Have you ever felt curious about the benefits of fasting?
I have. Because the first few times I tried fasting I felt completely unsuccessful.
I remember a time when I fasted and prayed through lunch. When I believed I’d prayed to a point of completion, I “negotiated” with God and was eating a sandwich by 2:00 p.m. Most of the other times I tried to abstain from food, I considered how much weight I might lose. It was clear my heart was far from the right place to practice the spiritual discipline. My desires and intent were focused on self and were anything but holy or righteous. And the benefits of fasting weren’t immediately obvious.
After my first few attempts, a big part of me wished to cry out to the Lord, “Okay, I tried it and it’s just not for me.” But the Holy Spirit persisted and continued to prompt me to discover more.
Little by little and over many years, I developed a deeper understanding of what a fast is, how one works, and the reasons for the practice. And as I developed the discipline, the benefits and blessings became obvious.
I now consider fasting one of the most life-changing spiritual disciplines I am blessed to experience. That’s why I’m eager to share it with you.
As with many spiritual lessons, we can certainly overthink fasting. But there’s no need. It’s a simple process with many benefits. Here are a few things I’ve learned and experienced:
The Lord’s Instruction About Fasting
Jesus provided instruction for fasting in Matthew 6:16-18. He started by setting the expectation saying “Whenever you fast . . .” Note he did not say if you fast, but he emphasized when. Fasting is expected, just as prayer and giving, as mentioned throughout Matthew 6.
The Lord then emphasized that a fast is not intended for others to see. Professor and author Donald S. Whitney expounds on the Lord’s instruction saying,
“The only Observer of your fast should be the Secret One. No one else should know that you are fasting unless it is absolutely unavoidable or necessary. If you are married, or if someone regularly cooks for you, courtesy may require that you tell your spouse or someone else about your fast. The problem is not whether another person knows or asks about your fast, but whether you want him or her to know or ask so that you can appear more spiritual.”1
As with most spiritual matters, it’s how we present our hearts before the Lord that is most important. We should fast not for recognition, but to draw near to and seek the will of the Lord.
What I’ve Learned About Benefits of Fasting
One of my biggest revelations about fasting is that we’re not required to pray during every moment of the fast. Yes, we are to pray without ceasing and stay in constant communion with God (1 Thes. 5:16–17). But that’s whether we’re currently fasting or not. When we fast, we are to go about our other, routine daily activities, just as normal but without food. When the hunger pangs strike, it’s a reminder for us to seek the Lord, and then we are to pray as he leads. We can use the time we would have spent preparing or eating a meal as time devoted to prayer.
As 1 Thessalonians 5:23 teaches us, we are spirit, soul, and body. In that order. It reminds us that we are first spiritual beings and then physical beings. This is also emphasized in Job 10:11, which indicates that God clothed our spiritual beings with skin and flesh. The spirit was first and was clothed with the body.
It is important that we feed our spirits.
It seems counterintuitive to feed something by withholding food, but that’s exactly how we feed our spirits. By depriving ourselves of food, we are agreeing with God that our spiritual needs come before our physical needs. Believe me, there is great power and freedom in putting action to this idea.
How Long Should I Fast?
Now, a fast does not have to take place over a prolonged period. My favorite length of fast is from dinner on one day through breakfast the next day. I break the fast at lunch. All in all, I skip two meals and sleep through several hours of the fast. When you seek the Lord regarding how long to fast, I’m certain he’ll provide you with an appropriate length of time.
It’s helpful for me to have a purpose behind my fast. Perhaps I’m seeking deliverance of some sort for a loved one. Or spiritual clarity for an upcoming decision I need to make. As a writer and teacher, I often fast and seek the Lord’s face for clear direction on a message. I will write the purpose of my fast in my calendar, then journal the promptings I receive from the Holy Spirit. These frequently come straight out of the Bible, and because I’m listening to the Spirit with deliberate intent, I discern his direction as it pertains to what I seek.
I feel as if a fast helps me tune into the Holy Spirit. Tremendous clarity and discernment come when I’m physically hungry and spiritually fed. It’s undeniable direction from the Lord, and I’ve learned to treasure it immensely.
What Benefits Will I See When I Fast?
We rob ourselves of great blessings when we ignore the instruction to fast. Such blessings include the following:
A deeper yearning for God.
When we acknowledge that we need God more than we need food, it intensifies our desire for and our communion with the Lord.
A heart filled with praise.
By focusing on God rather than our meals, we can better see the wonder of what God provides in our very midst. Things that are simple and routine begin to seem supernatural—and they are! It becomes easy to praise the Lord in spirit and truth when we more readily see his wonders.
When we’re filled by God, it is satisfying on a far deeper level than providing food to our bodies. We’re not hungry for him again in a few hours because he fills us to overflowing with his presence. And when we fast, that filling is ongoing, like an infinity pool.
I shared about this above: we can suddenly better hear and discern God’s direction. We have better sensitivity to his leading.
Physical benefits of fasting.
There are many physical advantages to fasting, such as lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, promoting muscle building, normalizing insulin sensitivity, slowing the aging process, and more. (Dr. Josh Axe offers a great article on the topic). It’s no surprise that fasting is good for us because, after all, God invented it. Note: If you have health concerns, please seek medical advice before beginning a fast.
Yes, we should fast. We know this. Sometimes, however, it feels necessary to seek the Lord and ask for the desire to fast, along with a heart to honor him in and through it.
If your health and medical condition allow, I encourage you to give it a try. You may not do it well the first time or two that you attempt it, but as you progress and begin to experience its blessings and effectiveness, you won’t regret it!
May you embrace the joy of the journey!
1 Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), 197.