Today I want to talk about a discipline that has helped me achieve great progress in the area of sexual integrity: fasting. The ancients fasted out of necessity, or to cure illnesses (e.g. 5th century B.C. Hippocrates). People of every major world religion have fasted for thousands of years. Hebrews and Muslims have regular fast days throughout the year. Heroes of the Bible, like Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Esther, and Jesus fasted. Jesus, in Matthew 6, said to his disciplines “When you fast,” not if.. In my article on Fasting Can Break The Power of Addiction, I describe fasting as “the atomic bomb of personal growth.”
To be sure, I have been fasting on and off for years. I used to practice intermittent fasting as a lifestyle (see here). I’ve completed ten 3-day dry fasts to date, which I documented here and here. I do various fasts of differing lengths, with and without water, on a routine basis.
My point is that, unlike authors who knock fasting on the internet, I am speaking from a place of experience. Keep in mind that a dominant ideology of the 21st century is consumerism. The thought of skipping a meal is blasphemy to many people, despite the respected status of fasting throughout the history of human evolution, human medicine, and spirituality. Having said that, you can read countless testimonies on YouTube and various blogs by people who have actually fasted about the various physical, mental, and spiritual benefits they have experienced.
Without further ado, today I want to expand on the benefits of fasting in the context of sexual integrity. This post is designed for people who are trying to get free from pornography and other problematic lustful behaviors that have damaged their lives. I present to you four of the most relevant and powerful benefits of fasting as it relates to this issue.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and do not give medical advice. Do your research and consult a professional before doing a fast of any length.
1.) Fasting is training in self-control. If you struggle with pornography and lust, you have a self-control issue. Self-control may sound bland, but a lack of it can literally ruin our lives. Fasting trains us in the skill of saying no to our desires. Fasting says that just because we have an impulse, that doesn’t mean we have to act on it, now—and in some cases, ever. In fact, the lie that we have to act on our every impulse leads people into all kinds of addictions and toxic behaviors.
Fasting increases our power not to act on bad impulses, like lusting, stealing, and violence, and to delay acting on good impulses, like eating, drinking, and having sex, until when the time is right.
[The wicked] dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray.Proverbs 5:23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.Galatians 5:22-23
2.) Fasting is training in willpower. Fasts, especially longer ones, require strong willpower to complete. Many of us have the desire to live a life of sexual integrity, and to achieve other good goals, but we do not have the willpower to make it happen. To be sure, willpower isn’t the end-all, be-all. We need healthy relationships and sound processes to achieve our goals. But willpower can enable us to seek them out, and to create an environment conducive to our success. Having a strong will, in addition to the right relationships, processes, and environments, puts us on an path of sexual integrity and getting where we want to go in life.
3.) Fasting is an aid to processing problematic emotions and traumas. Emotional trauma lies at the root of many addictions and dysfunctions, and sexual addiction and dysfunction is no exception. Our fear, our anger, our shame, and our sadness, can drive us to engage in toxic coping behaviors, if we are not careful. In my experience, fasting helps process problematic emotions. The longer a fast goes, the more negative experiences and memories from the past surface in our mind’s attempt to deal with them. Whenever I go to sleep on an empty stomach, I often dream very vividly that night and wake up feeling much lighter, clearly in a better place than I was before.
The fact is that we all medicate emotions with food, even those of us who are at a healthy weight. Food makes us feel good, and there is nothing wrong with that. But sometimes it pays to give up that good present feeling as an investment in feeling much better in the future.
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?Isaiah 58:6
4.) Fasting is a tool to build a stronger relationship with God. If you are a spiritual person, than fasting can be a double-edged sword. Not only do you reap the secular, universal benefits of fasting, but you can use it to grow closer to God. As I mentioned in the intro, the great prophets of the Bible fasted, including Jesus Christ, and believers have done the same throughout history. When we fast, we obey God. We create space in our hearts, minds, and emotions for God to speak and act. And in my experience, he often does.
As Pastor Robert Morris said, the key to having a pure heart, and that includes the sexual area, is spending time with the pure one, who is God. Fasting, when done right, facilitates fellowship with God.
In sum, I would say fasting is a cheat code, but cheating is easy, whereas fasting is a discipline. Fasting requires work. As a general rule in life, if we’re willing to put in the work in an area, we will see positive change, whether it takes place right away or after a period of time. As a result, here is no excuse for our inability to change in the long run.
One more thing to note, fasting is not simply a mechanical exercise. The state of our heart during the fast will influence our results. This is why people are routinely advised to prepare their hearts before engaging in a fast, especially one of a longer duration. Fasting is a grace, and it should be undertaken with a heart of love.
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 58:4
In this passage, God rebukes the Hebrews for fasting, supposedly to get closer to God, while acting angrily and abusive toward one another. I personally have found that the shorter fasts I undertake with the right heart can be as beneficial as longer ones done with a spirit of haste, fear, or self-righteousness.
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.2 Timothy 1:7
Finally, fasting isn’t just a moving away from food and drink; it is a moving toward love, toward power, and toward self-control.
Have you ever fasted before for any of the reasons mentioned in this post? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!