Editor’s Note: Recently, our Study Together groups worked through Richard Foster’s book “Celebration of Discipline.” So many helpful conversations ensued that we thought we’d create a blog series on the topic and post articles the first week of each month. Enjoy!
Throughout our lives, we face many different types of trials and suffering, but unspeakable joy is ours with our Savior. Because He knows we need to grow in our faith and in godly character, He has told us He will walk with us as we will face many trials.
In Matthew 9:14-15, we find that Jesus says we will need to fast, even though we will have the Holy Spirit. “Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.’”
Unlike the Pharisees, we know we can’t earn any “bonus points” with God by our works. We have been given His righteousness, and He has taken our sin upon Himself on the cross. So fasting doesn’t cause God to listen to our prayers more attentively. We have His full attention through every second of our life.
But Isaiah 58:6 shows us some of the reasons God gives us to fast: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?”
The first time Alan (my husband) and I fasted was when we needed God to direct us to a church. We were new believers and didn’t have a clue. We went three days without food or water (do NOT try this at home!) We were totally wiped out; but God, in His great mercy, directed both of us, individually, to the same church.
When seeing great physical or emotional suffering in people, especially those I know and love, God has often led me to fast. The burden on my heart has been too great for prayer alone, and I have felt constrained and led by the Lord to fast. During these periods of fasting, often weekly, I have either sensed when the burden was lifted or have seen the answer to my prayers.
When someone I know and love is bound up in a more emotional type of suffering, such as addiction, mental illness, or strong suicidal temptations, the burden and desire to fast has been strong. Though many tears have accompanied this type of prayer, I have seen God answer prayers miraculously when fasting. This was not because I earned something, but because the Lord was allowing me to share a burden with Him, one that He was going to answer. There have also been those times when the Lord, in His infinite wisdom and love (so high above ours), has said no. The sovereignty of God has been a stronghold for me no matter what the answer.
Lastly, fasting goes hand in hand with repentance. At times, when God has revealed an area of sin in my life, I have cried tears of repentance; prayed for grace, mercy and forgiveness; and fought the sin. But when I have continued to fail, I have added fasting as a way of grieving over my sin. The Lord is always ready to help when we humble ourselves before Him. He understands our weakness and wants to teach us to lean on His strength and grace. Like a loving father with a toddler, He picks us back up when we fall, encouraging us in the fight rather than condemning us.
Fasting has brought a richness to my relationship with the Lord that is very precious to me, much more important than food. I am grateful for the privilege of this gift of grace, through faith, to share burdens with the Lord.