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What's the importance of Fasting? I've felt compelled at times to fast, but I'm not quite sure what the purpose is. I went online and found that it's very healthy for your body, it's something that a lot of secular people do as well as spiritual.

But I'm not quite sure that I fully understand the spiritual reasons for fasting. Does anybody have any insight into this?

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One of the most common reasons I've heard, is to grow closer to God. –  Cryst Sep 20 '11 at 7:47
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Re "it's very healthy for your body" - that is debatable, and could be risky; for example "However, fasting has fewer advantages than disadvantages and most people don’t know how dangerous fasting is." (with more detail there and elsewhere). Only mentioned because there are serious potential health issue here (for some people, even with only a short fast - diabetics being an obvious example) - it should not be trivially dismissed as "very healthy". –  Marc Gravell Sep 20 '11 at 13:13
    
Fasting might give you some insight into how your own body works and feels like. The spiritual benefits probably have to do with controlling your bodily needs, i.e. not doing what you want to do right now (eat). –  dancek Sep 20 '11 at 14:10
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If you're really interested, I'd recommend picking up a copy of Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline. It's an incredible read & one of the best chapters is over fasting. It's been very popular for a while now - you could probably find it at the library, otherwise there are a ton of copies on half.com, amazon, etc. –  Mike Riess Sep 21 '11 at 7:56

2 Answers 2

Biblical teaching and accounts

Isaiah 58:3-11 taught the Isrealites of their false motives to fast, clarified some of the best reasons for fasting and listed both physical and spiritual benefits that would result.

Jesus himself teaches fasting in private in Matthew 6:16-18 and that you'll be rewarded by God.

Jesus was questioned in Mark 2:18-21.

Other instances of fasting in the Bible are Moses, David, and others

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Fasting facilitates entry into low level non-ordinary states of consciousness. It allows the person fasting to connect to the world around them differently than an average day of eating. Fasting shows restraint, and when an adherent couples that restraint with devotion it is a powerful symbol of one's dedication in spite of the limitations and exigencies of the physical, material world.

Fasting is a practice observed by religions the world over. for some it is a mater of devotion by protesting the flash, for others it is an exercise in humility. Both serve to humble the flesh to elevate the mind. In other religions water fasting is utilized along with other spiritual technologies to accommodate advanced meditative techniques like vision quests or rites of passage. Dating has also served as a method of political protest in the context of oppression of minorities (frequently religious ones; i.e. Catholic, Bobby Sands in Maize Prison was protesting for political prisoner status as a member of a sectarian minority engaged in terrorist activity).

Physiologically, the non-ordinary states are initially derived from subjects experiencing many of the side effects initially of hypo-glycemia (low blood-sugar):

Hypoglycemia causes symptoms such as hunger, shakiness, nervousness, sweating, dizziness or light-headedness, sleepiness, confusion, difficulty speaking, anxiety, weakness (NIH)

Of course, there are different formats to fasting, in/excluding water, food after sunset. However, in any situation where you alter the fuel you are feeding your metabolism, it will need to adjust to accomodate; this can cause psychological effects as well as physical.

I would caution against charging into fasting without consulting a physician as, in contradiction of whatever that online source said, fasting is not always healthy for your body. See here for a run down that lays out some of the benefits, some of the complications, and some of the controversy surrounding both.

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