By Nikcole Wiles
Have you ever considered fasting in different ways? We don’t only have to fast in the traditional sense, abstaining from food and drink. We can fast from any behavior, activity, or consumable. In fact, our spiritual walk can benefit in different ways if we’re willing to fast outside the box. For instance, we can choose to fast from TV, selfishness, or golfing. It’s an opening up of our time.
In the book The Love Dare, the Kendrick brothers share a viewpoint about marriage that applies to fasting: “Whatever you pour your time, money, and energy into will draw your heart.” Our hearts need to spend the majority of the time with God. It isn’t necessary to throw the television away. We don’t need to cancel the golf club membership. It’s necessary to acknowledge how much time we’re spending in our worldly pursuits though. Is it so much time that we’re creating a separation between God and ourselves?
We must be honest. If there is a spiritual gap in our lives, a fast can be useful in closing that gap.
What Fasting is NOT
Fasting is not an opportunity to puff ourselves up. It is not a contest to be more spiritual than another believer. We get a clear view of this in the book of Matthew. It is here we’re instructed “do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting” (Matthew 6:16). God does not want any part of our pride. Attempting to elevate ourselves in a spiritual way through fasting is a sure way to lose sight of the goal.
To reap the true spiritual benefits of fasting, our intentions can’t be prideful. We’re not called to boast when we’re fasting. We’re not called to boast about the rewards we reap from a fast. We are to fast in reverence to our relationship with God—nothing more, nothing less.
What Fasting IS
Fasting is an opportunity to return to God. In the book of Joel, we see fasting as a return to the Father: “‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning’” (Joel 2:12). We have all separated from God at some point in our spiritual walk with him. Whether it’s in minor or major ways, for short or long periods of time, separation is common to faith.
How can the young adult who has separated from God for 10 years use fasting? She can fast as an opportunity to return to him with all her heart. How can the dedicated elder who gives in to a moment of temptation use fasting? The same way—to return to God. The Lord does not instruct us to fast only if we’ve sinned in particular ways. He does not care how long we have been away. His only instruction is to use fasting to return, giving us no other stipulations except that we do so with all our heart.
Fasting is an opportunity to humble ourselves before God. In the Old Testament, Ezra explained his specific actions and why he took them when he said, “There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions
. . . So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer” (Ezra 8:21, 23).
We often forget that it’s not our control over our lives that allows certain events to unfold. It’s God’s control that determines our path. The act of fasting can strip away our pride long enough to bring ourselves before God in a state of true humility. With this true humility, we’re in a better place to have a real conversation with God in prayer. When we’re open to speaking with him in a genuine way, he is open to listening. He has the ability to answer all our prayers should it be his will.
Fasting is an opportunity to show strength over the devil. Jesus Christ himself fasted during his 40 days in the wilderness. Luke said that “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit
. . . was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where . . . he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and . . . he was hungry. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: Man shall not live on bread alone’” (Luke 4:1-4).
The devil will likely never ask us to turn a stone into bread. He does pull us away from our relationship with God with worldly distractions though. Whether it’s our cell phones or our televisions, the devil has many opportunities. It is easy for him to create distance between God and us. We may never have considered using fasting to fight back against the devil. We can though. We can fight to close the spiritual gaps he helps create.
Fasting beyond the traditional sense can be spiritually fulfilling in a way we never imagined.
A Spiritual Call to Action
A genuine fast is any that’s meant to deprive us of something to bring us closer to God. We can use a genuine fast to benefit our spiritual lives in amazing ways. We are not to place ourselves on a pedestal. Yes, we may have to do some explaining. Certain family members or coworkers might need to know why we’ve changed our behaviors. However, we should not use these opportunities to boast. Boasting will only distract us from the true motives behind our fast.
Whether we’re fasting to return to God, show strength over the devil, or humble ourselves before God, we want to remain focused. As we open up our time, we will find ourselves more available to God. He can make extraordinary changes in our hearts and lives when we’re available to him.
Consider this: if we fast from an activity that takes 10 hours of our time each week—say, television—we have opened up 10 extra hours we did not have before. If this extra time is spent in prayer or study of God’s Word, what can we accomplish? Tremendous things. If nothing else, this extra time allows us to become more familiar with God’s instruction for our lives. Being familiar with how God wants us to live helps to align our actions with the relationship we encourage others to have with God.
Even at the personal level, more time spent in prayer and study allows us to feel confident we’re following the path God has in mind for us. Rather than chasing our own path, we chase the desires of God. While a weeklong fast from television may only open up 10 extra hours for a limited span of time, that additional time with God will initiate incredible new developments in our spiritual lives.
Understanding what fasting is and identifying the traditional or nontraditional fast that is right for us allows us to take part in genuine fasting. There are benefits to abstaining from food and drink or from something that is separating us from God. We should seize the full opportunities of fasting by spending the extra time with God. As believers, it serves us to approach the act of fasting not as the subtraction of something, but as the addition of something even greater.
Nikcole Wiles is a believer, mother, writer, and graduate assistant from Jacksonville, Florida.