Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Part Four: Fasting (Back 2 Basics Series)

My mom despises driving. She always has.

This is a foreign idea to me. There’s not much I love more than a road trip, losing myself in loud music, singing my heart out (to the dismay of those in the car with me), while watching the dotted highway lines tick by. I do some of my best thinking while driving. I certainly do some of my best singing from behind a steering wheel; don’t you? It’s even better than in the shower.

The day I turned sixteen and received my driver’s license, my mom handed me her keys and let me be her chauffeur until I moved away to college. There was tremendous freedom and joy in that old 1978 Pontiac Grand Am, but there was one huge point of frustration: the car had no stereo. None.

It’s the only car I’ve ever seen without a sound system of any sort. In the dashboard, where a radio and maybe even a cassette tape player would normally be, was a piece of PVC that matched the rest of the car’s interior. It was like a surgical wound that had healed over without a scar.

Can you envision a sixteen-year-old girl driving around in a car with her girlfriends, listening to . . . nothing? I couldn’t either. So I pulled my boom box out of my bedroom, loaded it with batteries, and took it on the road. Before long the retractable antenna snapped off and the portable radio had considerable trouble tuning into our local radio stations. Sometimes if I held the remaining antenna nub with my right hand while I drove with my left, I could hear an entire song. In every instance that a 1980s hit came through the speakers with clarity, it made me want to stop on the side of the road to have a good long listen.

There’s a point to this story that ties back to victory. Really. And it’s something I’ve recently learned.

When I practice the spiritual discipline of a fast, it helps me tune into the Holy Spirit like those moments when an FM station boomed with clarity through my makeshift car stereo. I know, that surely sounds strange, so please let me explain.

To Fast or Not to Fast

For years I’ve had an intense curiosity about fasting. I tried it a few times, to a degree that I consider unsuccessful. One time I fasted and prayed through lunch. When I felt I had prayed to a point of completion, I “negotiated” with God and was eating a sandwich by 2:00 p.m. Most of the other times when I tried to abstain from food, I considered how much weight I might lose. It was clear my heart was far from the right place to practice the spiritual discipline. My desires and intent were focused on self and were anything but holy or righteous.

Little by little and over many years, I developed a deeper understanding about what a fast is, how one works, and the reasons behind fasting. And as I practiced and developed the discipline, the benefits became obvious. I now consider fasting one of the most life-changing spiritual disciplines I am blessed to experience.

I’ll keep things very simple here and share a few of the highlights that I’ve learned and some of the blessings that I’ve seen.

The Lord's Instruction

Jesus provided instruction for fasting in Matthew 6:16-18. He started by setting the expectation saying “Whenever you fast . . .” Note he did not say if you fast, but he emphasized when. Fasting is expected, just as prayer and giving, as mentioned throughout Matthew 6.

The Lord then emphasized that a fast is not intended for others to see. Professor and author Donald S. Whitney expounds on the Lord’s instruction saying, “The only Observer of your fast should be the Secret One. No one else should know that you are fasting unless it is absolutely unavoidable or necessary. If you are married, or if someone regularly cooks for you, courtesy may require that you tell your spouse or someone else about your fast. The problem is not whether another person knows or asks about your fast, but whether you want him or her to know or ask so that you can appear more spiritual.”1 As with most spiritual matters, it’s how we present our hearts before the Lord that is most important. We should fast not for recognition, but to draw near to and seek the will of the Lord.

What I've Learned

One of my biggest revelations about fasting is that we’re not required to pray during every moment of the fast. Yes, we are to pray without ceasing and stay in constant communion with God (1 Thess. 5:16–17). But that’s whether we’re currently fasting or not. When we fast, we are to go about our other, routine daily activities, just as normal but without food. When the hunger pangs strike, it’s a reminder for us to seek the Lord, and then we are to pray as he leads. We can use the time we would have spent preparing or eating a meal as time devoted to prayer.

As 1 Thessalonians 5:23 teaches us, we are spirit, soul, and body. In that order. It reminds us that we are first spiritual beings and then physical beings. This is also emphasized in Job 10:11, which indicates that God clothed our spiritual beings with skin and flesh. The spirit was first and was clothed with the body.

It is important that we feed our spirits. It seems counterintuitive to feed something by withholding food, but that’s exactly how we feed our spirits. By depriving ourselves of food, we are agreeing with God that our spiritual needs come before our physical needs. Believe me, there is great power and freedom in putting action to this idea.

Now, a fast does not have to take place over a long period of time. My favorite length of fast in this particular season of my life is from dinner on one day through breakfast the next day. I break the fast at lunch. All in all, I skip two meals and sleep through several hours of the fast. When you seek the Lord regarding how long to fast, I’m certain he’ll provide you with an appropriate length of time.

