Fasting is an important part of faith formation. It can be a valuable tool in the toolbox of faith development. Jesus assumes that his followers will fast and seems to believe that it will be a regular part of his follower’s experience. Because of Jesus’s teaching on the topic, many folks over the history of the church have attested to the need and importance of it. They saw the power that resided in the practice. I’ve provided a small sampling of men and women who have attested to the importance of incorporating the practice into our spiritual disciplines.
Commentary on fasting
More than any other single discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. – Richard Foster
There’s nothing magical about fasting. It’s just one way of telling God that your priority at that moment is to be alone with him. – J. I. Packer
Fasting of the body is food for the soul. As bodily food fattens the body, so fasting strengthens the soul. – John Chrysostom
Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. – Augustine
Fasting possesses great power. If practiced with the right intentions, it makes one a friend of God. The demons are aware of that. – Tertullian
A fast is not necessarily something we offer God, but it assists us in offering ourselves –
One way to begin to see how vastly indulgent we usually are is to fast. It is a long day that is not broken by the usual three meals. One finds out what an astonishing amount of time is spent in the planning, purchasing, preparing, eating, and cleaning up of meals. – Elisabeth Elliot
Fasting is meant to take you, temporarily, out of the realm of the physical and focus your attention heavenward; as one Jewish guide to fasting puts it, ‘at the heart of this practice is a desire to shift our attention away from our immediate needs and to focus on more spiritual concerns. –
Whenever men are to pray to God concerning any great matter it should be expedient to appoint fasting along with prayer. – John Calvin
Embrace the Fast
These people saw the importance and power of fasting. For them, it is something that should be embraced, not ignored. Our culture teaches us to grab all that we can. We are driven to accumulate, to possess, and to satisfy every desire that we have. Fasting helps us to set aside that cultural programming and declare to ourselves that there is something much bigger than our compulsion to satisfy our every desire. It can be tempting to declare this to the world by telling everyone what we are doing, but as usual, Jesus had something else in mind. He assumed his followers would do it and that they should keep the practice to themselves.
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:16-18
Jesus was very concerned about our motivations for fasting. It was assumed that we do it. He wanted to make sure that we did it the right way and with the right motivations behind it. It isn’t about the show that we put on to demonstrate how we are more spiritual than other people. It is a private endeavor between us and God. That doesn’t mean that there is no space for corporate fasting. It does mean that we shouldn’t be prideful in the practice of the spiritual discipline.
The followers of Jesus should definitely commit themselves to the practice of regular prayer and fasting. However, we should keep the practice of fasting to ourselves. It is vitally important to fast, but it is just as important to follow Jesus’ instructions in the way we conduct ourselves. It should be a stealth mission. We should be sneaky about it. It should be a part of the regular rhythm of our life and should be motivated by our love for God, not our love for the adoration of others. Let us all commit ourselves to the practice of prayer and fasting with the proper heart and motivation backing the practice.
For more information about how and why to fast check out the following resources:
To read more from Jeremy you can read his blog about spiritual formation and discipleship or his book Questions for Reflection: a 30 Day Devotional Guide Toward A Deeper Faith.