Fasting for spiritual growth is a great way to strengthen your faith and grow closer to God during hard times.
Is fasting something you do regularly? Growing up, I attended a church that fasted regularly and usually started the new year off with a corporate fast. We would fast together as a church and then there would also be regular days of fasting throughout the year like the first or last 3 days of each month.
It was something that I was used to growing up. However, as much as I was exposed to fasting as I was growing up and even as an adult in the church, it wasn’t until recently that I finally understood the heart, the purpose, and the goal of fasting. I thought we could talk about that today.
Often I have been given the counsel or the advice to fast and pray. When I needed to make a big decision or didn’t understand what was going on in a particularly hard season, I was always encouraged to fast and pray. Honestly, I didn’t understand why that was something that I needed to do.
I also think that a lot of the people who were telling me to fast and pray were missing the mark a little. They were well-meaning, of course, but I think that we often miss the mark when it comes to fasting and praying, especially when we are struggling and going through something really hard and painful. We find ourselves so desperate to have some kind of relief or some answers from God.
The scripture that comes to mind about fasting and praying is Matthew 17. The disciples are going out, trying to do what Jesus tells them to do: heal the sick and cast out demons. They come across an individual who they’re not able to free from the demon that has been possessing him.
They go to Jesus and they’re like, hey, what gives? He tells them that they don’t have a lot of faith and that all they need is faith the size of a mustard seed for things to go and nothing is impossible with God. At the end, kind of like a footnote depending on your translation, he says “But this kind of demon does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
That was my whole framework when it came to fasting until recently. I would tell myself, “Oh well, if I’m under demonic attack and if something is going wrong, then the way to come out from this, the way to get rid of this, the way to find relief and peace is to fast.” I believed that when I fasted and prayed, God would move and make everything better.
God has revealed to me recently is that’s just not always the case. The things that you do to grow your faith, the spiritual disciplines that you practice to get to know God and build your relationship with him cannot be to get [blank]. Whatever [blank] is.
When I told myself I was going to fast so that God would do XY and Z, I had the wrong framework. I had the wrong mindset and I didn’t understand the point and the purpose of fasting. Today, let’s chat about the real reason that fasting is effective, especially when you are walking through hard times.
Quick caveat: I am not a doctor or a medical professional. I am not telling you to fast or not to fast. Take that up with whoever you need to take that up with to make sure that you are doing what is best for you.
Understanding the Heart of Fasting for Spiritual Growth
When I talk about fasting, I am mostly talking about going without food and/or liquids. That all depends on what type of fast you choose. In the bible, you’ll find people fasting for three days, for 40 days, or a specific amount of time before they go out and do something.
I have learned that the real purpose of fasting and the reason that fasting is effective is that it should draw us into closer fellowship with God.
If you don’t have that understanding, if you don’t have that goal, if you don’t have that mindset in mind, then you might be like I was for years. Missing the mark and then missing out on the things that God wants to do or show you through your fast because you’re looking for the wrong thing.
Previously, I was expecting at the end of my fast that my circumstances were going to be better, and that has never happened. I have never, ever, at the end of a fast, had my circumstances get better. They’ve gotten worse, they’ve said the same, but they’ve never gotten better.
This caused me to have this mindset that said fasting doesn’t work so I’m just not going to do it anymore. Once I finally understood that my desire to fast stemmed from my wanting to be closer to God, things were different.
With that understanding, I want to share just 4 reasons that fasting is effective for everybody, no matter what you’re going through, but particularly if you are going through a hard time.
Fasting Causes You to Rely on God
Fasting is effective because it’s going to cause you to rely on God. If you’ve ever fasted before then you understand the struggle. Before you start fasting, you’re prepared, you’re confident, and you’re ready to go. Once you get started it seems like everywhere you look you see your favorite meals.
