When Gandhi wanted to capture the attention of the powerful and prompt them to act against injustice, he went on a hunger strike.
Scripture suggests that our use of, or refraining from the use of food is a natural and expressive way that our body reflects the spiritual realities we experience. Scripture offers a myriad of causes that would prompt our fasting from food, but the underlying theme is that our fasting is a response to God. Some of the reasons we might turn to God in fasting include the following:
• A tragedy has struck, and we turn to God in sorrow. For instance, when David mourned the death of Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 3:35).
• A purposeful way of attuning ourselves to God, remembering that God’s presence is what we most crave. Biblical fasts concluded with feasts, declaring that those who are hungry for God are filled.
• An act of solidarity with the poor. Through the prophet Isaiah, God told Israel that the fasting He desired would result in sharing their “food with the hungry” (Isaiah 58:7).
We can fast for these reasons and many more. Each allows us to physically obey God, to physically pay attention to Him, to seek God with our mouth and our stomachs—all our human sensations. In fasting, we encounter God with our bodies.
When Jesus talks about fasting, He doesn’t tell us to do it; He just assumes we will. His focus therefore is on our motives. Mondays and Thursdays were market days in Jesus’ time—prime days for religious hypocrites to publicize their fasting to the crowds (Matthew 6:16). Jesus revealed that fasting shouldn’t be done for applause. Instead, love for God and others should be the catalyst (Matthew 22:37-39).
If we choose to fast, we reveal our love for God by making Him our focus (Matthew 6:18). We can also love others by fasting for their safety (Esther 4:13-16), for help in their suffering (Psalm 35:11-16), or for guidance during times of national crisis (2 Chronicles 20:1-4). And God can use fasting to help us hear from Him (Acts 13:2), be empowered for mission (Acts 13:3), become sensitive to the Spirit (Galatians 5:17), and keep our desires in check.
Christian fasting isn’t about looking good to others, nor is it a hunger strike to make God do what we want. Fasting is about focusing on God to the exclusion of all else. We are physical creatures, and the state of our soul or the hopes of our heart require physical expression. He meets us in our fasting and provides what we need.