1 Samuel 7:6 — “When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Now Samuel was serving as leader of Israel at Mizpah.”
I believe the why of fasting is equally important to the why of prayer. Just as Genesis 4:26 was the first mention of prayer (calling upon the LORD) in the Bible, so 1 Samuel 7:6 is the first mention of fasting in the Bible. And just as mankind, in the book of Genesis, lost fellowship with God through sin and they sought restoration of that fellowship through prayer — mankind, in the book of Samuel, lost God’s presence (the Ark of the Covenant — a symbol of God’s presence) and they sought restoration through fasting and confession (prayer). While prayer is an activity of communicating to God, fasting — the deliberate denial of food to the body — is an activity that communicates to God the seriousness of our commitment. In this instance, the children of Israel had indulged their appetites by worshiping other foreign gods. They were no longer committed to serve God, but rather distracted by their own desires. The Ark was captured by the Philistines and “The Glory had departed from Israel, for the ark of God had been captured.” (1 Sam. 4:22) The why of fasting is this: we are distracted. There is a battle within us between our desire to do things our way and a desire to do things God’s way. The New Testament writer, James puts it this way, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1) When we deny ourselves basic necessities like food, it weakens our worldly body…but it strengthens our spiritual body! (Mat. 4:2; Mat.16:24-26) It disciplines our flesh and we are more able to commune with God because we are less distracted by the desires/appetites of our bodies. We show God in a very tangible way that we are committed to Him more than to ourselves. (Job 11:13-19) We live on the spiritual food He gives us more than the earthly foods we crave. (Mat. 4:4; Deut. 8:3) God’s power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10), and when we weaken our sinful bodies through self denial…we are strengthened by God’s power and God’s glory returns! We experience His presence in new ways and we recommit our hearts to what really matters. We refocus upon God and we forsake our distractions and hinderances, for the sake of sweet communion and fellowship with God. We fast because we are distracted.
God of grace and God of glory, forgive me for being distracted by my own sinful desires. Even now, talking about denying my body food there is a visceral reaction from my flesh…it is angry, and it desires to disobey. Help me to discipline my body through fasting. Not so that I am holier than anyone else, but because my body is in constant rebellion to Your ways. Let me use the things of this world — food, money, power, talents as if they do not have a hold on me. Let me not be controlled by any of them, but surrender them all to Your control. Help me to keep my commitments to You. Thank You for Your loving kindness and Your faithfulness even when I am unfaithful. Thank You for Your perfect power in my weakness —help me to truly embrace weakness, and fully trust in Your power and grace. All glory is Yours in heaven and on earth. Amen.