What does fasting mean for a Christian?
It is a grace of God which allows His people to respond to His provision and kindness by humbling themselves before him. In practice, fasting normally means going without food for the sake of seeking God, either personally or as a group. In the Bible, this most often means eating nothing and only drinking water for a period of time. Some Scriptural examples exist of partial fasting through dietary adjustment (such as Daniel 10:3) but that is not normative. In Scripture, fasting is often accompanied by mourning a lack or loss and undertaken in hope of God moving powerfully to bless His people and achieve His work.
What did Jesus say about fasting?
Jesus made some vital references to fasting in his teaching to his followers. In Matthew 6:16-17 Jesus is depicted teaching on the futility of making a holy spectacle of things that should be done for God; specifically giving money, praying and fasting. In this statement a couple of things are interesting.
- Firstly, Jesus mentions fasting in the same breath as two other important Christian disciplines, praying and giving.
- Secondly, He says ‘when’ you do these things and not ‘if’ which tells us that fasting today is just as normal for (and expected of) a Christian as the other two actions.
It is worth noting that, although prayer and fasting often go together in experience, Jesus observes them as separate actions. This tells us that fasting stands as a discipline in its own right - not all fasts will be accompanied by prayer and not all prayers will be accompanied by fasting and yet if they are done by His leading, they will still be acceptable to God.