Fasting – not our favorite topic. We don't usually like to talk about not eating. In fact, nobody talked to me about fasting when I was a young believer. I didn't learn about this spiritual discipline until I was already a local church pastor.
I've since learned that my experience is not unusual among evangelicals. The fact that many of us have never emphasized fasting, though, is not positive. Here are some reasons why church leaders ought to be fasting:
1. The Bible assumes believers will fast. The early church fasted before sending out missionaries (Acts 13:1-3) and before appointing elders (Acts 14:23). Jesus expected His disciples to fast after He returned to the Father (Matt. 9:14-17), just as much as He expected them to give and pray (Matt. 6:2-7, 16-17). Leaders must lead the way in being obedient in this discipline.
2. Fasting requires us to focus on God's kingdom. The kingdom of God is already here (Luke 11:20), but also yet to come (Luke 22:18). We fast while we wait for the bridegroom to return for His bride, and doing so requires us to focus on His kingdom – not ours. Fasting might well show us that we are building our own kingdom.
3. Fasting leads to us to slow down and reflect. Leadership usually means activity and busyness. Always there is something else to complete, somebody to visit, the next meeting to conduct, another book to read. Often left behind is our private, personal, intimate walk with God. Fasting is one means to redirect our attention to Him.
4. Fasting calls us to consider our deepest longings. We do not fast to "get stuff" from God; we fast because we want God Himself more than anything else. Fasting exposes whether we truly believe encountering the eternal One is more significant than the temporary satisfaction of food (and sin, for that matter). It forces us to determine what we really live for.
5. Fasting reveals who we really are. It was John Piper who taught me this truth. When hunger consumes us during fasting, we sometimes find ourselves grumpy, short-tempered, anxious, or faithless. To state it a better way, fasting brings to light our true self. Most of the time, repentance becomes the next necessary step.
6. Fasting reminds us that we are not simply spiritual beings. God created us as spiritual and physical beings, but we tend to focus on caring for our spiritual side. We often ignore our physical well being, thus also ignoring the truth that we are wholly created in the image of God. Fasting calls us to a faith that affects our entire being.
7. Fasting is a reminder we are not as strong as we think we are. Leaders are often by nature tough, persistent, and resilient. Fasting, however, quickly reveals our limitations. Even a short fast uncovers our struggle to deny self; a longer fast reminds us we are finite beings who die without nourishment. All our knowledge, training, and experience mean nothing when the body has no sustenance.
If you're a church leader who has not fasted for some time, consider these questions:
If the Bible assumes our fasting, should I at least pray about it?
- Do I need private, focused time with God?
- Am I willing to examine what I'm really living for?
- Am I open to bringing to light my true self – and then repenting as needed – through fasting?
- Do I emphasize my spiritual being to the neglect of my physical being?
- Do I consider myself strong?
Here's the bottom line: fasting is a spiritual discipline that calls us to slow down, seek God, confess sin, deny self, and embrace weakness. It reveals whether the kingdom we are living for – and longing for – is God's or ours. Any Christian leader must answer this question.