[This post is a revised version of one that was published last year for our March week of prayer]
Christians need to cultivate what might be called ‘godly dissatisfaction’. That is, as well as patiently persevering in the things God commands us to do and trusting his timing for fruit, we also need to press on, longing for growth and being willing for costly change to occur. Such ‘godly dissatisfaction’ and longing is related to the biblical practice of fasting.
Fasting is a physical hunger to match the sense of spiritual hunger we feel, or want to grow to feel more, for the coming and growth of God’s kingdom. Jesus says his disciples don’t fast because he is with them, but they will when he is taken away (Mark 2v18-21). It is body language designed to match the prayer ‘your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ Fasting is an enacted prayer.
Since some of us are fasting during Lent anyway, and others will be fasting during our week of prayer in March, we ought to look at what Jesus teaches us about this practice in Matthew 6v16-18.
Jesus says we mustn’t fast like the hypocrites (v16). That is we don’t make a big song and a dance about it, showing off by looking especially dishevelled in order to impress others at our discipline or commitment. Rather we must do the opposite, and carry on basic personal care (v17). This is because we aren’t to fast for the reward of others but for the reward of our heavenly Father. Not that we are manipulating God or earning ‘God-points’ by our fasting, but because it is a God-given way of pressing on in the race of the christian life to take hold of all that God has given us in Christ. Our gracious Father promises to respond rewardingly to fasting.
Please note, there are practical and sensible things to make sure you do too when fasting (such as drinking plenty, and being careful about how long you fast for). Also, if you have a medical or personal reason which makes fasting unwise (such as a historical or current struggle with an eating disorder), please don’t. There are other ways to apply the same principle, for example by fasting from something else.