It has become an enduring tradition among believers that a dedicated fasting programme opens their calendar at the beginning of every year. This is often done individually or corporately as a church, varying in length and scope — one week, 10 days, a month or even 40 days.
By Phillip Chidavaenzi
For many years, I participated in such programmes until I got to the point when I realised it had probably become just a religious ritual with no tangible results or effect. Am I saying fasting is not important? No, it is very important. In fact, it is as biblical as it gets because Jesus indicated that he expected his followers to fast regularly (Matthew 9:15).
But often the challenge has to do with how to implement the fast. Many of us merely embark on hunger strikes. No wonder why we rarely see the expected results. Fasting is abstaining from those things that often have a hold on us, and can even take the place of God in our lives.
Food is just one of those things (and maybe this is what many Christians are familiar with). It may be necessary to fast from certain people, television, newspapers, social media etc. In simple terms, you must fast all potential addictions.
Fasting is one of several spiritual disciplines that include prayer, meditation, solitude and confession. Richard Foster, in his book, Celebration of the Discipline, gave a more apt description of fasting: “When I fast, my spirit feasts.”
While your spirit feeds on the Word of God, your body feeds on physical food. The spirit must dominate the soul and the body if you are to live a victorious Christian life. Denying the body food for a period of time as part of your devotion to God allows the spirit to dominate.
You do not fast to get something from God. You do not fast to arm-twist God to do something for you. You do not fast for God to bless you. God has already blessed you and done everything that needed to be done concerning your life. Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.”
This scripture says God has already blessed you with all blessings. But these are spiritual — and not physical — blessings. Here is where fasting comes in. It must sensitise your spirit to that point where you are able to download those blessings from the spiritual to the physical realm.
Fasting is not about God. It is about you. In fact, the greater blessing of fasting lies in the fact that is the easiest way to expose certain vices in your character or attitude hindering you from receiving what you want from God. If you have a short temper, for example, you may never notice it until you go hungry. And some people will never go hungry unless they fast! So, fasting exposes a lot of such vices and you are then able to deal with them.
When you fast, you afford the Holy Spirit the opportunity to work on your spirit and enhance its efficiency. This has several benefits: it will make your prayer life more effective, help you to understand the Word of God better and to hear his voice with clarity. Food and other things that interest us, which are often fleshly, tend to clog our spirits. Ezra 8:21, “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us…”
Ezra said they were fasting to seek the right way from God. They were fasting for direction.
Fasting, by its very nature, makes certain demands on your physical body. When you have a physical ailment, particularly one that demands that you eat at certain intervals, God will not be mad at you that you did not fast. If it is a doctor’s recommendation that you do not fast, then by all means do not. Your year will not be messed up and neither will God be mad at you simply because you did not do your 10 days “for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14).
You can also structure your fasting schedule in such a way that you do not unnecessarily strain your body by avoiding a long or absolute fast. In this regard, you can avoid an absolute or dry fast and perhaps consider a Daniel fast, or opt for a shorter period of fasting.
During your time of fasting, it is important to spend a lot of time in the Word and in prayer, because this will help you catch whatever the Holy Spirit will drop into your spirit. The Bible provides a general overview of the kind of fast that is acceptable to God in Isaiah 58: 1-11. Verse 11 says when you fast properly, “the Lord shall guide thee continually…”
Proper fasting enables you to get direction from God concerning a situation. Fasting in the New Testament is not a public act, but a private affair between you and God. In the Old Testament, you could easily know who was fasting because they would put on sackclothes, smear dirt over their bodies, lie in ashes and mourn.
In the New Testament, however, Jesus proposed a new way of fasting that was acceptable to God. Matthew 6:16-18, “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.”
It is normal to feel hungry or weak when fasting? During his fasting, we learn from David in Psalms 109:24, “My knees are weak through fasting; and my flesh faileth of fatness.” The Bible says when Jesus had fasted in Matthew 4:2, “He was afterward an hungred.”
If you are fasting as we begin 2018, do it with revelation and understanding, otherwise you risk embarking on a hunger strike, which God is under no obligation to honour. When you do it according to the scriptures, however, the results will be phenomenal.
l Phillip Kundeni Chidavaenzi is the author of The Gospel of Grace –From the Old to the New Testament (2016) and Walking in the Spirit (2017)