Spiritual Benefits of Fasting

Do you know how to fast or why to fast? This article by evangelist R.C. Meredith will help with that plus the spiritual benefits of fasting. This article was from the Living Church News, January-February 2007, beginning on page 3. At the end of the article are his suggestions/tips for preparing physically and spiritually to fast. Fasting, from a physical perspective, has actually been shown to reduce heart disease (see end of article).

But by Prayer and Fasting

These are trying times. Make no mistake about it; we need God’s help and His direct intervention— now.

For times such as these, the Apostle Paul instructs us to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10–12).

That is exactly what we are fighting. A higher power—Satan the devil—is our real antagonist. It is time we all recognize that.

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (v. 13). We need that armor of God.

We need spiritual help in resisting ourselves, in overcoming the world (which strikes us from many different directions)
and in resisting and overcoming Satan the devil, who is also striking at us in remarkable and unusual ways he has never used against us before.

A Means to Spiritual Help

Scripture tells us what our Savior did to acquire spiritual strength, in connection with the devil’s attack on Him: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted [or tried] by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry” (Matthew 4:1–2). Notice—He fasted!

Moses, who was a “type” of Jesus, took neither bread or water when he fasted (Deuteronomy 9:9, 18). In like manner, the Son of God fasted to humble Himself, to be close to God spiritually, lest He forget how weak He was in the flesh.

“Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread’” (Matthew 4:3). Imagine how hungry Jesus was after 40 days and nights of total fasting! The very cells of His body were crying out in a type of hunger that you and I have never experienced. But still He kept His wits, fasting for the right reason and in the right way, through prayer and meditation. In doing so, He was close in spirit to the invisible God. Responding to the devil, He answered and said: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (v. 4 ). That is what you and I need to learn to live by, more and more as these days continue, before the second coming of Jesus Christ.

The devil had to leave Christ alone because of the spiritual strength He expressed even in His physical weakness. We, too, can live by the same strength Jesus had.

But Should Christians Fast?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His disciples to give generously from the heart, and to pray to God continually. Notice that He said, “Moreover, when you fast…” (Matthew 6:16). He did not say “if” you fast; He took it for granted that His disciples would fast. Christ said, “when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance.

For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward” (ibid.) In other words, their reward is whatever praise they receive from other people for showing off their fasting. He continued: “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (vv. 17–18). Truly, God Almighty will do that for those of us who come before Him in fasting, as Jesus Christ said we should. Later, the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?” (Matthew 9:14). Jesus explained that as long as He was with them, it was like a wedding— a time to rejoice. “But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast” (v. 15). Although it was not yet fitting for His disciples to fast, as He explained in the next couple of verses, they would fast when their time came, yet they would do it for different reasons and in a whole new situation, with a whole new attitude and a whole new approach to God.

We Christians are not to punish ourselves, thinking that this will force God to hear our prayers. God is not interested in penance. That is just as if you or I would take whips and beat each other’s backs, saying, “Look at our suffering, God, so hear us.” The idea behind our fasting is quite different from that. We seek the invisible God. We fast to humble ourselves—to make ourselves realize how weak we are, and that we are little children, saying, in effect: “Father, we are up against a great army, and there are great forces around us. We don’t always know what we should do, and we need your help. We need guidance. And we need deliverance. We recognize that we are merely flesh that is slowly decaying toward death, and so we are fasting. You are our God. You are our banner. You are our shield. You are our refuge. You are our high tower. You’re our champion. You’re our deliverer. We are your little children. Please help us draw near to You.”

When Nothing But Fasting Will Do

I think most of us are familiar with the story that begins in Mark 9:17–29. A man came to Christ and addressed Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not” (vv. 17–18). And so Jesus said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me” (v. 19). And then, the unclean spirit threw the son on the ground where he lay foaming at the mouth, while Jesus questioned the father about him and reassured him, “If you can believe, all things are possible” (v. 23). Then He rebuked the foul spirit. He did not talk to the boy. He talked directly to the demon, “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” (v. 25). And the spirit obeyed. But what connection does that have with fasting? Notice: “And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ So He said to them, ‘This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting’” (v. 29).

