Ready to reap the spiritual benefits of fasting but not sure how to begin? Like Lent, try viewing fasting as a journey: start slow, follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, and see where he takes you.
By Christine McParland
Maybe you’re new to Lent and are just learning about this holy season of preparation to remember Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. A season to focus on prayer and our relationship with God? Great! A time to review our lives and repent of any sin? Also a good idea. A period of fasting as we reflect on our sin and our Lord’s suffering? Ummm, do I hafta?
No, you don’t “hafta.” You don’t need to fast to earn God’s grace or become a “better Christian.” In fact, it’s only by receiving God’s freely given grace that you will have strength to fast, pray, or do anything in the Christian life! But before you take a pass on the spiritual discipline of fasting, consider its benefits and pray about if and how the Lord might want you to incorporate this practice into your relationship with him. (When you’re ready to give it a try, you’ll find some tips to help you get started at the bottom of this post.)
Here are three ways fasting helps us grow in our walk with Christ—not just during Lent, but throughout our lives!
1. Fasting helps us remember our own mortality.
Our bodies depend on food (obviously). When we deprive our bodies of food for a time, we’re reminding ourselves that “people do not live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3, NLT). When we fast, we’re not denying the importance of our bodies and the necessity of keeping them alive; we’re simply acknowledging that physical life is worth little without being spiritually alive in a relationship with God. We affirm that, as much as we need food to live, we need God even more.
2. Fasting helps us renounce sin.
To renounce means “to refuse to follow, obey, or recognize any further” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Any time we turn to God in repentance for our sins, he freely forgives us (see 1 John 1:9). But often we continue to struggle with temptation in our fight against sin, even after receiving God’s mercy. This is where spiritual disciplines like fasting come alongside us as weapons in battle. Whenever we deny ourselves and say “no” to something—even to things that aren’t inherently sinful, like food—it exercises our spiritual “muscles” and strengthens us to say “no” when we face temptation to sin.
3. Fasting helps us take up our cross and follow Jesus.
Similar to how we exercise our spiritual muscles in the fight against sin, we need strength to persevere in our faith through life’s challenges. Fasting helps us in following Jesus because both are hard tasks that require much self-discipline! When we learn to endure without food for a time, we strengthen our resolve to take up whatever cross of suffering Jesus calls us to—whether it’s the daily challenge to carve out time for prayer amidst a stressful schedule or the ultimate challenge of laying down our life for Christ.
Ready to reap the spiritual benefits of fasting but not sure how to begin? Like Lent, try viewing fasting as a journey: start slow, follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, and see where he takes you. Here are some tips to help you get started.
- Pray about it! This might go without saying, but it’s easy to overlook. Ask God how you should fast in this season of your life. Is there anything that’s getting in the way of your relationship with God? He might lead you to fast from something besides food, like social media or Netflix.
- If you don’t feel led in a specific direction, start small—fast from one type of food, one meal, or one other thing that you consume (like Facebook or television).
- Set a specific time period to fast (pray about this too). Make sure it’s realistic, reasonable, and suited to the type of fast you’re undertaking. For example, if you’re fasting from all food for the first time, try it just for one day or only a portion of the day. But if you’re fasting from something non-essential like sweets or social media, consider a longer fast, such as the duration of Lent.
- Pray more! Don’t forget, the purpose of fasting isn’t to earn God’s favor or check a box off your spiritual to-do list (please discard those lists if you have any!). The purpose of fasting is to create space for prayer, so take advantage of the time saved from scrolling social media or preparing dinner to spend it with the Lord.
- Prayerfully evaluate your experience (do you see a theme here?). How did your fast impact your time in prayer? How did it affect the rest of your day? Did you notice the Holy Spirit working in your life in a certain way? Journal about what you’ve learned—remembering the benefits of fasting will encourage you to return to this spiritual discipline throughout your faith journey.
- Don’t do it alone! Even if you can’t find someone to fast with you, ask a trusted friend to pray for your during your fast. Also, it’s very important that you consult with your doctor before attempting total food fasts for extended periods of time. Some people cannot do traditional food fasts for medical reasons, but they can still benefit from this spiritual discipline by fasting from other things (see point #1).
Have you ever tried some form of fasting? What was the experience like for you? Do you have any fasting tips to share? Let us know in the comments below!
Curious about Lent? Read more in our Lent Demystified series!
Find books about prayer for this Lenten season here.