Prioritizing the Discipline of Fasting

Text: Prioritizing the Discipline of Fasting

As we approach the Easter season, we are also coming into the season of Lent. For this month’s Pastor Circle, we are talking about things we should fast in order to develop a deeper focus as pastors. 

Why are we talking about this? As we approach all the festivities of the Holy Week, your attention and intention will become vital. Fasting, as mentioned, is not just about food. It’s about focus. We want to help you step into this season with a renewed sense of direction.

Let’s take a look at 2 sections of scripture that I believe give us some clear guidelines and reasons to prioritize fasting as a pastor:

Matthew 4:1-4
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

Matthew 6:16
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Let’s start with the “why” of prioritizing fasting. We can see in Matthew 4 that Jesus started His ministry with a season of fasting. Jesus saw the importance of starving the flesh and replacing it with intentional time with God before jumping into ministry. I think it’s important that we pause here and look at the difference between fasting and abstinence.

I watched a message from John Mark Comer where he pointed out that these are two separate things. Abstinence is doing without things or pleasures. Fasting is much more primal. It’s doing without the substance that keeps us alive. Going without social media or dessert can be great and a sacrifice, but I would suggest, that falls under abstinence not fasting. Jesus’ fast is marked by his words that “man shall not live by bread alone…” this gives us context that fasting like Jesus means going without the thing we believe helps us live and turning to God for that subsistence. If we as pastors and leaders plan to “go and do” as Jesus did, he made fasting his first step to ministry. That should be mirrored in our own ministries.
Another reason to prioritize fasting is Jesus tells us that our prayers and spiritual authority can be amplified through prayer alongside fasting. In Matthew 17:21 he tells a group that a specific type of demon “will only come out through fasting and prayer.” If we want all that God has for us, it requires a discipline of fasting.

How then do we walk out prioritizing this spiritual discipline? I think 3 key steps are necessary to create a practice of fasting. 

1. It has to be done regularly and rhythmically.

I think we need to remember that fasting is a spiritual discipline. We grow in our disciplines through practice. Fasting was a regular practice not only throughout scripture but in the church up until the last 100 years. It was a regular weekly rhythm. My fasting story was a once a year moment. However, when we view fasting as a spiritual discipline, that informs how we should practice that discipline. We would never tell those we lead that they should only practice any other spiritual discipline a few times a year. Fasting belongs in the same category. 

2. It’s done in private.

Matthew 6:18 lays this out for us, “so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” We are to keep this between us and God. It’s difficult as pastors sometimes to do things “in solitude” because we want our congregation to see that we are regular people who have struggles. We want to say things like “I was fasting recently and it was difficult!” But Jesus tells us to do this in secret. Fasting is a very intimate practice meant to be between Creator and created.

3. It’s done alongside prayer.

Fasting is about so much more than going without. Almost every time we see fasting in scripture it is carried out alongside prayer or worship. Fasting is about relationship. God desires for us to see Him as our source. Intentionally putting God above our bodies needs shows a form of sacrifice like none other. That sacrifice replaces what fleshes needs with our spirits needs. 

I am so far from an authority on fasting (see story at the top of this post), but, man, do I want to get this right. So here are the steps I am planning to take in this next season to make the spiritual discipline of fasting a regular practice in my life, and I would love to invite you along for the journey:

  • I’m going to pick one day a month and set it aside from sun up to sun down to fast. 
  • That day will be intentional. I will block my calendar if need be to avoid things like lunch meetings or any situation where there could be pressure to turn away a meal.
  • And I will give margin in my day to day life for what God is going to do. Fasting and prayer without expectation seems pointless. I believe that my intentionaillty to this practice will result in God intentionality in using me. 

I believe Fasting is an element of closeness with God that the modern-day church has forgotten about. I plan to go after it this year with my whole life, and hope you will as well. 

Watch the full message here:


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We recently asked ourselves, “how can we serve pastors more personally?” The Pastor Circle is the answer.

It’s a virtual small group community of pastors who understand what you’re going through and want to offer you godly support and guidance. We meet on Zoom once a month to listen to a short devotional and topic introduction, followed by a small group discussion. We hope to see you there next month! Click here to learn more.