Richard Foster: Fasting reveals the things that control us

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Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for Me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?'” Zechariah 7:4-6</a>

“If our fasting is not unto God, we have failed. Physical benefits, success in prayer, the enduing with power, spiritual insights — these must never replace God as the center of our fasting…

Once the primary purpose of fasting is firmly fixed in our hearts, we are at liberty to understand that there are also secondary purposes in fasting. More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface.

If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. David writes, ”I humbled my soul with fasting“ (Psalm 69:10). Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear — if they are within us, they will surface during fasting.

At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we will realize that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.

Fasting reminds us that we are sustained “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Food does not sustain us; God sustains us. In Christ, “All things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Therefore, in experiences of fasting we are not so much abstaining from food as we are feasting on the word of God. Fasting is feasting!”

Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1998) 55.

For those who desire to grow in generosity, I’d encourage you to adopt a discipline of fasting. Focus on God, set aside your desires, and see what things surface. As Foster notes, “fasting reveals the things that control us.”

What controls you? If that sounds awkward, think of it this way. What do you feel like you need or can’t live without? Whatever your answer, like it or not, that is something that controls you.

The early church adopted a discipline of fasting two days a week (Wednesdays and Fridays in contrast to the Pharisees who fasted on Mondays and Thursdays). I encourage people to do the same thing.

Skip a meal, for example, every Wednesday and Friday. Instead of eating, feast on God’s Word. Seek His heart. Discern what controls you and surrender it to God. Fasting helps us remove obstacles to the Spirit’s work of generosity in our lives.