I am not well-acquainted with this topic but in W. Bingham Hunter’s chapter on “Persisting” he covers the subject of fasting.
Today, we hear of people fasting for various reasons, weight loss, cleansing of toxins from the body and yes some Christians do practice fasting.
John Piper* defines fasting as “a temporary renunciation of something that is in itself good, like food, in order to intensify our expression of need for something greater; namely, God and His work in our lives.”
Hunter says that “fasting helps many to think more clearly (because the head does not have to compete with the digestive organs for blood), and it can give anybody additional time in which to pray.”
Hunter is quick to say that a faster does not get “piety points” for the activity, nor does a hunger-strike pressure God to answer prayer. The problem that many of us have in life is that we begin to take the gifts of life for granted. We forget that all we have in life is a gift from God. Abstinence is like an extended vacation [if you will]. When you leave your home and work for a period of time, you can look at your life in your normal environment and you can be more objective about it. You long to return home and participate in the things that make your life meaningful.
When one fasts, attention is given to God as one pulls away from the enjoyment of our blessings. God is seen as the foremost source of that joy.
Piper states “fasting is not explicitly commanded in the Bible for Christians. Fasting doesn’t have the same place in Christianity that it does, for example, in Islam. The fasting that Muslims do during the month of Ramadan in Islam is a requirement of every real Muslim. You can’t really claim to be a Muslim if you say, ‘I am just not going to do Ramadan.’ Fasting doesn’t have that kind of place in Christianity. But even though there is no command to fast in the New Testament, nevertheless there are indications that it was normal and that Jesus expected it would happen among his followers.”
In Matthew 6:16–18, Jesus says, “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.”
In looking at this Scripture, it states when you fast. Note that it does not say if you fast. The implication is that Jesus is expecting fasting to occur. Also note that He says do not disfigure your face so others will see you are fasting. He expects the fasting to be known by God and not the public. Pharisees may want others to see their dedication but Jesus does not want His followers to fall into that hypocritical trap. The Father will see you in secret and reward you. He implies that fasting can strengthen a person’s connection with God.
Fasting is a Christian’s way of exhibiting faith in our Lord. Piper describes it as “a Christian handmaid of faith. Fasting is not a replacement for faith in Jesus. It is a servant of faith in Jesus.” A Christian who sincerely needs and wants the Lord may fast to show how much he hungers for our Lord. The fasting Christian is saying with his or her stomach that the hunger for God is more important than food. The person who fasts is saying that Jesus is more important than food.
One need only to look at our society today to see that many struggle with too much nutrition. Food like so many other aspects of life is a gift from God. Many love the gift so much that we overindulge and lose sight of what food is—a means to fuel the body. Eating is not a bad activity; falling in love with food can lead to problems. The opposite can be a problem too. Fasting becomes a problem when we think we have the discipline or willpower to do it and we forget that God is our source of power, not our prideful willpower.
Feasting is not a problem because our food is a gift from God. Fasting is not a problem if we have the right attitude. “ It is simply a heartfelt, body felt exclamation point at the end of the sentence: I love you, God. I need you more than I need food, more than I need life” [Piper].
*from John Piper the “Desiring God” website