Fasting and the christian
One aspect of Christian life
that is receiving new attention in these days, is fasting. Perhaps we need to listen once more to the Bible's teaching about fasting.
It is not true that only Pharisees fast. Right through the Bible - also in the New Testament - fasting forms an important role in serving God. During the Reformation fasting was prominent. John Wesley (of the Methodist Church) even refused to
ordain a minister who did not fast regularly.
When should a Christian fast?
John Calvin speaks about the Christian fast in Institute 1V:X11:14-18. He says one should fast for three reasons:
1. To avoid being controlled by the flesh (your sinful nature);
2. For prayer and meditation;
3. As part of repentance and confession of sins.
He stresses especially that a time of fasting and prayer should be called for whenever intercession for an important matter is needed.
John Wesley tells of a national day of prayer and fasting proclaimed by the King of England in 1756 because of an impending attack by France. The
churches were filled to overflowing, for everybody realized the danger. Their prayers were answered, and the attack was averted.
Examples from the Bible
We often read of times of prayer and fasting in the Bible, e.g.
- when worshiping the Lord (Acts 13:2)
- when sending out missionaries (Acts 13:3);
- when elders were elected (Acts 14:23);
- when believers were in danger (Esther 4:16);
- when specific prayers were called for (Psalm 35:13).
In the Sermon on the Mount it is clear that
Jesus expected his disciples to fast at times. In Matthew 6:16-18 He says, "and when you fast, do not put on a sad face as the hypocrites do..."
It is surprising to discover which Bible characters found it necessary to fast, e.g.:
Moses (Exodus 24:18);
David (Psalm 69:10);
Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:1-4);
Elijah (1 Kings 19:8);
Ezra (Ezra 8:21-23); Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4);
Joel (Joel 2:15);
Anna (Luke 2:37);
Jesus (Matthew 4:2);
his disciples (Luke 5:35);
Paul (Acts 9:9)
and the Christian churches (Acts 14:23).
So we also read in the Didache, a Christian document written in the
first century AD, that Christians of that period fasted every Wednesday and Friday.
How does one fast?
There are different ways of fasting:
1. By avoiding delicacies (Daniel 10:3);
2. By eating less than usual;
3. By avoiding all food, but drinking liquids (Luke 4:2);
4. By abstaining from all food and drink (Acts 9:9). (The
latter is exceptional, since a normal human cannot live for more than three days without liquid intake.)
The Christian fast should not be confused with
- meal strikes for political purposes;
- a diet plan to lose weight;
- fasting for health, as has become the fashion lately.
Christian fasting is always combined with prayer, since fasting on its own does not have any value in God's eyes (Joel 2:13; Isaiah 58:5; Colossians 2:23; Zechariah 7:5).
Fasting reveals to us what really controls our lives. It helps to keep the body under control (1 Corinthians 9:27) and helps us to avoid becoming
addicted to anything (1 Corinthians 6:12).
The Christian fast is completely voluntary. It helps you to dedicate yourself completely to prayer. All who practice fasting testify to the value thereof.
If you wish to fast, you are recommended to start by skipping one meal, and later to abstain from food for 24 hours (supper to supper). If you are not very healthy you could also fast by just abstaining from rich foods and sweets.
Remember the main purpose of fasting : to have fellowship with God.