Reasons Not to Fast

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Erin Davis shares some of the scenarios in which fasting is the wrong thing to do.

The Bible has A LOT to say about fasting. I didn't realize until I started doing research for these posts how often the people of God fasted throughout Scripture. In fact, fasting is a theme we find woven throughout the entire Bible, which makes me wonder why it's not something we talk more about or practice regularly in our modern lives.

Here are several biblical reasons to fast.

Preparation for a battle. Examples might include a spiritual battle resulting from ministry, interpersonal conflict, or a tug of war with sin.

Response to sin. When you've sinned against God or when you're stuck in a pattern of sin, fasting is appropriate.

To humble yourself before God. The psalmist writes about humbling his soul with fasting (Ps. 69:10). Fasting acknowledges our need for God.

To deny our "flesh." Fasting forces us to deny the needs of our physical bodies and focus more on our spiritual health.

These are good reasons to fast. But there are also plenty of wrong reasons to take a break from food.

Don't fast if your focus is the scale.

The most important reason not to fast is as a means of weight loss. Many young women struggle with weight and body obsession as well as unhealthy eating habits. If you're in that category, fasting may not be for you at this time. Here's a little test to help you know if fasting is a wise choice for you. Take a mini-fast. Skip just one meal and set aside that time to pray. Afterward evaluate where your thoughts dwelled during that time. Were you thinking about "humbling your soul before God" or were you mostly thinking about the impact that skipping a meal had on your body? Did you want to race to the Bible or did you want to race to the scale to see if you'd dropped a pound or two? The focus of fasting is to get our attention away from ourselves and toward God. If taking a break from food only causes you to be more body-focused, you're missing the point. This is an area that you can begin praying about right now. Ask God to teach you how to fast in a way that glorifies Him and strengthens your relationship with Him.

Don't fast to impress Jesus.

Jesus is already crazy about you. You don't need to do religious things like fasting in order to win His love. In fact, fasting just to fast doesn't impress Him much at all. In Luke 18:11–14 we read this story:

"The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

The Pharisee in this story fasted twice a week. That's a lot of fasting! But Jesus wasn't impressed by it, because the Pharisee's heart was bent on wowing others. God loves you whether or not you ever fast. Make sure you know that earning brownie points is never the point.

Don't fast as a substitute for loving God.

The people of Israel had to learn this lesson the hard way in Isaiah 58:3–5:

"‘Why have we fasted,' they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?'

"Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?"

Sure, the Israelites fasted, but on the same day as their fast they acted however they wanted, treated the people close to them badly, fought, bickered, and even got in a fistfight or two. The result? Their fasting got them nowhere.

We shouldn't expect fasting to give us a direct line to God any more than any other religious rituals. God desires our humble devotion, not for us to jump through hoops with our own gain in mind.

That's why Proverbs 21:3 says, "To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice."

And why Mark 12:33 instructs us, "To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."

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