The Discipline of Fasting

What a profound chapter.

It has been a while since I have read this chapter, or anything of depth on the discipline of fasting. I have participated in the 30 Hour Famine every year for the past 4 or 5 years, but this was the closest I have come to fasting myself. I finish this chapter with both conviction that I have not given much attention to this discipline, and encouragement to begin fasting on my own.

Foster does some great work in his research of the practice of fasting. I appreciate that he sees the balance in Jesus’ words about fasting. He does not command it, but He expects that His people will engage in fasting. Foster reminds us of Jesus’ words about fasting in private, lest the adoration of others become the reward that we are seeking.He shares about the benefits that others have seen in their lives as a result of regular fasting, both individually and corporately. I especially was encouraged by the anonymous journal entries provided from one individual who fasted once a week for two years.

Our modern society really has given us pause to consider fasting. I think Foster hit it on the head when he postulates that we teach about giving financially more often than about fasting because it is easier to do. It is simple to hand over some cash, but to give up one of life’s little pleasures that we have trained ourselves to rely upon? How could we do that? I think of our teenagers here in Amherst who, when presented with the 30 Hour Famine immediately spout out that they could not go 30 hours without food! How could we expect that of them? They would starve! But Foster points out that we would not starve after a handful of hours. The human body can go for days without food. Our entire society runs like this at times. We allow our body to be our master, but we should control our bodies. If our stomach controls us, how can we expect to be able to follow after Christ when He commands us to sacrifice things that we feel we need? Fasting also reveals what things beside hunger control us (anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, etc.), and show us how important it is to demolish these things.

I love that Foster spends time speaking about the real reason for fasting. It is about drawing closer to God. He is the primary reason, every other benefit (better prayer life, better decision-making, weight loss, a cleansing of the body) is all secondary. We should not focus on the secondary reasons at all, lest they become primary reasons for fasting and we begin worshiping the creation, not the Creator. I also like that Foster lays out a very clear and simple plan for beginning the practice of fasting, starting with a 24-hour period (lunch to lunch) and working up to greater lengths (40 days, anyone?). He is very clear that before attempting the greater lengths we should make certain that God is calling us to do so, and Foster gives great practical advice on how to break the fast.

I state here that I would love to begin fasting regularly as a part of my Spiritual growth. But I will not tell you how, for that would feed into my ego. There will be no regular article here on this space about what I learn or how I grow, for again, that would feed into my ego. But I may share from time to time insights and experiences that can encourage or teach… but only if I have felt compelled to share them by God Himself, and only after much prayer for the minimization of my own ego in the process.