Zechariah 7:5,11-13 — “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?…But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry. ‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
The danger of fasting, and really any mode of physical denial or fleshly restraint, is that it may become the end in and of itself, rather than the means to an end that it was meant to be. The people in Zechariah’s day had engaged in the discipline of fasting for seventy years! But God asks them a cutting question, “Was it really for me?” Sometimes our service to God, our pious activities, or our religious observance can be self-serving more than God honoring and God seeking. In the end, God always knows our hearts, and if we are not listening…neither will He.
The specifics of fasting (as far as the how-to) in the Bible are sparse. While almost every example in the Bible refers to a fast from food (all foods, certain foods, etc.), it would not be out of line to call Sabbath observance a fast from work/activity. The purpose remains the same — mourning, weeping, confession, drawing closer to God.
Therefore, the how of fasting is very open. You can fast from one meal, devoting the time you would have spent eating on reading God’s Word or in prayer. You can fast from certain foods, maybe foods you ordinarily enjoy often (sweets, soda, sweet tea, pizza, burgers, bbq, etc.) You can fast for an entire day or several days in a row (please be sure to consult a physician to ensure you are able to do this). You may fast from certain activities, especially ones that consume much of your time (TV, golf, movies, cell phone, internet, hobbies, etc.)
Only be sure that you do not dilute yourself into thinking that because you forgot to eat, or didn’t have time for a certain activity that you are fasting. Fasting is purposeful and intentional, and therefore focusing your time on God during this denial of food or activity is crucial. Be sure that you are doing it for God.
God please forgive me when I have not engaged in fasting or prayer for the right reasons. I confess that my motives have often been selfish, and my intentions have not always been pure. Please help me engage in the discipline of disciplining my body. Help me to pull down the flesh so that I might be built up in the Spirit. Ultimately God, I want to know You more. Help me remove any distractions, inhibitions, or sin that stands in the way of that. Thank You for Jesus Christ who has paid my sin debt and given me the access to You through His blood. May I never take that lightly. Thank You, Lord. Amen.