But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others 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.Matthew 6:17-18
I never really understood fasting until I read some books on it and started to practice this spiritual discipline myself. As with all spiritual disciplines, you won’t fully understand their importance until you do them. Reading about them and learning about them is a good first step but it cannot replace experiential learning. Practicing spiritual disciplines opens up a world that is hard to describe with words. They must be experienced.
What I’ve noticed about fasting from food on a regular basis is that you go through certain phases. These phases can only be experienced if you are consistent with fasting. If you fast once and stop, you’ll likely only see the first or second of these phases. But if you choose to making fasting a regular part of your life, you’ll notice some transitions.
Phase 1: In the first phase of fasting, it is about the food. Your mind and body are so used to eating that when it is deprived of food, even for a short time, that will be all you can think about. If you only try fasting once, you’ll never move past this phase. Fasting will always be about the food. But fasting was never meant to be about the food.
Phase 2: In the second phase of fasting, it is about your discomfort. The more you fast the less it will be about the food, but you will start to be uncomfortable on a more regular basis. Fasting will become an attempt to “survive” and make it to when you can eat again. But the focus of fasting was never meant to be about us and our discomfort.
Phase 3: In the third phase of fasting, it is about your sacrifice. This phase turns the corner from fasting being a negative, hard thing to fasting being a good thing. You become mindful that you are sacrificing something for the Lord, something we rarely do. You become aware that God is pleased with your sacrifice and honored by it. And while this phase is a good one, it is still incomplete. Though fasting is a sacrifice, the focus on it being a sacrifice still has us at the center. Again, fasting was never meant to be about us.
Phase 4: In the fourth phase of fasting, it is about worshiping Jesus and drawing near to Him in intimacy. This phase takes time to get to. We must fast regularly enough that we move past the focus on the food, the discomfort, and even the sacrifice of fasting. When one enters this phase, it is all about worship. Fasting is a vehicle of worship. It is a tool to draw near to the Lord. And when we draw near to the Lord, His promise is that He will draw near to us (James 4:8).
Fasting carves out space for holy communion with the Lord. This is why people say “Fasting is feasting.” In this phase, there is a banquet of the Lord’s presence available. This is one of the many “rewards” that the Father gives us as mentioned in Matthew 6*.
Runners often get to a place where their consistency and diligence in running turns into moments of effortless joy that they call a “runner’s high.” But everyone who has ever gone jogging understands that you don’t get a “runner’s high” the first time you run. Nor does it come on the second run. One must create a regular pattern of exercise in order to experience a runner’s high. That is the paradox and the fruit of a disciplined life. This same principle is true of fasting. The joy of fasting comes after one has established a lifestyle of fasting.
I encourage you to talk to the Lord about what fasting from food would look like in your life. Could it be a regular 24 hour fast? Could it be a semi-regular 36 hour or 48 hour fast? If you stick to it, you may discover a connection to God that you’ve never experienced before.
*(Though we don’t fast to get rewards, there are also other rewards from fasting like an increase in power and authority in your prayer life as well as an increase in revelation and insight from the Lord. But the increased connection to the Lord is by far the best reward.)