What is the purpose of fasting?
You have probably heard the metaphor about two fish swimming that pass an older fish who asks them: “How’s the water?” The two younger fish look at each other and wonder what is “water?”. This is the purpose of fasting, to raise our awareness that we are in lots and lots of water.
Practically speaking, we have about 70,000 thoughts a day. Our thoughts are influenced by people, companies, and cultures; most of which may not have our best in mind. Thankfully, we are not aware of the majority of these thoughts. God created us in a way where we don’t have to think every thought, but occasionally we need to review the thoughts we have and present them to God. And most especially, if we “become what we behold,” then we need to clearly hear and focus on God’s thoughts for us.
Historically, fasting has had a strong link to food. You may be aware of fasting for physical reasons, like for a doctor’s visit, but there is much beauty in fasting spiritually. When we fast spiritually, we are setting aside the time we would spend in another activity and using that time to focus on God. As we focus on God more presently, any thoughts – even ones that may have become desires or beliefs – are inevitably revealed. As we examine the desires and beliefs that drive us, we truly reveal the “water” we have been swimming in. As God transforms our thoughts, desires, and beliefs, our “water” becomes more aligned with Him – and we become freer.
Take food for example. Whether you are fasting from a certain type of food for a long period or from all food for a short period, both will reveal at minimum your thoughts and desires around food and God. History tells us that Monks first dealt with thoughts around food when entering the monastic tradition. When we become aware of our thoughts around food, we can then present those thoughts to God. In this great exchange, fasting allows us the opportunity to recognize and then resist the thoughts we have that are not inline with God by replacing them with God’s perspective.
Fasting does not have to be from food. You can fast from any activity that you feel led to, and that is why we are withholding to behold. We are withholding from something good to behold Someone great!
Promises and Benefits of Prayer and Fasting
To see clearly. To discover and experience. To know. To improve. To press deeper and anchor in. To free and redeem! These are all reasons to fast and promises to trust. We often don’t realize how blind, how limited, theoretical, deceived, stagnant, oppressed, and broken we and those around us truly are. But when we realize our need and what has been given to us through prayer and fasting, it becomes essential and beneficial to our livelihood in faith!
Fasting promises to focus our attention, help in our forgetfulness, and push past what we previously believed to be the limit. Fasting challenges us to let go of what has been and positions us to receive what can be.
When we fast, we show God we are serious in our desire and pursuit of His presence and involvement in our lives. And God will NOT hesitate to pour out His grace and show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.
How To Start Your Fast
As you begin your fast, there are a few key points to know. First, fasting is like any other spiritual discipline in that motivation matters. We must remain mindful that fasting is a way to seek God, not coerce Him. It’s not so much about not doing something, but rather about choosing to live in awareness of and connection to God’s Presence.
As you prepare to fast, it is good to have a plan. Prayerfully decide what you are going to fast and why. By doing this you can be more intentional about how you pray throughout the fast. Before you jump in, take some physical precautions including consulting your physician – especially if you take prescription medications.
Once you are ready to begin, set your eyes on God and know that He is better than anything this world has to offer. Ask Him to fill you with the Holy Spirit and let your heart meditate on how much He loves you. You can follow the daily devotional on this site and consider keeping a written record of your experiences and encounters with God during this time. Remind yourself frequently that we are saying, “No” to something in order to say, “Yes” to God. Don’t just refrain but fill the time and space with Him through worship, prayer, and reading the Word. Lastly, do not feel the pressure to look at others and compare your fast. Your journey is for you and God and what He wants to share with you.
May God bless you as you walk with Him through this time of fasting. May you recognize His voice and receive deeper revelation of who He is and His incredible love for you.
Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”
A Biblically-Centered Fast
Fasting has become all the diet craze in the last few years, but what we are talking about has nothing to do with intermittent fasting, Keto, Whole30 or New Years diet resolutions.
It has everything to do with drawing near to Jesus. We fast FROM something, FOR something. And that something we are creating space for is someone, Jesus. That is it’s primary purpose.
