Stephen Um on the Benefits and Dangers of Fasting

Stephen Um talks about the spiritual discipline of fasting and some important reasons for reviving the practice of fasting in the evangelical church in North America.


Below is a lightly edited transcript of the video above. Before quoting, please check the video to ensure accuracy.

Fasting is really important because in the Sermon on the Mount in Mathew Chapter 6 where Jesus says when you give to the needy, or when you pray, or when you fast. So, the understanding is that we would recognize fasting as a habit of grace, a gift from God which He has given to His people in order for us to have a greater, heightened awareness for the things of God. That fasting will be used as a tool, a spiritual discipline, in order that our godly affections might be sharpened.

Within Christianity, at least in North America, fasting is not a habit or a discipline that is used on a regular basis. But the Bible encourages us to fast. Actually, the Scriptures reference fasting around 77 or 78 times. And, just to put it in context, the Bible mentions baptism 75 times. Now we all realize that baptism is very, very important. But if the Bible references fasting around the same amount of time as baptism, then fasting is absolutely essential and important

Fasting is a wonderful discipline and a habit that God has given to his people. There are many different spiritual purposes we see in Scripture: repentance, humility, devotion in worship, and seeking the Spirit’s guidance. We see that it’s done collectively and individually. We see complete fasts and partial fasts. And it’s not so much the different types of fasts that are important but the emphasis on recognizing fasting as a rhythm, one of the habits of grace that we ought to apply on a regular basis.

Within our culture, fasting is becoming popular because scientists have been doing longevity research and have realized that there are benefits to intermittent, periodic fasting. While they are thinking through these things without a biblical worldview, they still recognize that fasting is important.

Leaders within the church should encourage their people to fast. People should especially fast if they sense they are in a place where they are spiritually dry. If they’re using language like, “I’m trying to discern the will of God” or “I’m not sure if I’m really sensing intimacy with God,” then encourage them to fast.

Fasting can be used as a wonderful gift and spiritual discipline, which God has given to his people in order for our godly affections to be awakened and sharpened so that we’ll have a greater awareness of God.

Fasting can be used as a wonderful gift and spiritual discipline, which God has given to his people in order for our godly affections to be awakened and sharpened so that we’ll have a greater awareness of God. On the other hand, Jesus warns us in Mathew chapter 6 that we ought not to fast like the hypocrites in order that we might be seen by others, but we should fast knowing that God sees what we’re doing and that he will reward us.