The commercials on TV look awesome and your friends and family have new recipes they want you to try. It’s really difficult because your human body needs food to survive. You feel hungry, want to eat, and get cranky. There’s even a word for it these days, hangry. You need these things to keep yourself going.
When you are committed to saying no to eating for spiritual growth purposes you have to truly rely on God. You know I have to be honest with God and talk to him. “I have committed to fasting, but I’m really hungry and that ice cream over there smells so good. I just want to sit down with my kids and eat what they’re eating at the table.”
You have to rely on God for the strength, for the ability, for the endurance to see that commitment through. This is the same thing that you need to have in your life when you’re walking through hard things. You have to learn to rely on God as if he is your food, is what you need to survive because he is!
Fasting Helps You Be Filled with the Fruit of the Spirit
The second reason that fasting is effective, especially when you’re going through hard times, is because it can help bring out the fruit of the spirit in your life. It’s often through hard times that God cultivates the different fruit of the spirit that might be lacking in your life.
You learn more about patience, long-suffering, love, and all those things that you are supposed to walk in as a child of God. For me, fasting helps me in this area because it challenges me to practice walking in the spirit.
I am not a pleasant person to be around when I’m hungry so I get a lot of practice, in being patient, loving, kind, gentle, and being all of those things when I don’t feel my best. These are all things I need when I’m walking through hard times because when things are hard, I’m not always at my best.
You probably aren’t always at your best with your best moods and attitudes either. You don’t always make the best choices and decisions. You don’t always treat the people around you the best. It is a chance to grow in the fruit of the spirit, just like when you are fasting.
Fasting Opens Your Heart to Hearing God’s Voice
My favorite thing about fasting is that it can, if you allow it, open your heart to hearing the voice of God more clearly. I think this is originally what I was going for, I just had it framed wrong in my mind. During those periods of fasting, you want to substitute spending time with God for the time that you would be eating.
The more time that you spend with God, seeking his presence, the easier it is to recognize his voice. Sometimes, it’s not that God isn’t speaking to you, it’s that you don’t recognize his voice. That can be for a variety of reasons, but the most basic reason is often not spending enough time getting to know him.
It’s difficult to recognize the voice of someone you don’t know because you haven’t spent time with them. When you are fasting, you are saying no to food to dedicate that time to the Lord. To be with him and to sit with him in silence and listen for what he wants to say.
You are practicing tuning your ear, tuning your heart, and your spirit to hear what he has to say. That will carry on into your regular everyday life and you will be able to recognize his voice more clearly because of the time that you spent listening and sitting with him during your fast.
Fasting Renews Your Appreciation for God and His Blessings
The fourth reason I have found fasting effective is gratitude and appreciation. When I break my fast and I get to have that first meal, I’m always so grateful, thankful, and appreciative of the meal. It doesn’t matter what it is, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude over the feeling of no longer being hungry, of being satisfied, and being full.
I have learned to turn that around and ask myself if I have this same appreciation if I’m this grateful, thankful, and satisfied in my everyday life. Even when things are hard, am I this satisfied with God all the time? it’s been a great way to just renew that mindset and heart posture within myself through fasting.
Getting Started with Fasting
Before we wrap up today, I want to give you a practical few tips for fasting.
- Know your purpose for fasting
Number one is to have a purpose for fasting. Know in your mind why you want to fast. Is it to strengthen your prayers? Do you need direction? Are you feeling heavy grief and you want to fast as a way to express your grief or your repentance because of some scenario in your life?
Do you need protection? Do you need God’s provision in your life because of what you’re walking through? Are you feeling like you need to humble yourself before God? Maybe you want to overcome temptation because you’re being tempted by something that is beyond your strength and abilities and you need more power from the Holy Spirit.
These are all great reasons to fast. Be clear on why you’re fasting because you’ll want to go back to that purpose when you’re ready to quit. When you are holding a candy bar in your hand about to take a bite you want to be able to remind yourself of why you’re doing it to keep you focused on the end goal.
