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Training for Godliness: Fasting

We have read this verse several times through this series, but its importance bears repeating. “Train yourself to be godly,” Paul wrote to the young pastor, Timothy (1 Tim. 4:7, NIV).


In our treatment of what it means to train one’s self in godliness, we have observed several different ways. These include Scripture, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, and stewardship. This post will address the spiritual discipline of fasting.


Ken Boa offers us a helpful definition of fasting, “The spiritual discipline of fasting is abstention from physical nourishment for the purpose of spiritual sustenance.”[1] It is saying no to food in order to say yes to God. Many individuals in Scripture practiced fasting. Richard Foster states it like this,


“Scripture has so much to say about fasting that we would do well to look once again at this ancient Discipline. The list of biblical personages who fasted reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of Scripture: Moses the lawgiver, David the king, Elijah the prophet, Esther the queen, Daniel the seer, Anna the prophetess, Paul the apostle, Jesus Christ the incarnate Son.”[2]


In addition, Jesus expected His disciples to fast. He tells them in Matthew 6:16-17, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (NIV) Notice the first word, when, not if, but when. It is an expectation of Jesus that His disciples practice the spiritual discipline of fasting.


As we consider fasting, we must keep in mind that there are many ways in which we can fast. Whitney offers nine different ways in which we can fast: “normal,” “partial,” “absolute,” “supernatural,” “private,” congregational,” “national,” “regular,” and “occasional” fasts.[3]


We are focusing on normal fasting. Whitney writes, “To abstain from food but to drink water or perhaps fruit juices is the most common kind of Christian fast.”[4] We need to keep in mind the purpose of fasting. It is not simply to abstain from food. Intermittent fasting, which is growing in popularity, is not the same as the Christian’s spiritual discipline of fasting.[5] Christian fasting is for the purpose of godliness.


Why, then, should we fast? Whitney offers ten reasons:


1. “To Strengthen Prayer.”

2. “To Seek God’s Guidance.”

3. “To Express Grief.”

4. “To Seek Deliverance or Protection.”

5. “To Express Repentance and the Return of God.”

6. “To Humble Oneself Before God.”

7. “To Express Concern for the Work of God.”

8. “To Minister to the Needs of Others.”

9. “To Overcome Temptation and Dedicate Yourself to God.”

10. “To Express Love and Worship to God.”[6]


“Train yourself to be godly,” Paul writes. If you are interested in fasting, I encourage you to purchase a copy of Richard Foster’s book.[7] On pages 56-60, he offers practical advice on how to engage in fasting.


When you fast, remember its purpose: to make you more like Christ.

[1] Kenneth Boa, Conformed to Him Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 84. [2] Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1988), 48. [3] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991), 161-162. [4] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 161. [5] For more information on intermittent fasting, see: John Hopkins Medicine, “Intermittent Fasting: What is it, and how does it work?”, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/intermittent-fasting-what-is-it-and-how-does-it-work, accessed 18 November 2020. [6] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 165-176. [7] Though I recommend the book itself, I do not recommend everything in Foster’s work.

 

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