Is fasting the black sheep?

Fasting is like the black sheep of the spiritual disciplines. Prayer, Bible-reading, worship, simplicity, and servanthood are much more on display. But fasting is often tucked away, kind of awkward, and a bit neglected.

And yet there it is. Fasting was practiced by Moses, David, Elijah, Esther, Daniel, Anna, Paul and, of course, Jesus.

After fasting for forty days, he was hungry. (No kidding!) In Matthew 4:3-4 we read: “The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

But what is fasting?

Richella Parham defines fasting in simple terms like this: “the voluntary denial of some normal function to allow for intense spiritual activity.”*

We aren’t earning anything—nor are we pressuring God, trying to look like spiritual heroes, or engaging in a strange weight loss gimmick. It’s about “intense spiritual activity.”

There are different kinds of fasting. And I would caution against anything major if you have any health concerns, and without doing some research and preparation first. It’s wise to begin small with a “partial” fast for a short time.

Some people go without food, but you can also go without the internet, social media, TV, or something else. The key is denying one thing to focus on another. When that happens, not only are we focusing our spiritual lives, but we are reminded that God alone is our true source of sustaining and saving power.

In North America, it’s more common to focus on getting things instead of giving up things. So perhaps this spiritual practice is long overdue for some attention.

“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”


–I just published a new podcast episode about FASTING. It is called “Fasting: powerful, passed-over, and counter-cultural.” Look for ‘The Pulse Podcast with Matthew Ruttan’ wherever you subscribe to podcasts (iTunes (Apple), Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or TuneIn) or simply click here.

–Bible quotes are from the NIV.

–*Richella Parham, A Spiritual Formation Primer (Renovare, 2014), 97.

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