They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.” He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”
If you wanted to develop a good physique, what would you do? Exercise, right? Whether you did it under supervision in a gym, or on your own, the exercise would serve to build your physical muscles. However, when it comes to building spiritual muscles, people imagine that this will happen automatically without any effort on their part. Fasting is one of the ways in which one builds spiritual muscles. If you can say no to food, which is good for you, then it stands to reason it will become easier for you to say no to sin, which is bad for you.
On a related note, it also helps us to learn to resist the desires of the flesh. Paul writes: “Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24.26.27). Fasting is a way of getting our bodies to listen to us, rather than us listen to our bodies!
Fasting also helps in spiritual warfare. There was an occasion when the apostles tried to deliver a man who was possessed by a demon but failed. Jesus, of course, delivered the boy with a single command. When the apostles asked Jesus why they couldn’t, despite their experience in the matter, Jesus told them: “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21).
Fasting is good when seeking spiritual direction (see Acts 13:2) or gaining a sensitivity to God’s voice. Anna from the New Testament is somebody who regularly fasted and prayed and was able to hear God speak to her clearly when the baby Jesus was brought into the temple. Fasting also gives victory over temptation—remember the temptation of Jesus? (see Matthew 4:1-11) and protection (see Esther 4:16; Ezra 8:21-23; 2 Chronicles 20:1-25). There are also physical benefits. It gives the body a rest while also giving it a much needed detox.
If you do plan on fasting, check motivation. Why do you really want to fast? To lose weight? Not a good idea! To be admired? Again, not a god idea! I recommend you be led by the Holy Spirit in how and when to fast, but run his recommendations by your spiritual director. Every Christian serious about his faith journey should have one, by the way. If you are suffering from medical issues, fasting from food may not be wise. But remember, there are other things we can fast from, especially things that largely tend to be a waste of time. Like Facebook!
And if you do decide to fast and pray, please slip in a little prayer for me.