I was hoping that this would be a rubbish book. Fasting is not something I enjoy, and so I didn’t really want to be persuaded to do more of it. However, the new year is a traditional time for prayer and fasting in many churches, my own included, so I thought it would be a good time to read the book.
“Beware of books on fasting” is the opening sentence of the book. The last thing that Piper would want to do is encourage a legalistic approach. He starts the book off by addressing the criticism that “fasting isn’t Christian”. He disagrees, making Matt 9:14-17 central to his case. The next chapter is devoted to Jesus’ own desert fast where he triumphed over the enemy.
In his usual style, Piper is methodical and thorough in making his case. While he doesn’t say much on the practical and physical aspects of fasting, the reasons behind it are dealt with systematically. Fasting expresses a hunger for God, and glorifies him by preferring him above his gifts. We are to fast for the reward of the Father, not for men to notice us.
Chapter 4 is devoted to fasting for the return of the King – the second coming, and Piper argues that the prayer “your kingdom come” is essentially the same as “maranatha”. Chapter 5 surveys fasting through history, from Old to New Testaments, using Finney, Edwards, and the Korean church as more modern examples. Piper particularly highlights the value of “secret fasting”, in addition to participating in corporate fasts.
There is a chapter on the poor, based on Isa 58, which is a powerful call to be awakened to the hunger of the world, not just your own hunger. This chapter is not so much a call to fasting as a call to action to help the poor – and Piper cautions against an all-or-nothing paralysing effect.
I sensed in places that Piper is more “charismatic” in this book than I have seen before. He discusses the specific guidance that God might bring through a time of prayer and fasting (while cautioning about the need for discernment). He also gives an example of when he felt drawn to prophetically relate a passage of Scripture to his friend’s physical healing.
The final chapter draws from the story of Ezra and calls for fasting on behalf of the many “little ones” who are aborted. His approach to the subject of abortion is direct and he quotes Schaeffer regularly. While not endorsing a “collective tantrum”, he urges Christians to prayer and action. The book’s conclusion is classic Piper, as he explains that the reason God rewards fasting is for his own glory as we acknowledge our helplessness and hope in him. An appendix contains many quotes from writers through the century expressing the value they place on fasting.
I believe this book is an excellent approach to the subject of fasting. It avoids setting out legalistic requirements, and while at the same time does a good job of communicating its value. Perhaps best of all, it seeks to stir a passionate hunger for God, for the second coming, for the poor to be fed, and for the lives of unborn children to be spared. If it can do this, then we will be driven to our knees in prayer and fasting.