For many of us, fasting is either an anomaly that we do once in a long while or it is a complete mystery because we don’t understand what it means to fast. Fasting is not a wide-spread practice among Christians in America, yet in referring to it, Jesus said, “when you fast…”(Matt 6:16). Jesus saw fasting as a matter of not “if”, but “when.” In another place he says to his followers that they “will fast” not “might fast” (Matt 9:15). But what does fasting really mean?
Fasting is voluntarily going without an earthly comfort (often food) in order to draw closer to your heavenly Father and see him move in your life and world. It is humbling yourself before God and seeking to grow in dependence on him like you depend on food. When Jesus was fasting and praying in the wilderness and was tempted by Satan, he quoted Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). Jesus was saying we need God more than food. Fasting is a practice that helps remind us of this truth.
One author put it this way: “Fasting is for this world, for stretching our hearts to get fresh air beyond the pain and trouble around us. And it is for the battle against the sin and weakness inside us. We express our discontent with our sinful selves and our longing for more of Christ.” Fasting denies us food and moves us out of our comfort zones so we can see ourselves, our sin, and, most importantly God, more clearly. Fasting is for greater joy in God.
In his book on fasting, A Hunger for God, John Piper gives four biblical reasons for fasting:
• We fast because we’re hungry for God’s Word and God’s Spirit in our lives.
• We fast because we long for God’s glory to resound in the church and God’s praise to resound among the nations.
• We fast because we yearn for God’s Son to return and God’s kingdom to come.
• Ultimately we fast simply because we want God more than we want anything this world has to offer us.
Fasting is not meant to be done by itself, but is always partnered with a greater focus on prayer. Whatever extra time you gain not eating (or other comfort), you should focus on prayer. Whatever moments you feel a longing for food (or whatever else you are fasting from) should lead you into a prayer of dependency on God. In the bible and in church history, God has used prayer and fasting in an unusual way to awaken his church, empower them for mission, and move them to greater levels of joy and fruitfulness in Christ. If you desire to put away sin and grow more in Christ this year, and you desire to see City on a Hill make a greater impact for Christ, this week of fasting is a big step in that direction for all of us.
Below is a guide for fasting and prayer this week. Each day has a different type of fast. You are welcome to follow the suggestions for each day or substitute some food or other comfort in a way that helps you draw close to Christ. For example, Tuesday’s fast is social media. Maybe you are not on social at all. Rather than saying, “well, that will be an easy day for me!”, I encourage you to fast from something else that day.
I hope we can join together as a church and seek Christ this week. Each day, as you feel the longing for the “missing” item (food or whatever it may be), let it move you to cry out to God in prayer, “I need you more than _____ (whatever you are missing).”
I am indebted to John Piper’s book Hungry for God for some of the material for this guide. If you want to explore this topic more, I encourage you to buy the book or download the PDF (free) at DesiringGod.org.
Some suggestions for the week…
• Make this week work for you. Maybe this week would work best for you if, in addition to the daily fasts, you decide to be off social media all week, to fast a couple of meals on different days, or give up some other activity not listed.
• Consider fasting from alcohol all week (if you drink) in order to keep your mind 100% clear for prayer and hearing from God.
• As part of our Reach Campaign in 2017, we are all praying for one friend to come to believe the gospel and experience new life in Christ this year. Be sure to pray for your friend each day.
• Develop a prayer list for the week and pray with faith believing God can answer your prayers. There will be prayer suggestions on certain days but please pray as the Spirit leads you.
• Spend time in the Bible as you pray, especially in a place like the Psalms, which are often written in a prayer format.
• Take time to praise God each day. Incorporate music or singing (other than on Friday) to help connect your heart with God as you fast and pray.
• Stay connected to your Community Group throughout the week. Text and email each other about how you are feeling, what God is teaching you, and how God is working.
SUNDAY (1/22) PRAYER AND PREPARATION
Take time to prepare yourself for the fast this week. Fasting and prayer is used to forward the kingdom of God, but the impact begins with us individually. In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says, “More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside of us with food and other things.”
Take time to reflect, confess, and pray to God as we start the week.
• Have you become comfortable with a particular sin in your life?
• What person or thing are you most tempted to look to for your identity more than God?
• Have you grown in Christ over the last year? What has kept you from growing more?
• Do you find yourself trusting in your own gifts and abilities more than God?
• What is one thing that you desire to God do in you this year?
Take time to talk to God about this coming week. Pray through each of the reasons for fasting that John Piper gives by turning them into a personal prayer to God:
• I am fasting because I’m hungry for Your Word and Your Spirit in my life.
• I am fasting because I long for Your glory to resound in the church and Your praise to resound among the nations.
• I am fasting because I yearn for Jesus’ to return and Your kingdom to come.