Scripture points to many reasons to fast, including: To strengthen prayer (e.g., see Ezra 8:23), To seek God’s guidance (e.g., see Judges 20:26), To express grief (e.g., see 1 Samuel 31:13), To seek deliverance or protection (e.g., see 2 Chronicles 20:3 – 4), To express repentance and a return to God (e.g., see 1 Samuel 7:6), To humble oneself before God (e.g., see 1 Kings 21:27 – 29), To express concern for the work of God (e.g., see Nehemiah 1:3 – 4), To minister to the needs of others (e.g., see Isaiah 58:3 – 7), To overcome temptation and dedicate yourself to God (e.g., see Matthew 4:1 – 11), and To express love and worship for God (e.g., see Luke 2:37).
So for whatever purpose God guides you into for fasting, let it create space for you to draw near to the King.
Avenues Of Fasting
Remember when 3-D hidden pictures were all the rage? One could stare at an image for what seemed like hours waiting for the picture to pop out! For many, no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t see the image. What were the people doing for whom the image magically appeared?! The best advice around was that as soon as you were focused on the image, glance away – and the picture would finally jump right out.
Isn’t that just so true? We can become so focused on an image that we can’t see the picture, or perhaps more often, we can become so focused on one thing that we lose sight of the bigger picture.
We think of fasting as “an abstinence”. Most familiar are total and partial fasts, juice and water fasts, and abstaining from food or drink for certain time frames. But we can also look at fasting as shifting our perspective to behold the One who loves us and desires to be with us.
Where are we fixated that our viewpoint could benefit from a shift? Maybe it’s not necessarily bad things – like succeeding at a job, being a good parent, or stewarding finances. Maybe it’s avenues we use to “check out”, which can sometimes be things like social media, television, or even food. For ANYTHING – it’s in the subtle shift of the posture of our hearts when something either becomes a worry (doubting God) or begins to take the place of true fulfillment and joy that can only come from God – the giver of good gifts.
Fasting then looks more like gazing into a 3-D hidden picture puzzle, once you look at Him and not at the things of this world, His nearness suddenly pops out!
As you think about withholding to beholding, the possibilities are endless! Start with asking God where have you been putting your focus and where He wants you to look instead. Ask Him what is keeping you from beholding Him. Would you consider laying that down for the next 21 days? Will you allow Jesus to enrich your heart and life? Let’s taste and see that the LORD is good and He satisfies!
We are praying the Holy Spirit pours out a hunger and thirst for His presence. We are praying that the Holy Spirit will give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. We are praying He opens the eyes of your hearts and enlightens you to the hope you have in Jesus. We are praying during these 21 days of fasting and prayer you experience a deeper understanding of His immeasurable greatness and power and love.
What Happens If You "Fail"
REJOICE, PRAY AND GIVE THANKS!
So, you step into this fast, a time to Withhold to Behold, and you either feel like you’ve failed or you’re afraid you will. Join me in rejoicing! It means you’re on the brink of a new discovery and I’m excited for you!
Consider this… behind every invention, there was first a string of failures. Before you ever walked or ran, you first fell repeatedly. Behind these very words are twelve abandoned drafts that went into the trash, I needed to get empty. Coming face to face with a sense of failure is part of our humanity, but we can choose to see it as He does, a teacher that leads us to discovery. The fact that you are either afraid you might fail at this fast, or you feel as though you did fail, means you are blessed! My friend, you are blessed because you are discovering once again, or maybe for the first time, that you truly need Him!
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted, blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:3-6)
Beloved, hear the voice of the Father through the Holy Spirit speaking to you now. Hear Him rejoicing that you just became aware that you are poor in spirit, you’re learning and growing. Thank Him for giving you that awareness and tell Him honestly how you feel, what you’re afraid of and become empty before Him. Then ask Him this question, “What do you want me to discover about who You are for me during this fast, how do You want to fill me?”, and take some time to listen. Let this fast be for feasting and feast on every word that He speaks to your heart. In doing so, you’ll discover that you’ve not failed at all. You’ve done exactly what you were intended to do during this fast, draw closer to Him.
So, what if you “fail”? “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5:15-18) and stand firm in the truth that “nothing (no coffee, burger nor Netflix show) can separate you from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)