This is the second post in the series I’m writing called The Bible and Your Health. You can read the first post here. Today’s topic is fasting and I probably need to write this more than you need to read it.
Note: I am no Bible expert. I also am not a health expert. I have just seen a lot of correlations (through my journey with Lyme disease) between what is necessary for healthy living and what the Bible tells us to do. I believe God knew what he was doing when He created us. And as He is a God who wastes nothing, I think what He asks of us in Scripture isn’t always solely for our spiritual benefit, but may also be for our physical and mental benefit as well. Please correct me, if you think I’m wrong or I’ve made some great theological mistake. I want to know. That’s why I’m writing this. I’m just trying to figure it out. And as I have never heard anyone preach on the topic of fasting ever, I’m guessing I’m not the only one who struggles with the topic.
After the most gluttonous day in our country (Thanksgiving), it seems just wrong to be trying to tackle the subject of fasting, but alas… I don’t think I can write on the correlations between what God tells us to do in Scripture and health without discussing this topic.
Fasting is all over the web these days. A quick Google search will bring up 1,000s of results with very few of them being about Biblical fasting. We talk about social media fasts, TV fasts, and intermittent fasting all the time. But what does the Bible say? And is there any science to back up that fasting is beneficial to your health?
If you don’t know what fasting is, it is a religious observance in which a person abstains from food (or certain foods) for an extended amount of time. Fasting has also become a health fad as a way to reset or detox the body from all the toxins in our food and environment.
Fasting in the Bible
While fasting is never directly commanded in the Scriptures, it is assumed that Christians will do it. In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus says, “And 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.”
He says when you fast. It just assumed that Christians will be people who fast. After searching the Scriptures to see when and how fasting was used, I found a few consistent patterns. People fasted in times of mourning, in times of repentance, while worshipping God, and before big petitions were made. These were often just a few days of fasting at a time.
There are three examples of extended fasting in Scripture. The example of Jesus in Luke 4, who was led by the Holy Spirit to the desert and fasted forty days. In Exodus 34, when Moses was led up to Mount Sinai, he also fasted for forty days and forty nights. He not only received the law, but also petitioned God on behalf of the Israelites. (This fast is also mentioned in Exodus 24:18, Deuteronomy 9:18 and 10:10) And in I Kings 19:8 Elijah also fasted forty days and forty nights in Horeb, before petitioning to God on behalf of Israel. I believe these three examples of fasting were supernatural occurrences, as God clearly sustained these people during their fast.
“Both feasting and fasting are worship for the Christian. Both magnify Christ. And, of course, both have their peculiar dangers. The danger of feasting is that we fall in love with the gift. And the danger of fasting is that we belittle the gift and boast in our willpower, our discipline.” – Piper
Science of Fasting
Fasting as a catalyst to better health has become a huge topic these days. Many people champion the health benefits of water fasts, juice fasts, and even social media fasts all the time these days. But are there actually any physical benefits to fasting?
When I’m talking about fasting, I want to be clear that I do not mean anorexic behaviors. (That is a whole other topic, that I am not remotely qualified to discuss.) What I mean by fasting is a purposeful absence of food for a short designated amount of time.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, MD intermittent fasting can be extremely beneficial to one’s health. Intermittent fasting is a fasting at irregular (not for days on end) times for 16-24 hours. “….With intermittent fasting, you’re not just whimsically skipping meals, which can mess with your blood sugar and energy levels, you are employing a strategized way to miss meals.”
Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D. lists a whole slew of benefits of intermittent fasting on her website, including mood-boosting, fat burning, and energy increase. Dr. Ballantyne does also say that there are many factors surrounding fasting and one needs to be wise about doing it. Talking to your doctor is recommended. Dr. Ballantyne recommends not fasting regularly if you don’t feel well afterward And both she and Dr. Hyman recommend being extremely careful about what it is you do end up eating to break your fast.
Many people also do juice or water fasts for longer than the 16-24 hours of intermittent fasting. Juice and water fasts have been promoted as a great way to detox one’s body. This is where one solely drinks water or homemade vegetable and fruit juices from anywhere from a day to a month. (Any longer than that can be extremely harmful to one’s health.)The benefits include detoxing your body from environmental toxins as well as giving your body a time of rest in which it can repair any damage already in your body.
I do have to wonder if our constant access to food and our cultural addiction to food have any connection with our general lack of fasting? What I mean is, that in Bible times food was much harder to come by. Remember that all Moses had eaten was Manna before his fast. And only exactly the amount he needed. Food was harder to come by, therefore it wouldn’t have been as hard to miss a meal or two. While most Americans have pantries full of food and have never had to go without.
And also, I wonder if we as Americans eating a western diet are too addicted to food to actually give it up? Sugar is in everything. Caffeine is an expected part of everyday life. What if we want to fast for God’s glory, but literally can’t because giving up a meal causes actual withdrawal? Caffeine headaches? Sugar crashes? I think that’s something we need to consider.
It is clear in the Scriptures, that God assumes Christians will be a people who fast. I think what maybe trips us up, is that we simply don’t know how to do it. Maybe it’s because our church leaders aren’t doing it and don’t feel qualified to preach what they don’t practice? (Much like I feel about writing this post!) I really hope that isn’t the case, but I can absolutely understand it, if it’s true. I don’t know what the case is, but I lean towards believing that we just don’t know how to fast. There is so much information on fasting for health benefits, that it’s overwhelming and confusing.
But I think it boils down to this: when God leads us to fast or when we need something from God, we need to fast. And essentially that means, not eating for a short period of time. But it seems to actually be a simple denying of one’s self for the purpose of getting more God. I think we should all want that. And if there are health benefits that come with it, bonus!
What do you think about fasting? Am I way off base on anything here? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.