Are You Ready to Fast? What do You Have to Gain?

January 4, 2023 | Matt Angell

Next week we begin 40 days of fasting. Several years ago, we were part of a church where the pastor decided to fast from food for 40 days. He drank water and ate only chicken broth. By the end, he had lost so much weight he looked sick. I am glad we are not doing that!

This fasting plan calls for four 10-day cycles where we sacrifice things like one daily meal, sweets, or meats. There is also a full 40 day fast from secular media. That last one feels like a lot. Like most of you, I have access to secular media readily available all day long. It is what I go to when I am bored. When I have to stand in line for thirty minutes or thirty seconds that phone comes out and I ease my impatient heart with sports scores and political commentary. Every time I get into the car, I immediately connect to the Bluetooth and start up a podcast. Sometimes it is a sermon, but often, it is not.

For you it may not be secular media. Perhaps it is the sweets or the daily meal that feels like a huge commitment. It is possible that there is nothing on the fasting plan that is a sacrifice for you. You may have to think outside the box a little and consider something else from which to fast. Regardless of whether it is secular media, sweets, meat, video games, or lottery tickets, how do we give up something that helps us get through each day for 40 days?

As I ask that question, I can see where I am already going wrong. I am focused on the wrong thing. Fasting is not about what I am giving up, it is about what I am gaining. A better question is this: how can I use the time I have gained in my day to fellowship with my Savior? Imagine what I would gain from my time standing in line if I clicked on the Bible app instead of Safari or ESPN. After all, they are right next to each other on my phone. Would it not be to my benefit for even thirty seconds? What would I gain from playing worship music and singing along in the car instead of filling my head with someone else’s opinion of the latest political decision? Fasting is about gaining. It is gaining time that you usually give to other things, so that you can spend it with the One from whom you have so much more to gain.

Speaking of gaining, I have one more thought about that. When I was teaching Ugandan students, there was always a lesson on fasting. When I asked about the purpose of fasting the answer I most often received was to get something from God. They treated fasting like a hunger strike. If they could hold out long enough God would be forced to answer their requests (demands?).

Let us be clear here, it is good to bring our requests before God during our fast. In scripture we see David fasting because he hopes the Lord will spare his son (2 Sam. 12), Esther fasting for the Lord’s favor before she visits the king (Est. 4:16), and Israel fasting because they needed to know what God wanted them to do about the Benjamites (2 Chr. 20:3). Sometimes God answers those prayers. Esther did find favor and God told the Israelites exactly what to do to defeat the Benjamites. However, God didn't spare David’s son even though he fasted for a week.

What we gain from fasting may not look like what we were expecting. All of us have real needs and it is important we bring those to the Lord. Fasting is a fantastic time to do that. God may give you the answer you are looking for and you will consider that a gain, as you should. God may not answer in the way you were hoping or you may not have an answer at all at the end of the forty days. Yet you will have still gained so much. A successful fast is not measured by the amount of prayer requests granted, but by the time spent in the Lord’s presence. That is true if that time is spent rejoicing or crying out for help.

There is nothing greater than gaining a deeper walk with Jesus. Whatever means God uses during your fast so that you can gain that, is worth it. All you have to do is give up activity so that you can gain the time and that deeper walk will be yours.