Fasting is an ancient spiritual discipline, one practiced by Jesus himself. Clearly, as followers of Jesus, we should consider imitating his spiritual habits, including fasting, which is simply avoiding something for a time, usually food, in order to focus our hearts. Fasting as a family can be tricky, but it can be a great discipleship tool and beneficial on many levels.
Before beginning a family fast it is important to remind yourself and teach your children the purpose of fasting.
Richard Foster, the author of "Celebration of Discipline" says, “Fasting must forever center on God. Physical benefits, success in prayer, the enduing with power, spiritual insights—these must never replace God as the center of our fasting." John Wesley declared, “First, let [fasting] be done unto the Lord with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven...” That is the only way we will be saved from loving the blessing more than the Blesser.” Even though there may be many physical benefits from fasting, they are never our focus. Make sure that extra time is spent in prayer. Prayer almost always accompanies Biblical examples of fasting. Therefore, it would be wise to incorporate some family prayer time with fasting.
Fasting is intended not to move God so much as it is to move us. Richard Foster admonishes, “More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.” When we fast, we are denying our flesh things that it is accustomed to receiving without an argument. Normally, our body tells us that it is hungry and we feed it. Sometimes our body even tells us what to eat, or our pleasure from a tasty morsel causes us to become gluttonous and greedy. Saying no to our body in the area of eating is a great way to train our flesh that our spirit is to control and dictate our passions. In Matthew 26:41, Jesus states that "the spirit is willing, but that the flesh is weak." Fasting reminds our body of who should be in charge of our attention.
Fasting helps to put food and eating into the proper perspective. Many times, I have found myself looking to food for comfort or relief from a difficult day. All the while, my Father is patiently waiting for me to run to him in such situations. Instead, I open the refrigerator for a cheap fix rather than the real answer, the Comforter. John Piper reminds us, When midmorning comes and you want food so badly that the thought of lunch becomes as sweet as a summer vacation, then you suddenly realize, ‘Oh, I forgot, I made a commitment. I can’t have that pleasure. I’m fasting for lunch too.’ Then, what are you going to do with all the unhappiness inside? Formerly, you blocked it out with the hope of a tasty lunch. The hope of food gave you the good feelings to balance out the bad feelings. But now the balance is off. You must find another way to deal with it.” Fasting trains our spirits to look to God and his grace for answers.
Fasting causes us to see with spiritual eyes what we might normally only see through physical eyes. Over and over again, Biblical characters are shown to have spiritual breakthroughs while fasting. It is easy to begin to believe that fasting moves God, but the truth is that fasting helps us to realize that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Life here is temporary, but our spirits are eternal. Fasting helps us to focus on the eternal portion of our being, thus opening our eyes to eternal truths rather than those which are only temporary.
Now that we are armed with some of the purposes of fasting, how do we actually do it? Just like with any other physical discipline it is important to learn to take slow, methodical, and progressive steps. It would not be wise to establish a 30-day food and water fast for your entire family! This would be naïve and abusive! However, you may want to start with something like sweets or a partial media fast. Here are a few ideas for family fasts.
There is so much more to be said about fasting, and it is a topic that should be thoroughly studied and carefully considered before rushing ahead. Many times, we disregard a discipline because it seems too complicated to tackle. Let me encourage you to press through the difficulties presented by fasting, because the fruit that comes from this discipline is beyond value! It teaches us to no longer be greedy and self-satisfying, but to look to the needs of others. Even more importantly, fasting helps us to see with spiritual eyes what our physical eyes cannot. Happy fasting!
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster