What is it? Isn’t it Catholic or something eastern mystics do?
We’ve come acrossed it in our C2C journey through the Bible, most recently in relation to Ezra and Esther. Both these Biblical figures called God’s people to fast.
On Feb 1, 1793 the Republic of France declared war on Great Britain. The dangers of revolutionary France, not least of which was its godlessness and explicit anti-Christian tenor, troubled Europe. So Britain led other European nations in the 1st coalition which sought to contain the spread of this movement.
The trouble was that France was powerful and Britain did not emerge the leading power until 1815; at this point British triumph was not a forgone conclusion. France was a larger country, with more people and a larger military. Only 50 miles separated the two countries. On the other side of the English Channel was a bunch of riled up Frenchmen with guns!
As part of the war effort King George III immediately declared a national fast day for April 19, 1793. The populace was to abstain from food and attend religious services with “Fasting, humiliation, and the imploring of divine intercession” to be the aim of the day. Churches everywhere and of all stripes took up the Kings call, including Baptists.
It is a great tragedy that today no government would do such a thing (for Covid!); instead we seek to lean on our own ingenuity and strength instead of imploring/seeking/fasting.
Numerous Biblical characters fasted:
Moses fasted before receiving the 10 Commandments (Dt 9:9–18); David fasted in repentance and for his child’s life (2 Sam 12:1–23); Elijah fasted when he fled from Jezebel (1 Ki 19:4–8); Esther fast for the safety of the Jews before going to King (Est 4:15–17); Darius fasted or Daniel’s safety when he had been thrown to the lions (Dan 6:18–23); Daniel fasted that God might help him to understand a vision (Dan 10:1–3); Jesus fasted before His temptation by Satan (Mt 4:1–2); Paul fasted after his conversion (Acts 9:1–9); the early church elders fasted before sending out missionaries (Act 13:1-3); on & on the list goes. It is a great theme of the Bible being mentioned 132 times!
The exemplars of the faith fasted; do we?
Rather than some foreign or optional spiritual discipline, Jesus expected His followers would practice this spiritual discipline of fasting. Speaking of fasting without great fanfare and self-attention, He said:
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Mt 6:16–18
Notice Jesus said, “when you fast;” it was an expectation. What Jesus took issue with was not fasting but why and how people were fasting.
Jesus expects we will pray and fast (in secret, or at least—in the case of a public fast—in humility) and when we do there will be great benefit.
At its heart, and why it is associated with prayer, is that it symbolically and spiritually is an act of humility, or entire dependence upon God. It reminds us of our need of Him and working with faith is a something the Lord is pleased to bless (Isa 66:2b).
Fasting is not a form of weight loss!
However, there are many and a variety of reasons to fast: for protection (Ezra 8); in distress and grief (Jud 20:26); in repentance (1 Sam 7:6, Joel 2:12–13); for spiritual strength: to overcome temptation or to dedicate yourself to God (Mt 4:1–11); to strengthen prayers (Mt 17:21); to encourage love and worship (Lk 2:37); for guidance/ help in important decisions (Acts 14:23); to help build intimacy with God (James 4:8); to develop spiritual self-discipline (1 Cor 9:27).
If you have never fasted before, allow me to offer a couple practical considerations:
When not to fast? (these are not meant to be excuses)
How to fast…
The spiritual discipline of prayer & fasting have been hallmarks of great and godly Christians and times of great spiritual revival in churches and across nations.
Before crossing the Jordan, Joshua told the people, “consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”
Spiritual complacency and mediocrity stand in the way of God doing great things among us. It is only when we set ourselves apart to humbly seek His face, intentionally & systematically imploring the LORD’s favour, that we can reasonably expect the LORD to do great things amongst us!
Fasting is of paramount importance to the Christians toolkit to facilitate this great and noble aim. May the Spirit empower us to rise to this challenge and be obedient to Christ’s words, “when you fast”.
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.