• I am fasting simply because I want You more than I want anything this world has to offer me.
As we move into this week of prayer and fasting, I encourage you to really believe God has the power and desire to move in each of us in ways we can’t begin to grasp. Let’s trust the Lord and call on the Lord to move for his glory and our joy.
Scripture for the day
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph. 3:20-21, ESV)
MONDAY (1/23) FAST FROM FOOD ALL DAY OR COMMIT TO FAST FOR A MEAL
*If you are pregnant or have a health issue that would keep you from being able to skip a meal, consider cutting something else out of your day to focus on God.
Today you are denying your body food to remind your body and soul that you need God more than you need a meal. As you feel hunger pangs let them move you to short prayers throughout your day that express your dependency on God.
Scripture for the day:
Psalm 34:8 “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!”
If you “taste” God this week and see that he is better than food, fun, work, school, friends, clothes, Netflix, and every other blessing or comfort in life, what impact would it make on you? Take time today to pray (along with your other requests) that you would experience God’s presence and power in a fresh way this week.
TUESDAY (1/24) FAST FROM SOCIAL MEDIA (or something else if you are not on social media)
Social media takes up a significant chunk of most of our lives. According to recent research, the average person spends 116 minutes a day on social media (posting and reading). Maybe you don’t spend that much time, but taking a break today should give you some extra time to pray.
“The birthplace of Christian fasting is homesickness for God.” John Piper opens his book Hungry for God with this sentence. Do you find yourself homesick for God? If not, what is it that may be drawing your attention away from him?
Scripture for the day:
"Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever." Psalm 73:25–26
Pray today that your heart may find its true home only in God and pray the same for the people in your social circles, by name – friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors.
WEDNESDAY (1/25) FAST FROM COFFEE OR YOUR FAVORITE BEVERAGE (other than water!)
*If you are a person who only drinks water, you might consider just drinking room temp water (not cold) to at least create an awareness of not enjoying water like you normally do. Or you you could consider fasting from some other food or comfort you enjoy.
I love coffee. I enjoy a good pour over, a well-made latte, and even the occasional cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee. I love the taste, the energy it gives me, and the way it helps me focus. Today will be a tough day for those of us who drink coffee everyday. Today’s fast is a way of reminding us that our deepest thirst is met only in God.
Scripture for the day:
Psalm 63:1 “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (ESV)
THURSDAY (1/26) FAST FROM SWEETS OR SOME OTHER TYPE OF FOOD YOU REALLY ENJOY
John Piper once wrote, “The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison, but apple pie.” Maybe it is not apple pie for you but maybe some other kind of sweets or special food that you enjoy as a treat. Nothing is wrong with these things in and of themselves but giving them up for today is a way of honoring the spiritual joy of knowing God over the physical joy of tasting a something sweet and satisfying.
“Fasting, if we conceive of it truly, must not be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose.” -Martin Lloyd-Jones, 20th century Physician and Pastor, Westminster Chapel (London)
Scripture for the day:
Psalm 119:103 “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
FRIDAY (1/27) - FAST FROM SOUND (speaking, music, TV, or whatever normally “fills” your ears)
Seek silence by cutting out as much of the noise of life you can, like listening to music, watching YouTube, and unnecessary conversations. Silence is so rare in our world today that you will likely find it challenging to find a quiet space and rest in the silence. This type of fast can be tough if your job involves talking with people throughout the day but there is still a way to honor it. Instead of seeking out conversations this day, take the time to pray and tune your heart to God. Instead of taking your lunch break with friends or co-workers, just find a quiet spot to yourself to eat, be in the Word, and pray. Take time before and after work to seek silence and solitude as you are able.
"Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God."- Andrew Murray
Scripture for the day:
Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (ESV)
SATURDAY (1/28) - FAST FROM YOUR PHONE
Make your “smart phone” a “dumb phone” for a day. Don’t use it unless you NEED it. That means no apps, no texting, etc. unless it is work related or an emergency. One simple way to keep you from mindlessly picking it up and using it is to change your display settings to grayscale/monochrome for the day. This step is easy for both iPhones and Android phones (just google it for directions) and it will remind you of the fast the moment you pick your phone up to use it. Being undistracted by our phones on this day will allow us to be more in tune with God and the people he puts around us.
Scripture for the day:
Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (ESV)
Pray that, by God’s grace, CoaH would be able to shine the light of the gospel in our city. Pray for CoaH’s Sunday gatherings tomorrow as we gather together after this week of fasting and prayer. Ask God to move in the hearts and lives of each person who will worship with CoaH tomorrow.
Pray, thanking God for this week and what he has done in your life and in the life of others in City on a Hill. Ask God to help you continue to walk with him as this week of fasting ends.