Why is fasting so difficult for so many? When was the last time you fasted to draw closer to God? What are common barriers or obstacles to fasting? What can we do to help ensure that we fast more frequently and effectively?
This article is not only for baptized adult readers, but also for adults who are not yet baptized and even for teens. Younger people can benefit from learning the concepts that will be explained in this article. They, too, will be in a position to fast in the years ahead—and may already be, pending parental approval.
Would you say that you fast on a “regular” basis, or is your fasting sporadic? Do you fast multiple times throughout the year, or generally only on the Day of Atonement and perhaps an occasional Church-wide fast? This article will provide three different strategies you can use in order to help ensure that you fast regularly before God (Luke 2:37; 2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:27).
Fasting—going completely without food and water for some time (Deuteronomy 9:9, 18)—is one of the “big four” tools of spiritual growth that each of us should employ regularly if we deeply desire to become firstfruits in the Kingdom of God. These four powerful spiritual tools are: prayer (Psalm 142:1–2), meditation (Psalm 119:97–98), Bible study (Acts 17:10–11) and fasting (Daniel 9:3). Christians are admonished to engage in the first three of these every day. As Presiding Evangelist Dr. Roderick C. Meredith and other ministers have repeatedly emphasized, we should generally have a goal of fasting personally about once a month. Nearly all adults should aim to fast this often, barring some extreme health condition and the advice of a physician and their local minister. God’s people must engage in this essential activity in order to grow spiritually. Without regular fasting, Christians run the risk of spiritually stagnating.
True Christians will constantly prod themselves to draw closer to God and overcome, and fasting is an oft-neglected, underutilized tool for doing this. It can propel our spiritual growth in a way nothing else can! In the January-February 2007 Living Church News, Dr. Meredith gave the following admonition: “These are trying times. Make no mistake about it; we need God’s help and His direct intervention… 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…. 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” (“But by Prayer and Fasting,” pp. 3–4).
In truth, brethren, with very few exceptions, we will not be able to develop the humility, faith and courage to endure to the end and enter the Kingdom of God as firstfruits unless we are fasting regularly! Even Jesus Christ Himself fasted (Luke 4:2)!
For more information on how to fast, and on why fasting is important, it would be helpful to review sermons that have been given on the subject. Two excellent choices would be “Lessons from Fasting” by Dr. Douglas S. Winnail and “Fasting and Repentance” by Mr. Richard F. Ames. You may find these in your local congregation’s sermon library (sermons 628 and 577, respectively) or you may watch them online at the www.LCG.org Web site. Also, ask your minister and others for practical tips on how to avoid headaches and other distractions during your fast.
So, why do so few of God’s people fast on a regular basis? And, what are the common barriers that make it so difficult to fast regularly? Here are three reasons many find regular fasting so difficult, and three strategies that can help us overcome these very common barriers.
Barrier 1: “I don’t like to fast.”
Why do so few of God’s people fast on a regular basis? One very common answer is that most simply dislike the experience. We love to eat! God made us to both need and enjoy eating, and most of us simply do not enjoy “going without” and afflicting our souls! Yet denying our physical desires, however difficult, is essential for our entry into God’s Kingdom (Matthew 16:24–25).
So, how do we overcome this barrier? We simply must “push” ourselves to fast regularly, regardless of how much we dislike it at first—because it is the right thing to do! James 4:17 reminds us clearly that if we know to do good but do not do it, it is sin! We all know that regular fasting is extremely important and expected by God, and thus we must make it happen (James 1:22–25; 4:7–10). Christ said His servants would be fasting (Matthew 9:15).
Thankfully, as we learn to fast more regularly, and as we learn how to properly prepare for and end a fast physically, it becomes less difficult. Also, as we learn how to more fully focus our efforts spiritually, we will actually begin to look forward to our fasts—even with excitement! We will begin to enjoy the experience and look forward to the spiritual growth that results from the fast.
Barrier 2: “I don’t have time to fast.”
Many truly desire to fast, yet cannot “find” time to do it regularly. Sometimes we intend to fast “in the next few weeks,” but when the intended time arrives, we are “too busy”—and we forget, only to remember a week or two later. Does this sound familiar?
