I remember growing up learning about how Jesus fasted, gave up food, for 40 days and then the devil tempted him to eat food. I remember one of my pastors when I was young attempted to fast for 40 days and ended up having heart issues in the following years. I remember the first time I fasted in middle school where we were trying to raise money for starving children around the world. The “30 Hour Famine” that is sponsored by World Vision was a challenge for youth groups around the U.S. to come together, fast for 30 hours as a church and raise money for each hour of food not eaten. The purpose was to understand how millions of children around the world go to bed hungry each night. My youth pastors made it an overnight event where we would fast together, sleep at the church, one year in a cardboard box, do community service the next day than break our fast at noon that Saturday. I remember how it felt like an impossibly long period of time. I was never more hungry in my life, as an eighth grader trying to not think about food in the middle of a growth spurt was a feat in and of itself.
In college we were challenged in various settings and at various times to try and fast. I remember a group of friends were going to fast like Daniel did for two weeks, only drink water and eat vegetables. I think they made it a week. At some point in college I fasted for a week, I drank water and V8 for some nutrients. I hate vegetables and V8 was not a delight, even when I was hungry. I’m not sure why a week, I just decided a week.
I’ve heard sermons on fasting, read ideas in books about fasting and preached on fasting myself. I’ve been told it is the least practiced spiritual discipline in the U.S. among evangelicals. Catholics practice this every year during the season of lent, and I remember my catholic friends coming to school on Ash Wednesday with a cross on their forehead, at least the brave ones did. I was baptized Catholic but grew up attending an evangelical church so participating in lent was not a part of my yearly spiritual routine.
Even with lent, there are rules that the Catholic church put in place. One is that fasting on Sunday was breaking the Sabbath so fasting during lent was actually from Monday to Saturday. Then it turned into, for some people, only fasting certain things during the week, not food all together. Today you will hear in churches across America that the goal of fasting is to bring your attention to God. Give up something you desire and spend that time with the Lord.
I’ll admit that fasting is confusing if we do anything other than what Jesus other people in the bible who fasted did. Besides the story of Daniel, fasting was giving up food completely and in the case of Moses on mount Sanai he went without food and water (Exodus 34:28). We see in 2 Samuel that King David fasted and wore sackcloth for seven days to petition God to spare his child. In chapter twelve verse 22 David says he was hoping God would hear his cries and forgive him. All this seems like an impossibility. I have never fasted for any period time on water alone or even no water at all, which I’m not sure is even humanly possible. With Moses as our exception, when Jesus fasted, it says he didn’t eat.
With that being said, it is almost impossible to fast without preparing your body to fast. To assume that a person can fast just because Jesus says to, without taking your health into consideration and Jesus’ health, is foolish. Jesus grew up fasting for periods of time, possibly even for forty days in a few of his thirty years before ministry. The diet he maintained is not the diet we have today. His health was in top notch, he was a carpenter by trade and he walked everywhere he went. I always thought that to be as spiritual as Jesus, you had to have the faith that Jesus had to fast for 40 days. However, now that I think about it, Jesus didn’t fast cold turkey. When it is recorded in the Gospels about his fasting, it wasn’t his first rodeo. He had been training his whole life for his three years of ministry and the first thing he does before starting his mission is a forty day fast, alone, left to his own devices.
What is my point? Fasting like Jesus is apples and oranges. Jesus did not fast based on our diet and average body weight and daily exercise. Jesus, God in human flesh, prepared himself for a fast. The account in the Gospels was like his black belt test of fasting. He knew exactly what he was getting himself into and knew exactly what feelings and trials that would accompany him on his journey alone without food. The next time you fast, and think you are ready to fast like Jesus, you need to ask yourself, have you earned your six belts before you approach your black belt test? If not, don’t expect some magical experience. Even Jesus didn’t fast cold turkey, so I don’t think you can either.
Baby steps, work your way up. You need to be on top notch shape in order for your body to fast. If you are out of shape, then another reason to get into shape is so that you can obediently fast, which you cannot do if you are not healthy. In fact, science is now showing there are huge medicinal benefits to fasting. Google: intermittent fasting. Science is catching up to the bible, God has built into our system a reset button for our organs that is accomplished when we fast. What is both nourishing for our soul as we seek the Lord, is in turn healing our bodies physically as we practice fasting. Start small, shed some pounds, eat healthier, honor God with your body as a temple and fasting becomes something that you thought was once unattainable, actually physically possible.
In Truth & Love
Matthew J. Diaz
For further information on fasting:
Netflix: The Science of Fasting
Book: The Obesity Code