In a society where the landscape is painted with shrines to the Golden Arches and an assortment of Pizza Temples, we are seeing more and more that our appetites dictate the direction of our lives. Whether it be the cravings of our stomachs, the passionate desire for possessions or power, or the longings of our spirit for God, the spiritual discipline of fasting seems out of place and out of time. By definition fasting is, "the deliberate, temporary abstention from food for religious reasons"ÃÂ (Anchor Bible Dictionary 773). The magazine Christianity Today mentions that as a spiritual discipline, fasting is the act of abstaining from feeding the body in order to focus more fully on seeking God's face and feeding the spirit (3). Although the discipline of fasting seems useless to many Christians these days, it still has several practical uses in today"ÃÂs "painted" world. The worship of an almighty God, the transforming effect it carries, and the reminder that God is all we need to truly live are three reasons fasting is still an important and effective practice for the Christian culture today.
One reason fasting is an effective practice for Christians today, is that it is done as an act of worship directed toward God. As defined by the concordance of the Life Application Study Bible worship is, "an expression of praise and devotion to God"ÃÂ (2,500). In the book of Acts the Gentile physician Luke mentions, "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting"ÃÂ (Acts 13:2) In this scripture the importance of fasting and worship is linked closely together. In the book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster points out that "fasting"ÃÂ and "worshiping the Lord"ÃÂ must always go together (55). It is key to note here that the disciplines involved in fasting lead to the worship of God. Those people who choose to fast do two key things that direct them into a state of worship. First, those who fast humble themselves in the light of who God is. When fasters see themselves in the light of who God is, an overwhelming sense of humility consumes their soul. The faster is faced with the sin that invades his or her life, and as a sinner, the faster is exposed to a deep need for God's help. John Piper, senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church and author of numerous books, explains that then and only then is the faster able to praise God, because that person sees God for who he truly is (Piper 14). The second thing that fasters do in worship is the sacrifice of their most primal needs. When a faster makes this sacrifice, an acknowledgment is made that he or she needs more than the most basic needs for survival. By choosing to deny the pleasures of the flesh and by following hard after the source of ultimate satisfaction, the Lord, the faster shows devotion to God. Piper feels that in this devotion, the faster frees him or herself to feast at God's table of eternal delight that supercedes anything this world can offer (Piper 61). By humbling themselves in order to praise God, and by sacrificing the most primal needs in order to be devoted to God, Edith Schaeffer, a twentieth-century Christian author believes that fasters set aside everything in this world and focus on worshiping God (Schaeffer 209).
A second reason fasting is an effective practice for Christians today is because of its transforming effect. Foster states, "This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ"ÃÂ (55). According to Foster, fasting strips a person down to the most primal state of life. It removes anything that may cover or control an individual (Foster 55). When a person is stripped to this primal status, it creates a condition of spiritual nakedness which allows that person to see how they really are: uncovered and uncontrolled. It is in these uncovered and uncontrolled moments that a faster becomes open with God. The well known German reformer Martin Luther feels that as a faster is stripped of his "spiritual clothes"ÃÂ, he really finds out who he is in light of God (Luther 187). In this state of openness with God, the faster is confronted with the things that he allows to cover and control him in life. Pierce Johnson, a writer for the religious journal Religion in Life, expresses that through this experience of fasting, individuals ask God to come into their lives and replace every desire to be covered or controlled by earthly things with the longing desire to be under the will of God (Johnson 331). Jerry Falwell, a well noted Baptist pastor believes that fasters get rid of the things that control and cover them and exchange them for the equipping to do the Master's work (Fallwell 209). A third reason fasting is an effective practice for Christians today is its reminder that man needs only God to truly live. In the fourth chapter of the book of Matthew, Matthew records Jesus as saying, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from God's mouth"ÃÂ (Mt 4:4) This scripture shows that man has a higher, deeper, spiritual need that has to precede any physical needs. Piper expresses that when individuals fast they become aware of their spiritual needs. They are aware of this need because they are not relying on bread alone but on the strength that comes by feasting on the very word of God (Piper 58-59). Fasting gives a person a different perspective. It allows people to see what is needed in life in light of who God is. Fasting allows people to realize where their greater need lies. When fasters realize that there is this greater need, they develop a spiritual hunger to seek out the thing that will fully satisfy them. Mark Buchanan, a writer for The Christian Century, comments that it is in this hunger that God shows a person that the things of this world do not sustain life, but the very basic essential that sustains a person is God's filling spirit (Buchanan 21).
Although it is looked upon as an ancient discipline, there are still numerous benefits and blessings that one can experience through fasting. Not only can people enrich their worship toward God, grow leaps and bounds in Christ through spiritual transformation, and be filled with God's spirit, but they can also enjoy a balanced life, freedom through discipline, guidance in decisions, increased concentration, and physical well-being. The list doesn't stop here. In fact, numerous people have written on the many other values of fasting such as revelations, deliverance for those in bondage, and increased effectiveness in intercessory prayer. In this, as in all matters with God, we can expect our heavenly Father to reward those who diligently seek him. This should be enough for Christians to realize that fasting is still an important and effective practice for Christians in the world today.
Works Cited Buchanan, Mark. "Go fast and live."ÃÂ The Christian Century 28 Feb 2001: 25 pgs. 5 April 2001.
Falwell, Jerry. "Appendix: Quotes and experiences."ÃÂ A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer. Ed. John Piper. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1997. 209.
"Fasting."ÃÂ Anchor Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed. 1985.
Foster, Richard. Celebration of Discipline: The Path To Spiritual Growth. New York: HarperCollins, 1998.
House, Zondervan Publishing, ed. Life Application Study Bible. New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House,1997.
Johnson, Pierce. "Fasting as a Modern Discipline."ÃÂ Religion in Life 44 (1975): 331-337.
Luther, Martin. "Appendix: Quotes and experiences."ÃÂ A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer. Ed. John Piper. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1997. 186-187.
"Not a Fast Fix: It's hard to fast, and even harder to do it for the right reasons."ÃÂ Christianity Today April 1995. 3 April 2001 .
Piper, John. A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1997.
Works Cited Schaeffer, Edith. "Appendix: Quotes and experiences."ÃÂ A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer. Ed. John Piper. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1997. 209.