One very useful key is to schedule a time to fast. Yes, that is right—write it down on the calendar and plan other events and activities around your scheduled fast.
Regular fasting requires prudent use of the time God has given us. We are to be “redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15–16). We must use the time while we have it or it will be gone! In reality, if we do not schedule a time to fast, we can guarantee that Satan will help our lives become exceptionally busy around the time we intend to fast. The result? Before we know it, we may find ourselves several weeks past our intended fast date, still trying to find “a good time” to fast. The key is to pick a specific time every month, at the beginning, middle or end, and write it on your calendar. Be sure to let your spouse know (or your parents, for young people still living at home), so they do not expect you for meals that day.
Barrier 3: “Something keeps coming up.”
Have you ever planned a fast, only to arrive at the date and have a major incident or opportunity come up, resulting in delaying or foregoing your fast? As we plan to fast, not only should we schedule a time to fast every month, but we should also protect that time with all of our might—preventing anything else from disrupting this time we set aside to draw closer to God (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
Years ago, I worked with a colleague who used her lunchtime every day to go for a walk. It was impossible to schedule any type of meeting with her from noon to 1:00 p.m. on a weekday, because she “protected” that time for her walks and would not yield. Although at the time I thought her example was a bit extreme, I tried to learn from her stubborn and steadfast practice. As I meditated and prayed about it, I realized that I should be willing to “protect” my time to fast, as she guarded her time to walk! The reality is that we now live in Satan’s world (Ephesians 2:2). When we start to plan a fast, Satan is also aware of it and will do all he can to preempt or delay our fast. He knows that if we are overly busy, overly stressed, or if we have a “special opportunity” arise, we will more than likely delay or forego our fast. Very occasionally, events will occur in our lives that do force us to postpone a fast. But, we must be careful, because the more frequently we delay or cancel a fast, the easier this action will become.
So, we must pick a day to fast when we will be the least busy. Perhaps a Sunday is best. We might need to take a day off work from time to time. Occasionally, we might even use the Sabbath to fast and draw closer to God. It is best to avoid fasting on a workday or school day, as you will typically be focused on “other things” all day and have little time to clearly focus on God and the reasons you are fasting (Matthew 22:37–38).
Remember, Satan also knows we are fasting or planning to fast and will do his best to disrupt this vital spiritual activity! God also allows situations to arise to see how important our fast is to us—situations that tempt us to break or compromise our fast. God allows this testing to see where our priorities truly lie. Christ warned that if we deny Him, He will deny us to the Father (Matthew 10:33). When we say we intend to fast, but then allow some circumstance to preempt our intention, are we—in effect—denying Christ?
I can recall various times when I have been tempted during a fast. Many times during a fast I have been offered tasty baked goods. I have had to catch myself before taking and eating them. On other occasions, I (alone or with my family) have been invited to eat with brethren during the time of a personal fast. We have been faced with the options of either declining the dinner invitation and asking for a different date, and possibly offending the host, or breaking a commitment with our Creator.
What Must We Remember?
Fasting is a practice that we all need to engage in on a regular basis. It is both crucial and essential to our spiritual growth. Thus, we must make the time to do it. In order to successfully fast regularly, there are three barriers that we must overcome.
First, we must fast no matter how much we dislike the feeling at first (again, barring any major health issue). Fasting is the right thing to do—and we need it in order to grow spiritually! Second, we must make time to fast regularly by scheduling it ahead of time. We must plan for it—arrange the week or weekend around it. Let close family members know we are planning it so that they do not expect us to eat that day. We must plan our schedules so that nothing will interrupt our focus on God and the reasons for fasting. Third, we must protect the time that we set aside to fast. Do not let anything overrun this special time to focus on God and grow spiritually. We must avoid situations where we know we might be tempted to break our fast. We must not create or allow situations in which we can come up with “excuses” for breaking the fast. And we should avoid people and situations that may tempt us to end a fast early.
As we employ these three keys, we will be able to fast more regularly, and our fasting experiences will become more meaningful and bring about far greater spiritual growth. And, we will develop the faith and courage that are essential for entry into God’s Kingdom! We must all be absolutely sure to make time to fast regularly! So… when will you schedule your next fast? Mark it on your calendar today, and start preparing right now!