Fasting is the exercising of power of the spirit over the body. It is the power struggle between the carnal and the physical. Fasting is the act that teaches the physical man that the spiritual man is in control. It teaches obedience of the flesh and teaches the flesh to submit to the will of the spirit.
To fast, that is, to withhold food, is to exert dominance and control and to discipline the body to become obedient and subservient to the will of the spirit. By denying the need of food, the flesh is taught that the spirit knows better and has the power to give or to take.
Fasting is not the only practice that teaches this, but it’s the easiest, most powerful, and most readily available. Any practice of self-denial, especially of essential needs, builds discipline and shifts the balance of power away from the flesh and toward the spirit.
Fasting is positive
Abuse of the body is not self-denial. In extreme asceticism, the body is denied all pleasures, or even caused pain, but this is abuse and not biblical. God created us to experience good things, but from time to time we must deny our body certain things, not to the harm of the body but to its ultimate good.
A mother prevents her son from playing in the road not to deprive the boy of fun, but to keep him safe. The boy does not understand at the time, but it is for his own good. The same is true with subjection of the body.
We must treat our body in such a way. Our body is the temple of God and must be kept holy, but the corruption of the world exploits the desires of the flesh with temptations that provide temporal pleasure that leads to a greater harm.
The spirit is willing
Paul said, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”, but we cannot identify with his meaning because people today are so much weaker in the flesh due to lack of discipline and overconsumption.
We can only abstractly identify with his meaning. We know it is hard to make the body do things, but it is much harder when the body is never disciplined and continually indulged. For this reason, Christians today need to restore the practice of regular fasting to gain control over fleshy desires.
If one never exercises, they become sedentary. If one never fasts, they become reckless and carnal. A Christian must fast on a consistent basis in order to build spiritual strength.
As a sedentary person does not start exercising at the level of an athlete, so one does not start with a 40 day fast, or even a 24 hour fast. The body and spirit must start easy, and work up to more experienced levels of fasting.
Along with fasting, one can then begin to add other areas of self-denial. Refraining from shopping. A cold shower, unless one cannot bear it. Daily strenuous exercise. Consistently doing unpleasant things that are productive, such as working or cleaning.
Anything that runs counter to the indulging of the flesh is a practice of self-denial. And yet, every practice of self-denial has tremendous secondary benefits besides building discipline. Fasting has health benefits. Working brings income. Cleaning brings order and lower stress. Exercise brings physical, social, and psychological benefits.
Over time the body learns that by submitting to the spirit, it is better off. And as a result, it begins to listen more readily and provides less resistance, as it is shown the long term rewards and benefits from submission to your spiritual will.
But the body must be kept under control through continual discipline as a bodybuilder must continue to exercise to maintain strength. If the body is allowed to become lazy, it will. You cannot allow this either for your spiritual health or for the health of your body.
Gain control over your flesh, and do so by learning to practice fasting on a regular basis. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Every excuse against fasting such as not feeling good the first time you try it is a trick and a lie of Satan to keep you a slave to the flesh.
Your body lies, and it doesn’t know. The initial discomfort from fasting will go away as you continue getting more experienced at fasting and as your health improves. So start doing fasting, with prayer at every hungry pang, and watch your life change before your eyes.