Thursday, March 7, 2024

Learning Humility Through Fasting Part 1


By: Donna Bucher

Fasting, a spiritual discipline widely popular during Lent, symbolizes more than abstinence from food. Representing the attitudes of repentance, obedience, and humility, fasting embodies a heart posture towards God.

Through a humble attitude of abstinence, we more keenly focus on the needs of our spiritual relationship, positioned to better listen, and hear from God. 

For some of us, we cannot safely fast from food, but we can still nurture humility with alternative fasting tips.


We consider spiritual fasting as feeding the spirit through our obedience to God. The act of fasting gives us a medium through which our relationship with God flourishes.

We see the practice of abstaining from food throughout the Bible as an expected part of worship. Jesus’ phraseology in Matthew 6:16-18, gives instruction for when we fast, not if we fast.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, said,

Jesus takes it for granted that His disciples will observe the pious custom of fasting.”

According to Bonhoeffer, the practice of fasting is synonymous with self-control, preparing the disciple of Christ for every good work God has for them.

Christians fast for various reasons, but the primary reasons for fasting found in the Bible pertain to mourning, repentance, enlightenment, preparation, and confession.

Mourning. Nehemiah fasted when he learned the walls of Jerusalem were burned and broken down. (Nehemiah 1:1-4) David mourned the death of the child born of his affair with Bathsheba. (2 Samuel 12:15-17) We can also “mourn” sin, as God instructs His people in Joel 2:12-13.

Repentance. The Ninevites repented after Jonah proclaimed judgment upon them. (Jonah 3:10) King Ahab fasted when he heard God’s judgment against his house. (1 Kings 21:22-27)

Enlightenment. Paul and Barnabas fasted while seeking God’s wisdom for the elders of the churches. (Acts 14:23) Moses fasted forty days and forty nights while receiving the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 34:28)

Preparation. Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness fasting before meeting the devil. (Matthew 4:1-17) The small group at Antioch ministered to the Lord, prayed, and fasted prior to sending out Paul and Barnabas for the work of the Lord. (Acts 13:1-2)

Confession. Daniel prayed and fasted for the nation of Israel while in Babylon. (Daniel 9:3-5) David poured out his heart in confession of sin in Psalm 32:5.

Scott McKnight in his splendid book, Fasting, describes fasting as a type of “body language” or posture before God. A position from which we communicate to God our desire, grief, repentance, and longing for Him.

While the most prominent reasons for fasting in the Bible are those listed above, we do see instances of fasting for deliverance and protection (Ezra 8:21-23) and worship (Luke 2:37). Ultimately, all these reasons enrich and strengthen our relationship with God through humbling ourselves in the sight of God.

Traditional fasting involves abstaining from food for a specified period. During Lent we hear of fellow Christians abstaining from not only food, but other types of pleasures or conveniences.

Learning to nurture humility through alternative fasting tips is an additional way of pursuing intimacy with God especially during Lent. Traditional fasting focuses on the self-denial of food as a way of emptying yourself to make more room for God. The absence of food increases our self-awareness of physical needs, but also sensitizes us to the voice of the Holy Spirit.


Next week, we will explore in depth alternative methods of fasting which may in fact be even more meaningful than abstaining from food. Be sure to come back for Learning Humility Through Fasting Part 2 next week!

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