Fasting is a difficult practice for me - maybe because I don’t totally understand it or maybe because it is just hard and I lack the physical discipline. Recently a friend committed to a short fast and, wanting to join her, I took a look at this practice once again. As I made a short study of it, I couldn’t seem to find an outright command to fast. There are multiple passages that make mention of it, but not as an imperative.
One view I hear often is that God is more likely to answer my prayer if I fast. I even had it suggested to me once that if I only fasted my future husband would show up. This rests on some bad theology. First, that God is somehow distracted by other things but will notice your prayer if you highlight it with fasting. But more dangerous, that somehow we can coerce God into something. This thinking turns prayer into magic. If we get the formula right, God will have to give us what we pray for. That puts us in the driver seat instead of relying on the character of God. He’s not a vending machine.
So why do we fast? The examples I looked at seem to show links with fasting, prayer and pleading.
Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking Him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. Daniel 9:3
Yet even now, declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. Joel 2:12
My friend’s pastor noted that it shows God we’re serious. Maybe more precisely, it shows us we’re serious. It’s not about focusing God’s attention on our plea, but focusing us on Him. God cannot be manipulated and is not impressed with our fasting. Yet fasting can be a tool for putting aside our daily desires and drawing our mind to God.
When I joined in this fast, it was important for me to guard my heart against the expectation that God owes me something. Fasting is not a megaphone for God to hear me. It might be my ears that needed opening to Him.
Lord, help me hear You clearly.