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Spiritual Disciplines: Fasting
Fasting is the voluntary act of abstaining from something for the purpose of growing in self-discipline, which is the essence of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Perhaps the most common form of fasting is from food. This is because, as Paul says, for some people their stomach is their god. By fasting from food, they are learning to enjoy food as a gift from God without allowing it to become an idolatrous functional god that controls them.
Good Things Become Idols
However, there are seemingly innumerable other things that, though they are good, can become bad when they rule over us in a way that only God should. Modern examples include fasting from the internet, email, or cell phone for a period of time if you find yourself compulsively spending too much of your time and energy checking websites, emails, phone calls, and voicemails. This point was painfully illustrated to me at a recent dinner out with my children. My wife, Grace, was teaching at a women’s event, and so I took the kids to a restaurant. Sitting around us were many other families like us, with one exception. Every single father was either talking on the phone or responding to emails on his BlackBerry throughout the meal, not connecting with his children in any way. Sadly, rather than visiting with their kids and having some fun, these daddies allowed their technological gods to rule over them. Their gods required the sacrificing of their own children, not unlike Molech in the Old Testament.
When You Fast
Jesus Himself exemplified the discipline of fasting for us in His own earthly life. One of the most well-known examples is Jesus’ forty days of fasting in Matthew 4:1–11. When Jesus spoke to His disciples about fasting, He said, “when you fast,” as if it was simply expected to be done (Matthew 6:16–17). As an aside, anyone wanting to practice an extended period of fasting would be wise to first speak with their doctor about how to do so safely. Other Scriptures also include reports of fasting. In Nehemiah 9:1, we are told that the entire nation of Israel fasted. Esther 4:16 likewise records a national three-day fast. In the New Testament, Acts 13:2 reports that a leadership decision regarding who should be sent out from the church at Antioch to plant another church was made after a period of seeking the Lord through fasting and worship. Acts 14:23 reveals that upon appointing new elders for some churches, Paul and Barnabas commissioned the new pastors with prayer and fasting.