The Purpose of Fasting

Christ in the Wilderness, Ivan Kramskoy

In the first couple of verses in Matthew 4, we see that after Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit leads him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when he had fasted 40 days and 40 nights and when that period of time was past, Jesus was hungry.

The first thing that I notice here is that the Holy Spirit led Jesus. This wasn’t something that Jesus decided to do on his own because he thought it was a good idea or even that it was a tradition. It was neither. The average person of his day did not go into the wilderness and fast 40 days and nights. The Bible only mentions 4 men who fasted that long. Moses (Deuteronomy 9:9, 18, 25; 10:10), Joshua (Exodus 24:13-18; 32:15-17), Elijah( I Kings 19:7-18), and Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13).

The second thing to notice is the purpose of the fast. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. The wilderness was a desolate, dry place. Centuries earlier the children of Israel were lead out of Egypt (a symbol for sin) into the wilderness. The Israelites were sent into the wilderness where God spoke to them through Moses. They had been taken away from all other cultural influences and God fed them and kept them clothed for 40 years. During that time they were cleansed of Egyptian influences. The adults who would not forget Egypt died there in the wilderness. Once the Israelites were cleansed of their Egyptian influence, they were able to fulfill the mission they were given to go in and subdue the land of Canaan. Without the wilderness experience, I doubt they could have been as effective as they were.

The Bible does not tell about what Jesus experienced in the wilderness during those 40 days. However, based on the Israelites’ experience, I believe I can guess.I believe he spent his time praying and meditating on scripture. During the 40 days and nights of his fast, Jesus spent his every waking hour in communion with his father.  This was his time to get away from the Roman and Jewish cultures that he had grown up in. He may have even spent time with The Father outlining his ministry and all that he had to fulfill before the Roman soldiers led him to the cross.

Fasting for Physical Reasons

Although most people do not fast 40 days and 40 nights, people do fast in our culture for a shorter period of time. Many people fast simply for physical reasons. When we fast, our digestive systems shut down and our bodies have a chance to cleanse themselves of toxins. By fasting we help our bodies heal by giving the digestive system a rest. In today’s society with its harmful colorants and preservatives, fasting for physical reasons can help prevent many chronic diseases.

A couple of years ago I fasted when I had bronchitis.Prior to the fast, I had been taking over the counter medications that seemed to actually make the symptoms worse. Because of this, I stopped taking the medications. It wasn’t a planned fast though,  I simply wasn’t hunger so I didn’t eat. I just drank juices and water for about 2 weeks.

I broke the fast gradually. At first I ate fruits and vegetables, then slowly I added lean meats and nuts, then bread, and finally dairy.  I felt better than I did before I became sick.

Fasting for Spiritual Reasons

Fasting not only benefits us physically, but it also benefits us spiritually if we fast for the right reasons.

I knew a man once whose wife had decided to divorce him, so he started fasting to get God to make her reconsider. Did his wife change her mind? Of course not, the man was trying to manipulate God. Contrary to what some people believe, fasting cannot manipulate God into doing what we want him to do.

What fasting does is put our physical bodies under submission to the Spirit. The most effective Spiritual break through occurs when we are able to separate ourselves from our cultural situations. This occurs when we get into by ourselves with God.   If we would turn off our televisions, our cell phones, our computers, and fast physical desires, God is better able to work through us because we have submitted ourselves to him.

As I remember the physical fast I had and write about the spiritual fast, I think that it may be about time that I consider another fast. I can see how I am controlled physically by many of my own lusts. All the control I had over my body after that physical fast I had two years ago has disappeared. I am overweight and have little control over what I eat. What if I added more of the Spiritual component to it? What if I submitted more of my time to The Word of God and prayer. What if I turned off my television and severely limited the use of my computer. What difference would that make in my Spiritual Walk?

What are your thoughts about this subject?

  1. I just read a great book, “The Hidden Power of Prayer and Fasting: Releasing the Awesome Power of the Praying Church,” by Mahesh Chavda. A great book by a man who went on forty-day fasts twenty-nine times over an eighteen year period.

  2. That sounds interesting, could tell us more about the book. If you want, you could put it on your own blog and put a link from here on comments to your blog.

  3. Beautiful, spiritually uplifting post! I fast when I’m called to, especially in my local church and also for personal reasons, and I realise the benefits both physically and spiritually are immense! Thanks for a great post!!!

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