Fasting for Spiritual Growth and Physical Wellness
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honour.
James 4:10 (NLT)
We can define fasting as the abstinence of food for a specific purpose; primarily spiritual but also with the knowledge that fasting promotes physical well-being. God has charged us with taking care of our physical bodies so this is another important aspect of fasting that should not be ignored.
Biblical guidance on fasting
There is a difference between hunger and fasting (2 Corinthians 11:23 & 27). Hunger is when you can’t eat. Fasting is when you can eat but you deny yourself.
If we are to be effective servants of the Lord we need to learn to humble ourselves; humility is also an essential condition for effective prayer. It isn’t God’s job to humble us, it is something we must do ourselves (1 Peter 5:6) but God gives us guidance on how we can achieve humility. Throughout scripture we are given practical examples of fasting being a God appointed way to humble ourselves. For example:
- Ezra 8:21-23 The Israelites humbled themselves by proclaiming a fast and God answered their prayer
- 1 Kings 21:27-29 Fasting saved Ahab from destruction
- Esther 4:16 Fasting changed the course of history
- Jonah 3:5-10 Fasting saved the Ninevites
- 1 Corinthians 6:4-5 (it isn’t just an old testament practice) One of the ways Paul proved he was a minister of Christ was by fasting.
In Matthew 6:5-15 Jesus tells us how to pray; he expects us to pray. As Christians we know that prayer is an essential aspect of our faith. In verses 16-18 Jesus tells us how to fast. He doesn’t say “if you fast”; he says “when you fast”. Jesus expects us to fast just as much as he expects us to pray, he places fasting on exactly the same level as prayer. This is God’s way for us to humble ourselves and it works; it is practical, not theoretical.
To subject our will to God’s ways we can humble our souls through fasting and prayer. The greatest barrier to answered prayer is pride; it holds us back from the blessings that God intends for us. We cannot get close to God in pride (Psalm 138:6). Anything that allows us to humble ourselves before God is therefore a priceless blessing.
The stomach is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. Who is the master in your life? You or your stomach?
Health benefits of regular fasting
There is increasing evidence about the health benefits of intermittent fasting (fasting for short durations of 16-24 hours on a regular basis). Many people who fast experience
- Increased energy
- Better cognitive function
- Increased levels of endorphins
- Reduced appetite
- Stabilisation of weight
- Reduced visceral fat (the fat that surrounds internal organs)
- Enhanced natural detoxification processes of the body by eliminating toxins that are stored in fat cells
- Regulation of blood insulin levels
- Lower LDL cholesterol levels
- Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease
- Reduced oxidative stress
- Enhanced human growth hormone production
- Protection of healthy gut bacteria
- Improved immunity
- Preservation of muscle.
Health risks of fasting
If fasting isn’t done in a safe way there is a risk of dehydration, headaches, heartburn, binge eating, sleep disruption and exacerbation of eating disorders. It is important that you drink plenty of water on your fasting days to avoid dehydration and that on your non-fasting days you eat a nutritious balanced diet. You can support your fasting days by taking additional nutritional supplements designed specifically for intermittent fasting lifestyles.
Do not commence an intermittent fasting plan if you are not already living a healthy lifestyle. It isn’t a quick-fix weight loss plan.
There are some people who should not fast regularly for example those who are underweight, less than 18 years of age, pregnant, breastfeeding, recovering from surgery or living with type 1 diabetes.
If you are considering changing your lifestyle to incorporate regular fasting it would be wise to speak with your GP first.