Tonight, November 16, our church embarks on a 24-hour fast from 7 PM to tomorrow night at 7 PM.  The fast coincides with a focus on prayer for missions that started last Sunday, November 10.  Each day we have prayed for a missionary or mission endeavor.

When Christians fast, we often spend that time in prayer – substituting a time of prayer in place of meal time.

In order to understand fasting deeper, below is an excerpt from Dallas Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines.

“In fasting, we abstain in some significant way from food and possibly from drink as well.  This discipline teaches us a lot about ourselves very quickly.  It will certainly prove humiliating to us, as it reveals how much our peace depends upon the pleasures of eating.  It may also bring to mind how we are using food pleasure to assuage the discomfort caused in our bodies by faithless and unwise living and attitudes – lack of self-worth, meaningless work, purposeless existence, or lack of rest or exercise. If nothing else, though, it will certainly demonstrate how powerful and clever our body is in getting its own way against our strongest resolves.

Fasting confirms our utter dependence upon God by finding in him a source of sustenance beyond food. Through it, we learn by experience that God’s word to us is a life substance, that it is not food alone that gives life, but also the words that proceed from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).  We learn that we too have meat to eat that the world does not know about (John 4:32, 34).  Fasting unto our Lord is therefore feasting on him and doing his will.

When Jesus directs us not to appear distressed and sad when we fast (Matthew 6:16-18), he is not telling unto mislead those around us.  He is instead explaining how we will feel-we really will not be sad. We are discovering that life is so much more than meat (Luke 12:33).  Our belly is not our god, as it is for others (Philippians 3:18; Romans 16:18); rather, it is his joyful servant and ours (1 Corinthians 6:13).

Actually, fasting is one of the more important ways of practicing that self-denial required of everyone who would follow Christ (Matthew 16:24).  In fasting, we learn how to suffer happily as we feast on God.  And it is a good lesson, because in our lives we will suffer, no matter what else happens to us.

Persons well used to fasting as a systematic practice will have a clear and constant sense of their resources in God.  And that will help them endure deprivations of all kinds, even to the point of coping with them easily and cheerfully.  Fasting teaches temperance or self-control and therefore teaches moderation and restraint with regard to all our fundamental drives.  Since food has the pervasive place it does in our lives, the effects of fasting will be diffused throughout our personality. In the midst of all our needs and wants, we experience the contentment of the child that has been weaned from it’s mother’s breast (Psalm 131:2).  And “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

Fasting, though, is a hard discipline to practice without its consuming all our attention.  Yet when we use it as a part of prayer or service, we cannot allow it to do so. When a person chooses fasting as a spiritual discipline, he or she must, then, practice it well enough and often enough to become experienced in it, because only the person who is well habituated to systematic fasting as a discipline can use it effectively as a part of direct service to God, as in special times of prayer or other service.”