Fasting is a period of intentional and focused prayer. It is so focused that we abandon need for physical nourishment. Have you ever been so engrossed in work or school that you forgot to eat? In a similar way, fasting is focusing so severely on God and his Kingdom that we intentionally go without food. Fasting is the evidence of an intense desire for God’s Kingdom to come on earth. Fasting, then, is the evidence of how desperate we are for God and his action in this world. To paraphrase John Piper, we don’t fast because we aren’t hungry enough. That is paradoxical but very insightful. Our first reaction to the thought of fasting is probably fear of being hungry, but an intense hunger for the Kingdom can dwarf our physical hunger for a period of time. Fasting may be difficult, but it is not complicated. Do we desire God and His action more than food?
Examples of Fasting
It is important for us to know that Jesus assumed his followers would fast. It has been pointed out in Matthew 9, for example, that Jesus says “when” my followers fast as opposed to “if” my followers fast. So, we know that we should fast, but what does it actually look like? The Bible tells us to fast and what the purpose of fasting is. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are a few examples of why we fast:
- Acts 13:2-4: the early church fasted over the direction they should take concerning the mission of God.
- Acts 14:23: the early church fasted over who should become the elders in the church.
- Joel 2:12: the prophet shows us that weeping, mourning, and fasting are all appropriate responses to the realization of our own sinfulness
So, we know we should fast and the reasons for fasting. However, we aren’t necessarily told exactly how to do it and what it should look like in every situation. In this way, fasting is like other spiritual disciplines. For example, we know we should read Scripture but are never given a formula of how much or in exactly what order to read. We know we should be in community with other believers, but there is no exact formula given to us as to what it should look like in varying cultures. With that in mind, let me give a few practical steps for people who desire to walk in obedience but aren’t exactly sure how to get going. Again, these are not hard and fast rules, they are simple nuggets of practical wisdom gleaned over time.
1. Start Small
The first step is to start small. Fasting over one meal is much more accessible than setting a goal of multiple days. I am not saying you will not get to multiple day fasts, but you don’t have to start there. If you have never fasted before, my advice would be to start with lunch on a specific day that you have planned for in advance.
2. Be Specific
Have something in mind that you are specifically asking God for during your fast. The example from Acts 13 is a good one. It was through fasting and prayer that the Lord spoke to the church about sending Paul and Barnabas on mission. What are the mountains in your life that may only be moved through faith? Fasting over an issue is not a guarantee that God will move. But certainly, the New Testament pushes us to pray and fast knowing that when God moves, it is often a response to his people’s petition.
3. Be in Community
The examples of fasting in the book of Acts seem to show that the community committed to fast together. At Mercy Hill, the most natural place for this to play out is in the community group. If God is putting on your heart to fast, don’t do it alone! Grab some people you are close to and ask them to go to God through fasting with you.
Mercy Hill, I hope that we are a people who evidence our faith through prayer and fasting. We will be if we desire God and His action on this earth. For us, this means specific questions. Do we want to see the unreached and unengaged people in SE Asia hear the gospel? Do we want to make the gospel accessible to every single person in the Triad through planting more Mercy Hill campuses? Do we want to be part of a network that plants 1000 churches in a generation? Do we want to see the downtrodden and marginalized communities around us reached with the gospel and given opportunities to step out of their circumstances? If we want these things, we will fast and pray for them. This week I will be fasting and praying specifically over our Generous December offering and Christmas services. I hope many will join in, and through our prayers, God will accomplish much.
-Andrew Hopper (Lead Pastor)