Why fast? We’ll look more deeply into reasons for fasting in upcoming posts, but clearly the primary reason for fasting in the Bible is to connect with God through prayer. Fasting reminds us of what we really hunger for — of who truly sustains us. Fasting strips away our delusions of self-reliance — and it also lays bare, for us, how difficult it truly is to live with self-control and to overcome temptation.
The primary form of fasting in the Bible is fasting from food. In several cases (including Jesus himself in Matthew 4:2ff), people fasted from all food for lengthy periods of time. One way to practice this type of fasting is to go without 1 meal and pray during that time or to go without any meals for a day or several days. But that’s not the only type of fasting from food. Consider, for example, the “Daniel fast” in which Daniel chose to avoid “rich food” and eat simply (see Daniel 10:3). Other variations on a food fast include eating vegetarian or vegan for a period of time, giving up a food “pleasure” such as deserts or chocolates, or intentionally eating a meager meal (such as broth or ramen soup) in order to replicate how those in poverty eat.
A real danger with food-fasting in our modern culture is for it to become a sort of diet for us. If thoughts of weight-loss creep in and taint your effort to fast, it may be a good idea to do a different type of fast that is not related to food. Such as . . .
• A media fast: turning off TV, radio, Internet, Facebook, cell-phone aps, and so on.
• A fast from an addiction: chocolate, coffee, Facebook/web-surfing, a particular snack, computer games, etc.
• A sacrificial fast of giving up something that you love to do for a period of time: fasting from books, from sewing, from eating out, from playing an instrument, from sports, from any other hobby.
• A “vanity” fast: giving up make-up (see this interesting article), giving up shopping/window-shopping, giving up mirror-gazing and dressing simply, and so on.
• A fast from modern-day comforts: fasting from elevators (walk instead), dishwashers (wash with your hands and a sponge), or maybe even fasting from driving.
Fasting can be for long periods of time or short — such as fasting one meal or turning off the TV for one night in order to play family games and then spend extra time in prayer. And, again, fasting can be for a variety of reasons that we’ll look into a bit more this month. But in every fast the primary idea is, as Adele Ahlberg Calhoun explains it in The Spiritual Discipline Handbook, “self-denial of normal necessities in order to intentionally attend to God in prayer. . . . This physical awareness of emptiness is a reminder to turn to Jesus who alone can satisfy.”
Will you commit to try one of these fasts this month? Invite God to lead you into a fast that will be meaningful for you in your particular walk of life.