Is Fasting About Just Us?

AUTHOR: Gabriel Coyle

Campus Pastor - Downtown

1 Kings 9:1-28. King Solomon likely wrote portions of Ecclesiastes himself or his life was the inspiration for the author. Continue learning more about Solomon’s life as you read about God’s response to Solomon’s prayer and Solomon’s other achievements.


During these 7 weeks we will focus on the discipline of fasting. Each week we will dig deeper into this discipline. Take the next 5 minutes to read a blog post that connects the discipline of fasting to Sunday’s sermon topic.

Is Fasting About Just Us?

Who is fasting for?

As a pastor, I’ve gone to great lengths to communicate to my own heart and God’s people that fasting is not for God. It’s not arm-twisting manipulation that says, “I’m going to starve myself, God, until I get what I want!” Across the biblical narrative, fasting is NOT for God.

Naturally then, we assume fasting is about just us. It’s called a spiritual discipline for a reason. It’s a practice in which God, by the Spirit, forms us into people more like Him. We feel the pangs of hunger or the absence of whatever was once fulfilling our desires so that we can remember that our deepest longing and therefore greatest fulfillment comes in God alone. Amen!

But here’s the rub: when we read us, we can all too easily think “me.” Me, myself and I. The all important individual. Alone. By myself. Hidden. Secret. Me and Jesus. And this is hard, because the disciplines have a personal component, but the oft neglected reality of the biblical and faithful historical framing for fasting has always had an emphasis on compassion and justice for the poor.

Here’s one of the greatest temptations of religion. We can buy into the secular ideology that somehow intermittent fasting is just a way to get to your body and soul. This is your path to a better you. But the reality is that fasting is a pathway to also usher in God’s purposes in a broken world. It’s a Kingdom of Life practice amidst the reign of death today with radical outcomes in the present.

If you want one of the most famous biblical passages on fasting, go to Isaiah 58. Here, God’s people felt really good about themselves because they were fasting regularly. They were going to the temple to sacrifice. In many ways, they were very pietistically holy and righteous. But God is disgusted.

Why? “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high” (Isaiah 58:3b-4). They were engaged in righteous religious acts, but continued to be unjust in their Monday lives. So God says, “I won’t hear your prayers of fasting because you won’t listen to the voices of the oppressed.”

Then God literally tells us what kind of “fast” He gets excited about.

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.” Isaiah 58:6-8

While it has a spiritual dimension, it is not exclusively internal or otherworldly. There is no over spiritualizing God here without completely misquoting Him. He wants His people to fast from chasing their own pleasure and pursue the this-worldly, material improvement of the marginalized, poor, and vulnerable.

And that’s not just a practice of Israel at one point in time, but of Jesus (Luke 4:18-19). Liberation of the oppressed and news that’s good especially for the poor was central to Jesus’ own self-declared mission, and it didn’t just take shape in the spiritual realm in His work on the cross. It took shape in His healings, feedings, and releasing work.

I know this feels foreign when it comes to our talk of these private disciplines, but throughout church history, many faithful followers of Jesus saw the continuity of the prophets, Jesus, and the church in this area of fasting.

Two historical examples are first Gregory the Great (c. 604 A.D.) who writes, “a man fasts not to God but to himself, if he does not give to the poor what he denies his belly for a time, but reserves it to be given to his belly later.”

Secondly, if you go back even further to the second century A.D., you find others observing the uniqueness of the Christian community against the broader culture. Aristides, a Greek philosopher, writes of this unique practice in the early church. He observed, “If anyone among them comes into want while they themselves have nothing to spare, they fast for two or three days for him. In this way they can supply any poor man with the food he needs.”

That’s amazing. They didn’t have the capacity in hand, so they fasted to make a way of deliverance for those under resourced in their midst. And on another note, that means the poor were in their midst.

Kaitlyn Schiess, a contemporary theologian who has surfaced the above two examples, sees this as a call to reimagine all the spiritual disciplines through a lens not merely as a path to cultivate one’s individual “love of God” but also a path to stimulate a more robust communal “love of neighbor” (Matthew 22:34-40). Her brilliant book the Liturgy of Politics is an excellent resource for the thoughtful Christian who longs to follow Jesus in a both/and faith of loving God and neighbor well rather than just pietism or just activism.

So what do we do with this? Here are two simple next steps. First, when you engage in fasting, calculate how much you would have spent on a meal, and donate that money to an organization that is about justice work. You can go to your campus webpage and find opportunities with our Outreach Partners as a start. Second, leverage your fasting and praying as a time of asking God to reveal areas of injustice in your own life. Where are you not heeding God’s Micah 6:8 call in your own life? Your own employees? Neighbors? Family? Community? Then repent, and ask the Spirit to empower you to sacrificially engage in the liberating work of the Gospel of the Kingdom in your neighborhood, city and world. Who knows what God might do through those embodied prayers!

So who is fasting for?
You? Yes.
Me? Yes.
Us? Maybe the most important “yes” of them all.
Fasting isn’t about just me. It’s about justice. Come walk the long cross-shaped path with Jesus and find life not just for yourself, but for others both now and in the future.


Pray that God would give you wisdom as it relates to pursuing justice. Spend 2 minutes in listening silence and write down anything that comes to mind.


Week 5 of 7 Fasting


  1. Jo

    Thank you Gabe! Really helpful perspective.

    • Gabe Coyle

      Thank you, Jo!


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