“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Deuteronomy 8:3
Everyone has times when they want to experience God more and depend on Him more deeply— it just isn’t always easy to know how to make this desire a reality. This is the reason spiritual disciplines have been part of the rhythm of life for God’s people for centuries. The discipline of fasting teaches us to be more dependent on God.
dependence on god
We are all dependent on the Lord for life both physically and spiritually, and without His gracious gift we have nothing. When we fast, this abstract reality is brought to our attention in a way that our human minds can begin to better understand it.
Jesus explains this theme further His explanation of fasting, which immediately follows the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6—Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ request to teach them how to pray:
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16–18 esv).
Jesus taught His disciples that God is a good Father that He can and should be depended upon for all our needs. Jesus laid out clear guidelines for fasting. You are to fast privately before God as a declaration of dependence on Him. Fasting helps the reality sink in God will supply all your needs and that, at your core, what you need most is God Himself.
when jesus fasted
It seems almost strange to think that Jesus Himself fasted. Who was more committed to God the Father than Jesus, the Son? It seems that Jesus felt the need to be closer to the Father at certain times, such as before He began His earthly ministry (Luke 4:1–13). He fasted for forty days and experienced extreme hunger and temptation. He also experienced closeness to God and clarity in His mission. When we fast, we can know that Jesus understands both our struggles and our victories.
Because the purpose of fasting is to draw our hearts closer to God and to help us understand our profound need for Him, Jesus gave us some practical guidelines on what to do (and not to do) when we fast.
how to approach fasting
In Jesus’ day, many religious leaders made a big show out of fasting. The purpose of fasting for them wasn’t to draw closer to God, but rather to have everyone look at them and notice how disciplined they were in their fast. They did extra things to draw attention to themselves—like not grooming so they looked extra pitiful. Jesus said that when people fast like that, the only reward they get is comments from onlookers.
So make your fast a private one before God. When you get up in the morning, do your normal routine: shower, use lotion, put on makeup, dress normally. Jesus is trying to tell us there should be nothing about your outward appearance that says to the world, “Look at me! I’m fasting!”
The goal of the fast is to draw closer to God and to better understand our deep need for Him.
Lauren Winner, professor of Christian Spirituality at Duke, wrote about understanding the role of fasting from her Jewish upbringing and integrating it into her life now as a Christian: “Like the liturgy the fast accomplishes a repositioning. When I am satiated it is easy to feel independent. When I am hungry, it is possible to remember where dependence lies.”
As Lauren Winner explained by quoting her former Rabbi, “When you are fasting and you are hungry remind yourself that you are really hungry for God.” God gave fasting to His people as a tangible way to help us understand that our deepest need is for God—not for food or for the praise of others.
As we engage in fasting we should remind ourselves that we are not most hungry for food, the approval of man, or any other thing. Fasting reminds us that we are actually hungry for connection with God.