For the Christians in the early church and through the centuries fasting has been a regular spiritual discipline. Fasting is primarily abstaining from food and/or water for a period of time for spiritual purposes.

Richard Foster says ‘voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity', it can also include withdrawing from something to create space for God. Fasting is a response to a sacred moment in life – grief, loss, joy, gratitude and spiritual encounters etc.

The intent of fasting is to remove distractions or interrupt the natural rhythm of life to put ourselves in a physical position to reflect the state of our heart and desire towards God. Fasting is a physical (outward) sign of wanting to move closer to God and includes an element of personal sacrifice. For Christians who live in an age of plenty, fasting reminds us about consuming less and going without for the sake of Christ.

Read Matthew 6:16-19
(In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches in this chapter about giving, prayer and fasting and he regularly mentions doing these things in secret as an act of worship to God).
Jesus does not command us to fast, however he assumes his followers will because of the language he uses. Jesus gave this example to his followers and we see many times throughout the New Testament where fasting is practiced. (Luke 2:37, Acts 9:9, Acts 13:2 also see OT Joel 2:12-13, Is 58:6-7).


We see three main types of fasting in the bible
Food: Luke 4, Jesus fasted forty days from food.
Total: Esther 4:15, Esther and the people fast from food and water for three days.
Partial: Daniel would fast regularly, here in Daniel 10:3 he fasts from rich food and only eats fruit and vegetables, this has become known as a ‘Daniel’ fast. (See also Dan 1).
Through Ancient Practices including fasting we encourage spiritual formation in our own lives, give ourselves a clear focus and bring freedom to our own lives.


Formation
Our spiritual formation takes place in many different ways, through the bible, through others, what we read, our life experiences and so on, how we approach Ancient Practices and engage in them will affect our own formation about how we see God – for example if you learn how to find rest and solitude in God and withdraw from the busyness of life you will probably see God differently than if you never spend intentional time with Him.

Read Joel 2:12 - That is why the LORD says, “Turn to me now, while there is time! Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. 13 Don’t tear your clothing in your grief; instead, tear your hearts.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful. He is not easily angered. He is filled with kindness and is eager not to punish you.

Starts with the heart, internal and leads to external body activity…raising hands, singing, worship, serving etc. All of these affect your body and whole way of life, impacts inside and outside but starts inside.

“Fasting helps us to express, to deepen, and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain the Kingdom of God” Andrew Murray

Focus
As Western Christians our focus can too easily rest upon ourselves. Fasting has our focus on spiritual things, sacred moments in life that we fast from food (or something else) to allow God to be at work in a greater way. As we remove something from our lives we make room for God to be at work in us. Jesus shows us his focus in John 4:32 at a time when the disciples assumed he was hungry, Jesus said ‘I have food to eat that you do not know, my food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.’ (See also Matt 4:4).
Freedom

Like many principles we find in scripture, fasting or consuming less can actually bring freedom into our lives. Fasting reveals what has a hold on us and helps us overcome things that have a hold on us. Fasting can help break the hold of something over our lives; one area that we depend on is food.

Read 1 Cor 6v12, 1 Cor 9v24-27, Paul teaches us that through prayer and discipline we can experience freedom. Augustine taught, ‘One way for Christians to find victory over temptation was to fast. Why? Because it is sometimes necessary to check the delight of the flesh in respect to licit pleasures in order to keep it from yielding to illicit joys’ which is a consumer driven and pleasure seeking world’. Could it be that in an affluent society giving finance and attending a prayer meeting are easier to us than the personal sacrifice needed through fasting?

Conclusion
When fasting use wisdom, take a first step of fasting from one meal and then grow from there. From here, look at other areas that you know impact God being at work in your life, remember fasting aligns our desire for God through personal sacrifice.

Sample Discussion Questions
1. Have you tried fasting before?
2. What other spiritual disciplines have helped you?
3. What other than food have you fasted from?
4. How has fasting made you feel? Closer to God? Did you experience a sacred moment?
5. Suggest one thing you could fast from in the next week.
6. Finish by praying for each other to experience freedom to fast and strength to step closer to God.
For the Christians in the early church and through the centuries fasting has been a regular spiritual discipline. Fasting is primarily abstaining from food and/or water for a period of time for spiritual purposes.

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