The word fasting here should be in all your Bibles, though a few modern translations like the NIV incorrectly leave it out. Some of the big problems in our lives, and in God’s Church—and some of the attacks by Satan the devil—can only be overcome by prayer plus fasting. We must not leave out fasting. Remember, we are fighting “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”—not just human beings. That is why we must have the spiritual power that can come only from God. But to receive it, our own attitudes must be right.

The Acceptable Fast

In many places, the New King James Version, though generally quite accurate, is not as easily understandable as it might be. The Living Bible puts Isaiah 58 in a way that may be especially meaningful. “‘We have fasted before you,’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? Why don’t you see our sacrifices? Why don’t you hear our prayers? We’ve done much penance and you don’t even notice it!’ I’ll tell you why! Because you’re living in evil pleasure even while you are fasting, and you keep right on oppressing your workers” (v. 3). We need to be sure to treat the people around us well—and not hate them and fight them and gossip against them and put them down and judge them.

“Look, what good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. Is this what I want—this kind of penance and bowing like reeds in the wind and putting on sackcloth and covering yourselves with ashes?” (vv. 3–5). You know how it goes: just showing an outward, “Oh, God! Oh, God!” Is this what God wants—a lot of hollering and Pentecostal-type fervor? No! Isaiah continues: “Is that what you call fasting? No, the kind of fast I want is that you stop oppressing those who work for you and treat them fairly and give them what they earn. I want you to share your food with the hungry, and bring right into your own homes those who are helpless, poor and destitute. Clothe those who are cold and don’t hide from relatives who need your help” (vv. 5–7). Yes, we need to do these things, to help others when we can. Isaiah goes on: “If you do these things God will shed his own glorious light upon you. He will heal you; your godliness will lead you forward and goodness will be a shield before you, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then, when you call, the Lord will answer, ‘Yes, I am here,’ He will quickly reply. All you need to do is to stop oppressing the weak and stop making false accusations and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be bright as day. And the Lord will guide you with all good things, and keep you healthy too; and you will be like a wellwatered garden, like an ever-flowing spring” (vv. 8–11, Living Bible).

Indeed, brethren, we do need to fast. We do need to grow closer to God. But we can only do this by restraining ourselves—not only from food and drink, but also from pride and strife, and quarreling and vindictiveness and oppressing one another. Instead, we should help and serve one another.

Prayer and Fasting Go Together

There was a time when the prophet Daniel really, desperately wanted to know what would happen in the future: “Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). Prayer always goes along with fasting.

How often in my Christian life have I somehow become caught in a wrong mood or situation just before a day of fasting, and gone through the day in more or less a carnal manner? Perhaps I did my work, but I did not set aside extra time to study the Bible, maybe on my knees, or to pray to God a long time, or to meditate and drink in of God’s ideas and attitudes. So, what did I get out of it? A bad headache, sometimes. Perhaps I lost a little weight, and maybe my body was a little more purified. Maybe there was a certain help God gave me in spite of my weakness the next day, because as the food comes back in, the physical strength flows back, and one has a little extra zest. You know the saying: “When you quit hitting yourself on the head, it feels so good when you stop.” You get the picture. But the fasting did not do me nearly as much good as if I had really been drinking in of God’s word, and praying and meditating during that day of fasting.

That is what Daniel was doing. Daniel went on: “And I prayed to the LORD my God, and made confession, and said, ‘O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned…’” (vv. 4–5). Notice he did not say, “Oh, we’ve been good, and we’ve done no wrong, and You don’t have any right to punish us.”

Rather, he told God he was sorry, and that “we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments…. Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face” (vv. 5, 7). Then: “Now therefore, our God, hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications, and for the Lord’s sake cause Your face to shine on Your sanctuary, which is desolate” (v. 17). Daniel called on God, not on his own righteousness—he had (and we have) none. When we reach that attitude like Daniel’s, our fasting is doing some good.

Notice the result of Daniel’s prayerful fast. An archangel came to him and told him: “At the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved” (v. 23). Why was Daniel so greatly loved? Because he humbled himself sincerely before God. There are certainly “health fasts” you can undertake, but do not attempt a spiritual fast unless you truly intend to use it to grow closer to God. Be sure you take plenty of time to study, to meditate and to pray, or you will not receive the good out of your fast that you would—and you should!

