Fasting: Teaching Kids Spiritual Disciplines

This article was originally published on Lifeway.

Here are some practical ways to teach kids about fasting through experience with short and intentional opportunities.

Of all the disciplines, fasting is probably the one I have personally practiced the least. For those of you who know me, that doesn’t come as a surprise. Denying myself food doesn’t come easy to me. While many of us have bought into the idea that unless we’re having three large meals (and several snacks in between) everyday, we’re starving ourselves. The truth is that many of us could easily cut back and even find ourselves healthier. In Matthew 6:16 Jesus gives some instruction on fasting. Verse 16 starts with, “When you fast . . .” not “If you fast . . .” That would say to me that it’s something we are to do.

Scripture refers to fasting as abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. Normally fasting includes abstaining from all food, solid or liquid, but not water. Occasionally, we find what has been called an “absolute fast.” or an abstaining from both food and water. That appears to be for desperate measures to meet dire emergencies. For the purposes of this post (and when dealing with kids) I want us to consider a partial fast or a restriction of one’s diet but not a total abstention. Daniel talks a little about this in chapter 10.

Here are some practical ways to fast with kids:

  • Make different choices. For a period of time, choose healthy foods for snacking. Instead of cookies, choose carrots. Instead of soda choose water. Instead of fast food, choose nutritious meals.
  • Abstain from sweets. Lead kids to not eat sugar based foods (candy, cake, pastries) for a designated time.
  • A digital fast. As a family, decide to fast from technology. This could be as simply as not using the DVD player in the minivan to a complete abstinence for a week or month.
  • Grow from short to more intensive fasts. Don’t start with a 40-day, “no (fill in the blank)” fast that will be difficult to achieve. Start small and build on success.

Be intentional about helping kids understand why you’re fasting:

  • Fasting must center on God. If you fast for any reason other than to center on Him; His will and His desire, it will be in vain.
  • Fasting reminds us that God is our provider of every good and perfect gift. Help kids find this reality.
  • Fasting helps us focus. The point of a fast is to focus on a particular issue, need, concern, or desire. Determine the point and be very intentional to share and help kids understand.
  • Fasting is a discipline not a punishment. Don’t use the biblical discipline of fasting to ease your guilt or need to punish poor behavior.
  • Model biblical fasting. Kids learn more from what they see than what they simply hear. When teaching the discipline of fasting, know that you can’t lead kids to do something that you’re not willing to do yourself.
  • Don’t sell kids short. While the practice and understanding of biblical fasting will be best suited for older kids, teaching and allowing kids to participate in age-appropriate ways will lay foundations for deeper and more meaningful experiences in the future.

This inwardly expressed discipline (not publicly shared but a private matter between the individual and God) in its traditional sense should be approached with a lot of thought and care. For us to ignore this discipline would be a blatant disregard of Old and New Testament practice as well as Christ’s expectation shared in the Gospels.

Obviously, there are physical issues and limitations to consider and, quite frankly, fasting may not be for everyone—especially kids. You may want to check with a doctor before beginning a fast from food. But ultimately, I cannot think of a reason why we would ignore teaching about fasting and at some level help kids understand, through experience, short and intentional opportunities to practice what Jesus (and many Bible heroes) practiced.

Since 2003, Bill Emeott has served as a Lead Kids Ministry Specialist for LifeWay. His passions include childhood ministry leadership training and development, leading children’s Bible Study, and being an uncle! 

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