What is fasting?
The bare bones definition for fasting is abstaining from food and drink for a period of time for spiritual purposes. So it's denying ourselves the very basic need for food, but not for physical purposes—it's not a diet plan! It's rather for spiritual purposes, for getting more in touch with our God who is near.
Biblical references to fasting exclusively refer to abstinence from food and drink, but the church through the ages has not hesitated to apply the practice of fasting to other areas of life, including sleep, recreation, sexual activity, and anything that has gotten in the way of communing with God. As we get into the modern age, people have fasted from TV, shopping, gambling, computers, and other potential vices.
Now, as much as I agree with the extended application of fasting, I don't believe abstaining from these other things should take the place of periodically abstaining from food and drink, since the Scriptures exclusively talk about food and drink when they refer to fasting. So if we want to be purely biblical about it, I encourage us to abstain from food and drink on a regular basis; some do it yearly, some monthly, some even weekly. Some do it for a day, others for a few days; still others do it for weeks at a time. So I'm inclined to define fasting as "abstaining from food and—not or—other chosen areas in our lives for spiritual purposes."
One other thing I'll add to this definition is the phrase ". . . and it hurts." Fasting is not fun; it's not supposed to be. It's rewarding, fulfilling; it builds character, maybe, but not it's not fun. Fasting gets us in touch with our pain, our struggle, our emptiness, our need for God.
Frankly, we need to be in touch with our pain and struggle to keep us spiritually on our toes. I believe we need to be constantly in touch with our brokenness in order to approach God and neighbor with humility and trust. And the time-honored discipline of fasting has greatly aided the church through the ages to get us to that place. I found in Scripture at least six reasons to fast:
1. To worship or renew our hunger for God (Matt. 6:18; Lk. 2:37)
2. To help set life's priorities according to the kingdom (Matt. 6:19ff; Matt. 4:1-11)
3. To express grief and repentance (Joel 2:12; Jon. 3:5-9)
4. To express great concern over a situation (Esther 4:3)
5. To help us discern and seal God's will in decision-making (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23)
6. To help us live justly in an unjust world (Isa. 58:6-14)
Come join us in fasting for peace in the Middle East!