By Lucas Damoff, member of All Saints Dallas
Christian discipline is the practice of tangibly inviting the Holy Spirit to change us further and further into the image of Jesus Christ. Fasting is one of many powerful ways we can do this. For centuries Christians have taken the season of Lent as an opportunity to engage in a more concentrated and intentional practice of the Christian disciplines, especially fasting.
While we may commonly speak of fasting from things like television or social media, most properly, fasting relates to abstention from all or certain foods. In this, fasting touches on the most primal realities of embodied human existence. We need food to live, and denying ourselves this most basic need for a brief time can serve as a powerful reminder of our frailty, our mortality and our dependence on God.
Fasting should not be undertaken lightly or in a desire to seem spiritual. Matthew 6:16-18 warns against that, and Christ frequently alludes to the danger of self-righteousness creeping up on those who make too much of their own habit of fasting. So how should we undertake a fast? And what should we expect the result of a fast to be?
Ultimately fasting should be undertaken humbly and prayerfully. It should be a conscious redirection of energy and priority. If forgoing food entirely, one might spend the time one would have spent preparing and enjoying food in prayer. If simply forgoing certain types of foods, one might take the normal desire or craving for those foods as a prompt to pray. It can be helpful to pick a particular issue to commit ourselves to pray for, from something very global in scope (like praying for the persecuted church around the world) to something deeply personal (such as the salvation of a loved one or greater personal holiness in a particular area).
If you have never fasted before and feel called to begin the discipline, don’t be afraid to start small. This Lent, consider foregoing desserts or abstaining from a single meal once or twice a week. The rigorous extremity of our fasting is less important than the devotion to Christ that motivates it and the desire to be formed ever more into his likeness. The promise is that in taking the time to renounce some of our most basic desires we will find it easier to renounce sin and to reorder our lives in accordance with God’s design.
As we begin the season of Lent, take time to consider if the Holy Spirit is calling you to undertake a fast during this season, and if so, in what manner. Fasting is never easy and can be quite frustrating. But the promise is that it will give us more of Christ and that it will form us more and more into his image.