the shape of leadership

Fasting for Spiritual Growth

Why you should joyfully embrace this biblical practice

Jason Exley on July 17, 2018

Fasting is an idea many of us don’t know what to do with. Where do we start, what do we fast, when do we stop, and how do we measure success?

My first extended fast occurred in Bible college. As a senior, I was facing some huge decisions and wanted to remind God of my total commitment. The problem was, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do when I fasted.

So, my 20-day “fast” was more of a hunger strike as I waited for God to give me the green light I wanted. At the end of the 20 days, I was hungry, frustrated and still had no clear direction.

Over the years, I’ve learned that fasting is not a way to manipulate or coerce God into making my agenda happen. Fasting is less about what I put into my stomach and more about what I put into my soul.

I now realize times of fasting must include intimate time with God — reading His Word and listening to His voice. As I say “no” to the physical cravings of my stomach and “yes” to the spiritual cravings of my soul, satisfying spiritual hunger becomes more important than what I can eat when the fast is over.

In Matthew 6:16, Jesus taught fasting as a believer’s duty, saying, “When you fast ... .” Notice He said when you fast, not if you fast. Jesus expected His disciples to fast as a natural result of discipleship — just as He expects us to give to the needy and pray passionately (Matthew 6:2,5,16).

Fasting is less about what I put into my stomach and more about what I put into my soul.

Scripture never says how often or how long to fast, but we clearly should incorporate seasons of fasting into our spiritual life.

The Early Church was a fasting Church. In Acts 13:2-3, the Spirit called Barnabas and Saul to their missionary work while the believers were worshiping and fasting.

In Acts 14:23, after Paul and Barnabas established new churches in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch they appointed elders and committed them to the Lord “with prayer and fasting.”

Fasting was an expectation and practice of the Early Church, and it should be for today’s Church as well.

There are many reasons to fast.

I have purposefully fasted during defining moments of my life when I’m needing to discern God’s direction. I’ve fasted and prayed desperate prayers for healing. I’ve humbly fasted and allowed God to examine my motives. I’ve fasted when I needed refreshing. I’ve fasted for revival and to see lost friends come to salvation. I’ve fasted during spiritual battles when the church I led needed a victory. I’ve fasted for spiritual intimacy with God because I know how distracted my heart can be.

I’ve also led our church through corporate times of fasting together. Each time, we’ve seen growth for individuals and the congregation as a whole.

Can you embrace fasting joyfully? Are you ready to take the first step and say “yes” to the spiritual hunger arising in your heart? Just start. Pick a day. Decide what to fast. Plan your fast with a purpose, and go all in. And don’t be surprised if God hijacks your fasting plan; He has been waiting to have your undivided ear. 

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 edition of Influence magazine.

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