In the evangelical world, fasting is the most misunderstood of all of the spiritual disciplines. People don't understand this discipline and, therefore, don't practice it.
It is, however, one of the greatest tools that the church has to know and pursue Godliness.
When we fast, the physical pain of hunger drives us to a deeper spiritual hunger or longing for God.
You can fast about anything that is on your heart: a big decision, a sin issue, a health problem, a family situation. You will be amazed at how focusing on these things in a fast will heighten the intensity of these prayers and your desire for God.
I hope that you will consider trying this practice and if you are confused on where to begin, let me give you a few guidelines. I call these the four S's of fasting.
First, if you have never fasted before, I would like to advise you to keep your fast short. If this is your first attempt at a fast, don't go for the 40-day fast right out of the gate.
My advice would be to try a simple 24-hour fast, which basically means you would be skipping breakfast and lunch in a day and then eating dinner 24 hours after the last time you ate dinner.
This seems very short and simple but it can be very effective.
Once you have completed a simple 24-hour fast, move up from there to a 36-hour and 48-hour fast.
Secondly, keep your fast simple.
Whenever I fast I keep it very focused on one simple thing. So, for example, if I have a big decision to make or a sin issue wherein I need to find victory, I will commit to two separate fasts focusing on one issue at a time.
If you keep your fasts focused, you will find that they are far more rewarding and you can really see the hand of God moving in that particular area.
The focused and simple fast will also help your mind to stay focused on God rather than many different things during your time of hunger.
A third thing that I recommend during a fast is to bathe the fast in scripture.
At the beginning of a fast, it is my practice to choose a verse of scripture that I can meditate on throughout my time of fasting. I choose the verse to match up with whatever it is that I am fasting about.
So for example, if I have been anxious about something or worried about an issue in my life, a great verse to mediate on would be Philippians 4:6, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."
I usually either memorize the verse or write it on a card and then meditate on it through the duration of the fast.
Finally, Jesus tells us to keep our fasts a secret.
In his most extensive instruction on fasting, Jesus says in Matthew 6:16-18: "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."
If your goal in fasting is to be seen, well then be sure to tell as many people as you can so that you will appear to be a "disciplined" and "righteous" person.
But if your goal in fasting is to know and hunger for God, then be sure to remember these words of our Lord and fast in secret. The bible promises us that if we are genuine in our pursuit of the Lord, God will reward us and we will find Him.
I hope these guidelines have encouraged you to begin fasting as a spiritual discipline. God has graciously given us this wonderful tool whereby we might know Him in a deeper and more intimate way.
With all of this said, please understand that fasting is not for everyone and I know that many people have medical conditions that might prevent them from this practice. If you think that you might have such a condition, please ask your physician before attempting a fast.
Fasting is not commanded, but it is recommended, and I can confidently say, it will be for your benefit in knowing our glorious Lord.
Jason Dees is senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Covington. He can be reached at 770-786-9031 or www.firstbaptistcovington.com or www.facebook.com/jasondees.