Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fasting - spiritual or physical?

Something I've been thinking about (and have been asked about) in regards to fasting for weight loss is how that practice would influence fasting for spiritual reasons. I'm not necessarily sure I have all the answers, but I'm going to think out loud here for a bit.

My biggest thought is that it comes down to the motivation behind the fast.

I am rather embarrassed to admit that, along with never having read the Bible all the way through before this year, I have also never fasted for spiritual reasons. I haven't heard much teaching on fasting before, and have never researched it myself and honestly haven't thought much about it at all, until now.

According to Brad Pilon's Eat Stop Eat, there are numerous physical benefits to fasting, including decreased body fat & body weight, decreased blood glucose levels, dereased insulin levels & increased insulin sensitivity, increased lipolysis & fat oxidation, increased growth hormone levels, decreased food related stress and more.

And, of course, there are spiritual "benefits" to fasting as well. The goal of fasting for spiritual reasons is to focus on God, to draw closer to Him, to gain wisdom or guidance before making a decision, to fellowship with God at a deeper level. Fasting does not change God, it changes us.

Here are a few articles I found about fasting.....
Christian Fasting
What does the Bible say?

So, this is why I think it comes down to motivation.....

You can fast without growing closer to God. Fasting for purely physical reasons (to lose weight) is simply not eating. You are not praying instead of eating, you are not focusing on God, you are not growing closer to Him - you are simply. not. eating. That's it. That is what I have been doing these past few weeks - all of my fasts have been purely from a weight loss motivation.

Now, here's the trickier part - can you fast for both physical and spiritual reasons at the same time?

My answer is ..... it depends.

Way to straddle the fence, eh? Stick with me here and I'll explain...

If you are trying to lose weight and gluttony has been an issue in your life, or you have been turning to food instead of to God for any reason, I think it is possible to fast for both spiritual and physical reasons. By doing this you are addressing the root of your weight problem and are drawing closer to God - losing weight (though still intentional) is a result/benefit of your spiritual fasting. I am not familiar with the exact teachings of the Lord's Table bible study and weight loss program - but I would think that this is an excellent example of benefiting from fasting both spiritually and physically.

However, if your desire to lose weight (even if it's a lot of weight) has nothing to do with your desire to grow closer to God, if you have not acknowledged the spiritual roots of your weight issues, then you are fasting for purely physical reasons and will not experience the spiritual benefits of fasting as there is no spiritual motivation/intention behind the fast.

Also - if your relationship with God has no correlation to your desire to lose weight (such as my goal of losing those last few pounds of babyweight), if your motivation for losing those last few pounds is purely physical, then you are also fasting with a physical motivation and not a spiritual motivation and will therefore not experience the spiritual benefits of fasting.

So the hard question is - knowing the physical benefits (weight loss in particular) of fasting, can you/I fast for spiritual reasons only, without having a hidden agenda of losing weight at the same time?

The answer to this question of course, is very personal. Only you (and God, of course!) know your heart and the true motivation behind your decision to fast. But yes, I believe it is possible. If I feel that God is wanting me to fast, or I feel that I need to fast in order to gain insight or to grow closer to God - I can absolutely make a conscious decision to fast for spiritual reasons. If I do so though, my day will look different than if I was fasting for physical reasons. If during this spiritual fast I'm not praying more than I normally would, or reading my Bible more than usual - then my motivation was not spiritual and I will not receive any spiritual benefit from the fast. But if my actions jive with my motivation then I am fasting for truly spiritual reasons and I will receive the spiritual blessings that come with it.

Another questions is - if you fast regularly for physical reasons (like I have been), will it make fasting for spiritual reasons too "easy", or too routine, so that you'll miss the point/benefits for fasting?

This could be a potential problem if the focus of a spiritual fast was on food and not eating it.

Not eating food is the focus of physical fasting.

Growing closer to God is the focus of spiritual fasting.

The truth is, spiritual fasting does not have to involve food at all! In fact, for some people and their health situation, that could be a very unwise decision. You can fast from many things - food, only certain types of food (such as meat), tv, Pepsi, computers, etc. The point of fasting is to give up something physical with the goal of growing closer to God. So, if routine physical fasting has made giving up food too easy - then simply choose another item to give up when you want to fast for spiritual reasons.

In other words, you can't use that as an excuse not to fast for physical reasons. :)

Should Christians be fasting? Yes, absolutely they should be and this is something I have not done, and need to start doing. Consider the following scripture passage (emphasis mine)...

Matthew 6:16-18 When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

The scripture says when, not if. It is not commanded, however it certainly appears to be expected. And with the benefit of growing closer to God, having our will line up with His instead of ours, receiving wisdom and guidance - why we would not?

So, those are some of my thoughts. Agree? Disagree? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. Well said!!! I've wondered exactly those same things ~ it's good to know I'm not alone in trying to determine how I feel and how I SHOULD feel about it!! I've been working on a similar post for months already, but now that you've done such a great job of this one, I'm just gonna delete it!!

    I completely agree. It's staying true to the purpose of the fast that's the important part. (And, I guess, not saying we're fasting for spiritual reasons when we really aren't! That's a tricky one for me, because often I'll start the day with that goal in mind, but at the end of the day, I realize that isn't what's happened.)

  2. Another thought: I think there are a lot of things Christians do to worship God that can (and do) lose their meaning. Reciting a certain prayer before every meal, church attendance every Sunday, the songs and hymns we sing generally without really thinking about what the words say....

    I think we can't really single out and question whether or not fasting will lose its meaning without posing the same question for any of our other spiritual disciplines.

  3. RE: "What The Bible Says About Healthy Living"

    I follow the old testiment quidelines for what are "clean" things to eat and "unclean" things. Like I said, although I know we aren't under the law, God wanted His people to stay away from these foods for a reason. They are bad for our bodies and work against good health. There are toxins in the fat of pigs and other animals that are really harmful to us and are very hard if not impossible to remove from our bodies once digested. Catfish and shrimp are scavengers and eat whatever they can find. Then we cook them and put them into our bodies. The thought of what we might actually be eating, is discusting when you really think about it.

    I have a list of all the clean and unclean foods, if you would like to have it. I could e-mail it to you, or mail it to you, which ever. I highly suggest getting that book, if you haven't read it. I found it to be very insightful into the way God looks at our dietary needs and it also addresses fasting. There is a newer and older version. The paperback version goes into much more detail. The author is Rex Russel M.D. and I also have the cookbook that goes along side it. Once you know what you should eat, it's nice to know how! I will be posting a snack recipe from the book tomorrow on my Weightloss Wednesday post.

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