- Choose a length for your fast
The other thing you want to do is decide how long are you going to fast. The bible is full of varying lengths of times for fasts so there’s no right or wrong here. I would just encourage you to take that to God in prayer and let him tell you how long to fast.
It could be a set number of days like 3, 7, 14, or 40. It could be a consistent day each month say every single Monday for a month or the entire year. You could also commit to fast until God tells you that you’re done.
Always be sure that if you have medical things or whatnot that you need to consider talk with your care providers so that you can take care of yourself while you are fasting.
- Prepare for your fast
The next thing I want to encourage you to do is to prepare to fast. You do not want to go from 60 to 0 when it comes to eating. It could put your body into shock and that’s not a really good thing. Ease your way into the fast and then ease your way out of it.
Make time to pray for yourself before and during your fast and maybe have one or two close people that you can commit to praying for you and with you during your fast. You want to be covered and be sure to invite God into this process of your fast.
- Choose the type of fast
The final tip that I have for you today is to pick your type of fast. Yes, traditionally fast means no food, but sometimes there are times when that’s just not possible. Maybe you have health issues or medicines that make fasting unsafe.
When I was pregnant and/or nursing not eating was not something that was going to be good for me or my baby, and so I had to find different ways to fast. Some things that I have done in the past include saying no to a specific meal. I might say I’m going to fast breakfast and I would eat dinner the night before and then I wouldn’t eat again until lunch.
I have done this from sundown to sundown where I would eat an early dinner and then break my fast for dinner the next day. I’ve done a media fast where I decided not to watch the news or be on social media.
I’ve even fasted at a specific time. I remember clearly a few years ago I was nursing and felt called and led to fast, so I chose nap time. From 12 to 2 every single day that was my time to fast and I spent that time with God in prayer or just being silent with him.
You can also choose a food. If you don’t want to fast from all food, you can decide to fast from sweets or your favorite treat. I’ve also seen people do a liquid-only fast. This way you’re getting something in.
There are lots of ways to do this if fasting is something that you feel that God is calling you to. And I want to encourage you really to examine your heart, examine where you are when it comes to fasting, and just ask God to show you where you might have things off. Ask him to renew your mind around the spiritual discipline because it is very powerful and effective in so many ways if you can wrap your mind around the true heart and purpose of it.
Final Thoughts on Fasting for Spiritual Growth
Quick recap! Fasting helps you to rely on God. It kind of forces you to. It’s going to help cultivate the fruit of the Spirit. You’re going to be able to hear God’s voice more clearly and have a posture of gratitude and thankfulness for all his blessings.
You’ll start to notice the small things, all of the things that maybe you didn’t realize before as blessings from God because you’re looking for big things. You’ll start to notice any teeny, tiny thing and be able to thank God for it.
If you are feeling called to a fast, if you are making fasting a regular habit, or whatever you are on that journey take some time to check your heart and your mindset. Keep your goal in mind and your motivation. Ask yourself what you’re truly seeking to get out of your fast?
Because if we’re seeking the wrong thing, we’re missing so much. But you’re also like you might be, like I was like, oh well, this doesn’t work, because the thing that I was after was not at all like what God said I would get towards the end of it.
If you are feeling like you’re facing hard times and need guidance and direction by all means fast. We see so many people fast in the bible for these things like Esther and Jesus. It is a good thing to do, but just remember that you want to purpose in your heart that what you want out of your fast is more of God.
You just want to be close to him and to boost up that relationship. Don’t go in there with a specific thing in your mind like if you fast for seven days then God is going to give you want you want because that’s not the way he works.
Related Spiritual Growth Articles:
- 7 Simple Ways to Learn How to Be Still and Listen to God
- How to Seek God In Your Christian Walk
- 5 Ways to Know You’re Saved
Understanding the heart behind fasting for spiritual growth during hard times will leave you feeling closer to God and less frustrated and forgotten.
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