This summer, we are reading Don Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life together. With certain goals for us as individuals, we all desire to grow in grace and personal holiness. The purpose of this study is to help us make necessary adjustments in our spiritual lives that will enable us to achieve such goals by incorporating the use of spiritual disciplines.
In the previous chapters, Don Whitney has outlined the specifics of Bible reading, meditation, prayer, worship, evangelism, and service to the Lord. What exactly is taking place when we read the Bible, meditate on Scripture, and pray? Essentially, these disciplines should lead us to godliness and a life that reflects the glory of God. In this chapter today, we look at the subject of fasting. As Don Whitney makes clear, “fasting is the most feared and misunderstood of all the Spiritual Disciplines” (191).
Fasting is the voluntary abstinence from food for a specific period of time. The purpose is always God-centered and has a spiritual foundation and eternal value. Although it is appropriate to suggest that a person can fast from other activities, hobbies, and interests – the way fasting is addressed in the Bible is clearly related to food. Don Whitney writes, “So while it’s appropriate to speak of fasting from any legitimate freedom, technically the Bible uses the term only in its primary sense, that is, abstinence from food. In this chapter, I will limit my remarks to that kind of fasting” (193). In the Bible, there are several types of fasting mentioned:
- Partial Fast
- Absolute Fast
- Supernatural Fast
- Private Fast
- Congregational Fast
- National Fast
- Regular Fast
- Occasional Fast
Don Whitney writes, “The most common fast among Christians today would probably fall under the categories of normal (abstaining from food but drinking water), private, and occasional” (195).
Fasting Is Expected
One of the most interesting things about studying the spiritual disciplines is that in most cases – they are expected disciplines. It may be a shock to some to discover that Jesus expected His followers to fast (Matt. 6:16-17). Jesus often used the phrase, “when you fast” indicating the fact that they would be fasting. Jesus didn’t say, “if you fast.” Don Whitney writes, “It’s interesting that Jesus gave us no command regarding how often or how long we should fast. Like the other Spiritual Disciplines, fasting should never devolve into an empty, legalistic routine. God offers to bless us through fasting as often as we desire” (198).
Fasting Is To Be Done For A Purpose
It’s vital to look at fasting through a biblical lens. Don Whitney writes, “There’s more to a biblical fast than merely abstaining from food. Without a spiritual purpose for your fast it’s just a weight-loss fast” (198). We desire more than the loss of weight, and so we must have a God-centered view to our fast that will bring about lasting spiritual growth. As with any other discipline, if we approach it through the wrong motive it can be used to increase pride or feed a legalistic motive. We must avoid both of those evils. Don Whitney reminds us:
Having a biblical purpose for your fast may be the single most important concept to take from this chapter. In real life, here’s how it works: As you are fasting and your head aches or your stomach growls and you think, I’m hungry! your next thought is likely to be something like, Oh, right—I’m hungry because I’m fasting today. Then you next thought should be, and I’m fasting for this purpose” (199).
When fasting, we should engage in this spiritual discipline for one of the following reasons:
- To Strengthen Prayer
- To Seek God’s Guidance
- To Express Grief
- To Seek Deliverance or Protection
- To Express Repentance and the Return of God
- To Humble Oneself Before God
- To Express Concern for the Work of God
- To Minister to the Needs of Others
- To Overcome Temptation and Dedicate Yourself to God
- To Express Love and Worship to God
Catch up in this series:
Questions to Consider:
- Will you confess and repent of any fear of fasting?
- Will you fast as the Holy Spirit directs?
- Will you plan a fast of dedication now as an expression of your willingness to fast from now on?
Next Week: Next week, we will turn to chapter 10 and look at the subject of silence and solitude. Read ahead and think through the content of that chapter, and we will gather here next week to discuss what we’re learning.
Discussion: Post your comments, thoughts, and questions in the comments section. I will engage with you at times, but the purpose is to allow everyone to have a conversation regarding what we are learning and considering through this book. I do hope you will be encouraged.