Remember James’ caution, “do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’? But He gives more grace [grace greater than the lust of the human spirit]. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:5–6). This is a vital point. Then: “Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (vv. 9–10).

Brethren, that is God’s promise to us! We must not let down in the matter of prayer and fasting!

Prepare for Your Fast Physically

1. Before you fast, prepare your body for the shock. Do not eat a great big meal (certainly not one including a big, sweet dessert), or indulge in a pepper steak or some spicy hot Mexican food just before your fast begins. These make you crave water, and all during your fast this will distract you into thinking, “Oh, no, I’m going to die!” For a profitable spiritual fast, you need a clear but humbled mind. So it is best to taper off on food, especially sweets and strong spices. Drink a lot of water the day before, to help begin to cleanse your system.

2. Take steps to ensure your digestive system is as free of poisons as it can be during your fast, so any headaches and other symptoms of hunger will be as mild as possible. Make sure you take proper care of your individual health needs before you fast, so you can obtain the maximum benefit and feel the fewest possible physical distractions when you fast. You may wish to consult your physician if you have a health condition that fasting can affect.

3. Fast regularly enough for your body to adjust itself to the practice. Some people who think they are “about to die” when they fast could actually find fasting much easier if they did it for a day every month or two, if their health allows.

4. After your fast, begin eating again slowly. Do not swallow a huge steak in the first ten minutes. It will actually do you more good if you eat a smaller, lighter meal, or eat a meal spread out over a couple of hours in stages—maybe beginning with a warm, creamy soup. If your fast has lasted for longer than a day, it may be far better—or even necessary—to end it with something very small, like some stewed prunes or maybe a poached or soft-boiled egg.

Spiritual Keys to Fasting

1. Do not fast to get. And do not think you are fasting “for the Work.” We fast to grow closer to God, and the Work benefits from our closeness to God. God does not bargain with you, as if He will do your will if only you will fast for a few days! That is not how He works! Fast to humble yourself and to seek God’s will—yes, God’s correction and God’s guidance in your life—and to grasp God’s perspective
on your situation.

2. Consider dividing your time during the fast as Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong indicated in his Autobiography. During a fast, he used to divide his waking time among three activities. He would study the Bible for about an hour. Then he would meditate on what he had studied for about an hour, sometimes sitting, or sometimes walking around. Then he would pray for about an hour. Bible study, meditation and prayer—these are the keys to a successful spiritual fast!

Fasting is done by faithful Christians throughout the year, but also specifically on the The Day of Atonement.

Here is some additional information on fasting:

Fasting Reduces Risk of Heart Disease. In a study of more than 4,500 Mormons in Utah, researchers examined behaviors that were associated with lower risk of coronary artery disease—heart disease. After accounting for other factors (smoking, alcohol use, coffee and tea ingestion), researchers discovered that those who fasted routinely (without food or drink) were at lower risk for heart disease than those who did not fast. Fasting was also associated with lower diabetes risk (The American Journal of Cardiology, October 1, 2008). In the Old Testament, God direct His people to “afflict their soul” or fast as a tool for building humility and drawing closer to Him (see Leviticus 23:27; Esther 4:16; Psalm 35:13, 109:24; Isaiah 58:3-6). We see this behavior continued in the New Testament (Acts 27:9). Although many claim that God’s commands in the Old Testament were “nailed to the cross,” honest students of the Scriptures realize that God’s principles are consistent throughout the entire Bible (2 Timothy 3:16). Fasting is a tool that God intended to be used for spiritual purposes. However, there are also health benefits built into the practice of fasting—that modern research verifies! God said that those who keep His commandments and statutes would not be afflicted with diseases common among the Egyptians (Exodus 15:26). The historical record indicates that heart disease and diabetes were common diseases, especially among aristocratic Egyptians. While fasting is not the “magic bullet” for health, God has built in physical health benefits for those who routinely use this spiritual tool! (World Ahead Weekly Update. Living Church of God, June 2, 2011)

I have always suspected that fasting must reduce the risk of heart disease and it is nice that science is now coming to the same conclusion.

Thiel B. www.cogwriter.com/prayer-fasting.htm COGwriter 2011

Back to home page