It’s very helpful for me to have a purpose behind my fast. Perhaps I’m seeking deliverance of some sort for a loved one. Or spiritual clarity for an upcoming decision I need to make. As a writer and teacher, I often fast and seek the Lord’s face for clear direction on a message. I will write the purpose of my fast in my calendar, then journal the promptings I receive from the Holy Spirit. These frequently come straight out of the Bible, and because I’m listening to the Spirit with deliberate intent, I discern his direction as it pertains to what I seek.

This is what I mean by saying I feel as if a fast helps me “tune into the Holy Spirit.” Tremendous clarity and discernment come when I’m physically hungry and spiritually fed. It’s undeniable direction from the Lord, and I’ve learned to treasure it immensely.

Fasting is not just for our Jewish friends and didn’t end after Queen Esther’s time. Its expectation for all of us is delineated in Scripture (Mt 6:16-17). A fast is not presented in God’s Word as an optional practice, yet it’s often neglected in our society.

Blessings of Fasting

We rob ourselves of great blessing when we ignore the instruction to fast. Such blessings include the following:
·     A deeper yearning for God. When we acknowledge that we need God more than we need food, it intensifies our desire for and our communion with the Lord.
·     A heart filled with praise. By focusing on God rather than our meals, we can better see the wonder of what God provides in our very midst. Things that are simple and routine begin to seem supernatural—and they are! It becomes easy to praise the Lord in spirit and truth when we more readily see his wonders.
·    Lasting satisfaction. When we’re filled by God, it is satisfying on a far deeper level than providing food to our bodies. We’re not hungry for him again in a few hours because he fills us to overflowing with his presence. And when we fast, that filling is ongoing, like an infinity pool.
·     Clarity. I shared about this above: we can suddenly better hear and discern God’s direction. We have better sensitivity to his leading.
·   Physical benefits. There are many physical advantages to fasting, such as lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, promoting muscle building, normalizing insulin sensitivity, slowing the aging process, and more. (Dr. Josh Axe, “The Many Benefits of Fasting” accessed July 28, 2016, https://draxe.com/the-many-benefits-of-fasting/). It’s no surprise that fasting is good for us because, after all, God invented it.

Note: If you have health concerns, please seek medical advice before beginning a fast.

Yes, we should fast. We know this. Sometimes, however, it feels necessary to seek the Lord and ask for the desire to fast, along with a heart to honor him in and through it.

If your health and medical condition allow, give it a try. You may not do it well the first time or two that you attempt it, but as you progress and begin to experience its blessings and effectiveness, you won’t regret it!

1 Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), 197.

This post is an excerpt from Victorious: Finding Triumph When Hope Seems Lost by Cathy McIntosh.

Your Turn:

What is your experience with fasting?  I'd love to hear your successes and struggles.

If you're an experienced at fasting, what encouragement would you offer to someone who's considering a spiritual fast for the first time? 

Connect with Strengthened by the Word Ministries on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or on our website. We look forward to engaging with you!

Be Strengthened Today, By His Word
Psalm 119:28


Cathy McIntosh is the author of Victorious: Finding Triumph When Hope Seems Lost. When you can’t see God’s activity in your situation, you might begin to feel hopeless. You’re tempted to doubt His care and involvement in your life because He feels so . . . absent. Victory feels elusive, as if God intends it for everyone but you.

But God is never absent. He is as involved in your life today as He was when He protected Queen Esther and the entire Jewish nation from annihilation, and He will bring victory.


  1. What a great and interesting article! I have never done a fast, but it sounds like a great spiritual experience and something that will definitely draw you near to the Lord. If Jesus did it, it must definitely be important for us to do too. Thank you for this!

    1. You're most welcome, Madison. I put it off for so long and I'm sorry I did. I wish I would have started much sooner in life!

  2. This is was so cool! I've only fasted once in high school and it was with a group. I've thought about it once in a while, but like you I tend to think more about the health benefits. It was great to read about the many other benefits of fasting. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Meg! I pray you try another fast again soon and find rich blessing in it!

  3. I've never done a fast either. Whenever I considered it, I realized I was in a fast-paced period of my life and realized it probably wasn't not wise to add to the stress my body was under. After I graduated from college, I was already pregnant. Maybe one day I'll be free from pregnancy and nursing and will be able to attempt a fast then.

    1. It's imperative that we fast when our health will permit it. I'm glad you're being cautious - and wise - in that, Lauren!

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  4. I must admit Im not great at fasting. I have done corporate fasts and insist on doing personal fasts only when God leads. Thanks for this post its encouraging to hear it. I do love the clarity God brings during a fast. Its inspiring me to trust God to exercise this spiritual discipline

    1. I certainly don't look forward to the physical part of a fast, but once I'm in it I see rapid benefits. The blessings make me wonder why I'm so prone to procrastinating the practice! :) Thanks for commenting, Ailie.