The power of fasting and other insights into this Biblically sound practice.

For Pastor Rick James, a ham sandwich proved to be a formidable opponent to his plan for a 40-day fast.

In a post on the Cru website, he wrote that his hunger for a tasty porcine sandwich struck him on Day 6.

Though he doesn’t tell us exactly how or when he gave in to the temptation, he shares this:

“Though I failed in my forty-day fast, the good news is that I never sinned, because eating a ham sandwich doesn’t transgress any moral laws at least in this corner of the universe. To me, this is the beauty of fasting.”

The main point in his humor-filled article, “Stuffing Our Soul: On Fasting,” is that fasting has many positive outcomes and that while failure is not welcome, it’s not the same as giving into lust or other sins for which repentance is required.   

“Food is life and my umbilical cord is definitely tied to the kitchen,” he writes. “When I fast I am snipping the umbilical cord, which causes me to go to God for greater life in order to compensate for the life I am now denied. 

“Many things impart life to us. Some of them, like relationships and PlayStation, are God-ordained sources,” he writes partly tongue-in-cheek. “Other sources are not necessarily sinful but deriving too much life from them, rather than God, does damage to our souls. The godly man or woman aware of this dynamic is willing to pull the umbilical cord where and when it needs to be pulled.”

He’s talking about our tendency to erect idols that take precedence in our lives instead of God.  Even healthy pursuits can become idols if they interfere with our time for God.

Just the Fasting Facts    

For those interested in fasting, one of the best resources is Cru’s Fasting Starter Kit.  Formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ, the organization was founded by Bill Bright.  Cru’s page on “How to Fast Safely” by Dr. Bright offers articles that tell us:

  • Why we should fast
  • How long and what type of fast is right
  • How to prepare ourselves physically and spiritually.

Other articles offer practical tips such as how to deal with loved ones and friends, how to maintain nutritional balance and health, and what physical effects to expect.  Also, how to safely end a serious fast.

Fasts come in all shapes and sizes, from denying oneself one meal a week to going on a water-or-liquids-only diet for an extended time. The idea is to develop pangs for food that lead one to realize one’s dependence on God and draw close to Him for His help in overcoming the temptation.  It’s both humbling and spiritually uplifting.

The Old and New Testaments have many references to fasting, the most prominent being Jesus’ 40-day fast in the desert before beginning His ministry: 

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted (being tempted) of the devil.    And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward hungry.  (Matthew 4:1) 

Jesus also referred to it in a way that assumed fasting was a given: 

“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

In the Book of Acts, Luke writes that fasting preceded Paul’s first missionary journey:

Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”  (Acts 13:1-3)   

Moses, Daniel, Jonah, and David

At Mount Sinai, Moses fasted before receiving the Ten Commandments: 

“So, he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” (Exodus 34:28)

And, Moses fasted again for 40 more days after breaking the tablets upon discovering that the people had erected a golden calf and were worshiping it as an idol.   (Deuteronomy 9:18)

In the Book of Daniel, two fasting periods are mentioned.  In Daniel 1, he and his companions skip the delicacies of the King’s table in Babylon, drinking only water and eating only vegetables.  In Daniel 10:3, Daniel writes that just prior to one of his visions:

“I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.”

A modern-day movement called the Daniel Fast approximates Daniel’s limited diet, but also includes fruits, with the explanation that early translations used a word meaning “grown from seed,” which would include fruits.

In the Book of Jonah, the prophet famous for being swallowed by a great fish finally and reluctantly preached God’s message to the wicked city of Nineveh (near what is now Mosul, Iraq):  

“So, the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.” (Jonah 3:5)  

King David, fearing the loss of the child he sired with Bathsheba, who was the wife of Uriah, one of David’s generals, fasted when the child became fatally ill. (2 Samuel 12:16)

David also recounts in Psalm 35:13 that, “I humbled myself with fasting.”

Body and Soul

Although the real purpose of fasting is to grow closer to God and to seek His will for one’s life, the practice has some heavyweight science behind it indicating that fasting can be very healthy.

A recent article in the “New England Journal of Medicine” about intermittent fasting claims that it can provide “increased stress resistance, increased longevity and a decreased incidence of diseases, including cancer and obesity.” 

The article adds that fasting can improve blood sugar regulation and help suppress inflammation and stress. It can also benefit brain health, author Mark Mattson writes, citing other studies.

Conclusion

Because the Lord lifted the Old Testament dietary restrictions via Peter’s vision in Acts 10: 9-16, we may be able to enjoy ham sandwiches whenever we want. Not to mention shrimp and other shellfish.

But, passing them up in order to fast holds the promise of something even more satisfying: spiritual nourishment and a closer relationship with God.

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