“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.” [Matt 6:17-18]
Fasting is something we read about a lot in the Bible but don’t see in practice much nowadays. Or, if people are fasting, they are obeying Matt 6:17-18 very well! What is fasting, and when and why should we do it?
Even though fasting is mentioned a lot in scripture, we’re never really given much detail about it. In general, fasting is intentionally abstaining from food and sometimes drink for some period of time. In spiritual applications, this is typically to focus that time on God instead of ourselves. In fact, in scripture fasting is often accompanied by praying [Luke 2:37, Acts 10:30, Acts 14:23, I Cor 7:5, ...], suggesting that those who practiced it prayed instead of eating rather than just going without eating.
So why fast? Why not just pray more? Different people will fast for different reasons, and there’s no right or wrong reason to do it. Personally, I have found that fasting helps me with self control. Many sins can be attributed to a lack of self control, and at least for Americans hunger is something we are not accustomed to controlling. When I fast, it reminds me that I’m in control of my own body and actions and not influenced by every emotion or craving that comes over me.
Just like there are different ways to pray (praying before you eat, publicly lead prayers in worship, praying for guidance and support, …), there are different ways to fast. If you’ve never tried it before, I suggest starting by just forgoing a single meal, maybe lunch or dinner, and instead spend that time reading God’s word and praying. Fasting is supposed to be sacrificial, so pick a time that you are truly giving up eating, and not a time when it’s convenient (“Well, this meeting is going to go through lunch today, so I’ll just fast...”). You can also go a full day without eating, or go several days, only eating small meals at night. The point is, ignore your body’s cravings and instead focus on God, and you’ll be surprised by the benefits you may gain.