[Editor’s Note: The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday next week, and our new Bible study Confident: Enduring by Faith in Christ begins on Monday, February 28. We hope you’ve planned to join us in studying Hebrews 11 and 12 over the next seven weeks. Let this article serve as a heart check for you as you read. May it prepare you to enter into this season of deeper dependence and exposure, of letting go of lesser loves in order to join with the Spirit in cultivating our love for Christ.]
I still remember where I was sitting the day a new disciple nearly shouted, "You what?! You mean to tell me that you choose not to eat food because you love Jesus? That doesn't even make sense!" I smiled, refreshed by her unbridled honesty. It's true the connection between the two seems far-reaching. The idea of fasting makes us scratch our heads a little—why in the world would anyone forfeit a meal or anything else for something other than their own benefit? How is giving up something earthly really gaining something eternal?
On the surface, fasting may not sound appealing. But if at any time in your life, you've recognized the hunger that rages within your soul—the one that tells you nothing in this world will satisfy—consider fasting as a way to taste and see and receive the Lord's abundance. These four reasons to fast are not all-encompassing, but if you’ve ever wondered if fasting is worth the effort, read on, dear sister.
1. Fasting unveils blind spots
Our actions are never neutral toward God. Often we prefer not to do the work of discovering whether our desires are for him or for ourselves. Fasting does much of the dirty work for us. What has become second nature—reaching for our phone, depending on wine or dessert, indulging in television—is stripped away, and deeper intentions of the heart bubble to the surface. The space where we once gave little thought now becomes a place of self-revelation and exposure.
During a previous Lent, I asked God for an area from which to fast that was close to my heart. What had power to manipulate my affections? When did I get sad, frustrated, or defensive if it was taken away? What did I find too much joy in? A gentle nudge toward after-dinner treats came, and I knew I needed the discipline of the Lenten season to serve this agenda of the Lord in my life. I would never have chosen it in my flesh because I love dessert. Little did I know how that love was tainting my intimacy with Christ.
The fasting began, and with it, God's exposure of my heart. The pressures of motherhood left me searching for relief, the way hard things always awaken need of hope. That glorious time at the end of the day arrived. Finally, I wasn't needed anymore, and as I settled on the couch without that bowl of something sweet, my empty stomach made room for contemplation. God revealed how little this was about dessert. The lack of it showed me how much I craved reward if the day had gone smoothly or comfort if the day had been challenging. That time when my child was sleeping had become a sacred space where I wasn't serving anyone and food could serve me.
2. Fasting humbles us and makes us acknowledge our hunger
In Deuteronomy 8:2–3, God shares his purpose for the Israelites’ sparse diet in the wilderness:
"And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." [emphasis added]
Fasting engages in a temporary wilderness, willing ourselves to be tested. Testing always reveals the reality of our hearts—whether we desire to walk in God's ways or ours. When we trim away something that brings pleasure, we gain a lens to see our hearts more fully—a sight that can only humble us. This posture of humility offers a truer glimpse at the deep hunger we desperately need to see.
Because when we acknowledge our hunger, our poverty and lack will lead us to the only One who can satisfy. When we look to him in our hunger, he opens his hand and feeds us, making us know that we live by nothing less than his powerful Word.
In my fast, I could no longer depend on the immediate gratification of dessert to reward or comfort me. With my altar gone, my truer need emerged. What I needed most was not a quick fix but deep restoration, a need food couldn’t fully fulfill. The Lord humbled me to let me recognize the hunger of my soul to be fed by him alone who could satisfy and give me life.
3. Fasting fosters dependence
As we fast, we see our hunger, our poverty, our true position before God. This posture gives way to greater realization of our sin. Grief lodges in our souls as we face how much we prefer preserving our life over losing it by following the road marked by the cross.
But as we mourn our sin, we become the kind of recipient the Messiah comes to in Isaiah 61:
"to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified" (Isaiah 61:3)
The mourners are the ones who receive comfort. The ones who wear ashes on their heads in grief over their sin and their state apart from God are the ones who receive the paradox of gladness. The Messiah blesses those who mourn—not with momentary consolation, but with eternal comfort.
By entering into an area of intentional fasting, we more straightforwardly acknowledge what is true of us—we are needy. The walls of self-sufficiency that limit our capacity for trust crumble when our temporary crutch is gone. But the kind of comfort brought to us in our hunger by God results in greater humility through submission to the Father’s will and way. Fasting teaches us to cling, and when we cling, we gain fellowship with Christ—with he who is meek and lowly of heart.
4. Fasting makes our love of sin taste stale and leaves us hungry for righteousness
This took weeks to unravel, to realign my heart with the ways of the kingdom of God. Little by little, my spiritual taste buds began to change. No longer did I love the fleeting flavors of reward or comfort at the end of the day. I had tasted the satisfaction of reward in secret from my Father and the comfort of being intimately cared for by my God. The fellowship with Christ I received cultivated a hunger and a thirst for righteousness.
A heart experiencing contentment in God will begin to reflect his heart. We will start to care about what he cares about and mourn what he mourns. We will love what he loves and want justice served where he desires. And we will say like Jesus, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work" (John 4:34).
What God creates a hunger for, he richly supplies with fruit that brings peace to our souls. In our emptiness, he supplies righteousness. This is no small matter, as he showed the cost necessary for such filling was the life of his own Son. We were not only wicked, unrighteous, foolish, and arrogant but also dead in our sins. And still, God resurrected us and made us new through Jesus Christ.
Jesus set aside his rights and his privileges to live every breath dependent on the Father. He condescended and wrapped himself in the skin of his own creation, intentionally limiting himself to gain a greater reward. He endured suffering and even death for the joy set before him—eternity together with us.
So we fast, not to prove something about ourselves, but to remember something about Christ. And in that knowledge, we enter into deeper relationship with him.
A Foretaste of Eternity’s Promise
This Lenten season, let us engage the discipline of fasting to hasten the arrival of eternity’s promise of togetherness with our God. And let fasting cultivate a palate ready for that day by making us holy and nearer to our God, giving us a foretaste of its reality in the present.
Grace & peace,