The True Spirit of Fasting

Man praying

This year, author and pastor, Matt Madigan has seen a lot more churches calling for seasons of prayer and fasting. He’s been fasting for 40 days every year for the last two decades. He believes that to rediscover the joy and power of fasting, we need to let go of the legalism that has defined it in the past, and replace it with grace.

“I think the idea of fasting has got a bit of a bad rap over the years,” Matt told Neil Johnson on Vision’s 20Twenty program, “because there’s physical and mental difficulties around it, so we tend to avoid conversations around it, and maybe think it’s just for a chosen few.”

He says the spiritual refreshing it brings is amazing, but even now, he still has a love/hate relationship with fasting. “I love what God does with my life during those times, and after those times. But I really struggle with the idea of actually giving up, well anything really.”

In the past, fasting was imposed by the clergy, who set out very strict rules about how it should be done. Matt says these days, it involves a new element of grace, a personal need to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying. When deciding when and how to fast, he says it’s critical that we’re guided not by people, but by God.

In his early research, he read an article belittling people for fasting incorrectly. “It was really hard to hear another author say that unless you meet the strict criteria that I’m setting out then it’s not really fasting.”

But he also read about a diabetic Pastor who called his Church to seasons of prayer and fasting. “What the diabetic Pastor would say is, I need to eat for health reasons, but what I’m going to do is eat the minimum possible for me to stay healthy. And by doing so, he was saying, I’m entering into the spirit of the fast. And I think that’s a really important thing.”

These days, if he’s at a sit-down event where food is unavoidable, Matt will eat something small, in order to avoid drawing undue attention to himself. “So I think the idea that we enter into the spirit of the fast, and we leave legalism behind, I think does present a lot more an attractive idea to people, that they could consider it.”

Neil Johnson pointed out that the Bible only discusses fasting in terms of food, but more and more these days, people are choosing to give up other things in their fast. Matt used to scoff internally when he heard about people giving up chocolate for Lent.

“But then I realised that to give up anything to dedicate yourself to prayer is actually quite an amazing thing. And often some of the things that are more addictive, like video games, or social media, or television, or chocolate, or whatever it is, they can actually hold affections in us that God wants to loosen, in order for us to have our affections more directed towards him.”

In their conversation, Matt told Neil how it felt to attend 12 hour fasts with up to 90 thousand people. He also explained how times of crisis and emergency, much like those we’re living in now, have often inspired fasting. For all that and more, listen to the audio below.

For more of Matt’s insight, you can also buy his book, Invitation to a Fast, online at Koorong Books.

Tune into 20Twenty and join the conversation with Neil Johnson, weekdays on Vision Christian Radio. Click here for your local times.

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