How Fasting Helps Our Faith

When I was a child, my family would plant tomatoes in the garden. We would then place a cage around the young plant, and it would use this cage to stretch up high enough to be able to bear the hanging fruit it was made to produce.

I see church tradition being very much like that cage. The cage is separate from the plant. It does not nourish the plant. It does it cause the plant to grow; but it is important. The cage provides a way for the plant to increase in size without collapsing on itself. The cage is not there to prevent growth or to imprison the plant. In fact, without the cage, there would be no fruit.

My faith is a living and personal faith. It is not solely comprised of tradition. I do not believe in Jesus simply because some of my family before me believed, nor because countless men and women throughout the past two millennia have believed; but how silly would it be for me to ignore the wisdom and perspectives of those who came before me?

How silly would it be for me to ignore the wisdom and perspectives of those who came before me?

King Solomon tells us that “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22 NIV). Traditions of faith are a wealth of advisors available to me.

In the year 325 AD, the council at Nicea decreed that the 40 days leading up to Easter would be a time for fasting (not including Sundays, which means Lent technically lasts 46 days).

Some Christian denominations have held onto this tradition, while others have chosen not to adhere to it.

I have set foot in both worlds. Having been raised in a liturgical faith where such observances were deemed of critical importance, and later in my teenage years, worshipping at churches that eskewed ancient traditions and paid no attention to the practice whatsoever.

I believe my current place is fairly between the two extremes I have seen.While I am part of a church community that does not officially observe the lenten season, I have chosen to make it a part of my personal devotion.

That is to say, I have made fasting during Lent part of what I do as I seek to follow Jesus more closely.

For me, lent is a time to set my living personal faith upon the shoulders of brothers and sisters in the faith who came before me. Inviting tradition into my faith as a guide which lends strength and guidance.

Engaging in a traditional faith observation like Lent is a frame in which your faith can stretch out and grow as you pray and consider scripture over 40 days.

Here are some things you can do during the upcoming season to create new depth into your personal faith using approaches that have been developed by our forerunners in faith.

Give something up

Some faith traditions have specific recommendations for what to give up during Lent: no meat, lighter meals, full fasts on certain days during the season, etc.

Personally, what I have given up has been tailored to my own personal journey. I gave up electronic entertainment in each of the past two years. No games, no netflix, no TV.

This year, I’m adding some days of fasting from food during the season.

It’s important to note that fasting is not about punishing ourselves.

Fasting is not about punishing ourselves. It is about creating space for introspection and refocusing our faith in an age of consumer content that mercilessly seeks our attention.

I didn’t give up electronics and sleeping late because I’m a terrible person who deserves punishment. This isn’t a modern version of flogging oneself to demonstrate religious devotion.

It is about creating space for introspection and refocusing our faith in an age of consumer content that mercilessly seeks our attention.

If you give up chocolate or salt or driving or sarcasm, above all you’re making a choice to say ‘God, you’re bigger than these things in my life’ - not as a proof to Him, but rather as a reminder to yourself.

Be nice to others

When we undertake a spiritual discipline - and especially the discipline of fasting - it’s super easy to start feeling superior. Jesus actually takes this up himself. In Matthew chapter 6, right after Jesus teaches us how to prayer, he hits this issue. I’m going to paraphrase verses 16-18: “When you fast, don’t be a jerk about it, because that would totally miss the point.”

Instead of letting fasting create a version of yourself that is worse that normal, choose to be the best version of yourself. Let people ask ‘what has you in such a good mood’ as opposed to ‘what’s the matter with you?’.

Put something in the gap of what you gave up

Jesus tells a pretty wild story in Gospel of Matthew which essentially says that when you’re getting rid of junk in your life, you can’t just leave an empty gap in your life. You’ve got to put something in that space, otherwise you’re not going to see any benefit out of the process.

When I give up electronic entertainment during Lent, I take the time which I normally use on apps and xbox and netflix and instead devote that time to reading.

If you’re giving up sarcasm or negativity, replace it with encouragement and compliments.

When you give up meals, fill that time with prayer or quality family interaction.

Giving up something is a chance to do something better, healthier...’more abundant’ in our lives.

Not-doing-something is an opportunity, not necessarily an end unto itself.

Not-doing-something is an opportunity, not necessarily an end unto itself.

Decide what you want to get out of it

We’ve already seen that ‘gaining bragging rights’ should not be part of this effort. We’re also not doing this to punish ourselves, or out of some misguided attempt to repay God for what he has done for us.

So what is the point?

I assume it’s some variation of ‘getting closer to Jesus’, but drill down on that. Figure out what your expectations are, and whether they are the right expectations. Do you want to create an ongoing habit, like praying or journaling or reading more? Do you want to hear what God is saying to you about a specific question you have? Are you going to engage in some project that you want to complete?


Fasting is a chance to be very intentional about how that is incorporated and affecting our lives. God, for some reason, has entrusted us with his kingdom (see Luke 12:32). I want to be sure that I’m not totally missing that amazing opportunity.

(A version of this article originally appeared on