained by bread alone, but by the Word of God. During what would be mealtimes, we are meant to spend that time in prayer and study in devotion to God.

Now, don’t get me wrong. For some people, it is unhealthy, even dangerous to participate in fasting in the traditional sense; people with diabetes, who are pregnant, or who have struggled with eating disorders all shouldn’t try to do a true “fast”. But there are things we can do that will still help us reclaim the simplicity and focus that a fast intends to help us claim. You can take a fast from fast food; not only will this help your overall health, but it may help you realize just how often you settle for the easy way of doing things. You can take a fast from meat; focus on the simplicity of the bounty of God’s creation in the plants that are provided for us (certainly something I need to do more!). You could fast from soda and drink water. The possibilities are endless without doing a traditional “fast”.

And even beyond fasting from food, in our times, there are other things, potentially much more important things, to fast from. Try fasting from social media for a month and see how much of your brainpower was being consumed by it, and probably how much happier you are. Try fasting from TV for a week, and see how much time you have to do other things that you have been neglecting. The possibilities are endless, and will often make you realize where your focus has been and where it can be put instead.

The bottom line is that we live in an age where everything we want is at our fingertips. Learning to fast from those things can teach us how to resist. It can teach us self-control. And it can help us realign ourselves into the will of God.