Fasting an essential spiritual discipline
Fasting can be termed as abstaining from food, drink, sleep or sex to focus on a period of spiritual growth. In the modern times, fasting from FaceBook or Social Media is also considered as spiritual discipline.
In other religions also similar fast is done. It is called as ritual fast and some are called as ‘tapsya’ a kind of penance to gain supernatural power. This supernatural power can be used for taking revenge, destroy others and can have wicked intentions. Power without purpose and meaning can be destructive. Some religions use fasting as a way to immerse with the eternal being. By not taking any food or water, some die which they term as ‘samadhi’.
Fasting can be used as tool to fight oppression in democracy. However, Christian fasting is not for that. It cannot be used as emotional black mail against God.
Biblical examples of fasting
- To Repent
People of Nineveh repented when Jonah preached against the city. (Jonah 3: 6-9) Though Jonah did not expect people of Nineveh to repent. Ezra prayed, fasted and mourned for the sin of Israel. (Ezra 10: 6-17) Saul went to persecute the church of God. On his way, Lord Jesus Christ confronted him. He repented and fasted and prayed. (Acts 9:1-9) Lord spoke to the Nation of Israel to fast, pray and return to the Lord through Prophet Joel. (Joel 2:12)
- To show grief
Nehemiah when received the bad report about Jerusalem, he fasted and prayed. He was grieved for the city of Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 1:1-4) It was burden and concern for the people of God and their misery. This kind of burden should grip us when we see sin and blunders in the church and disobedience of Christians not involved in the Great Commission task.
- To seek God’s wisdom
The elders of the church in the city of Antioch fasted and prayed. (Acts 13: 1-3) They leaders wanted to know God’s plan, purpose and future strategy of the local church. God revealed that to the small group of leaders. Paul and Barnabas sought the wisdom of God to appoint elders in the churches they planted. (Acts 14:23) They needed discernment to choose right kind of leaders.
- To prepare for ministry
Lord Jesus Christ fasted and prayed before he began the ministry. (Matthew 4:1-2) When people begin their ministry in response to God’s call, it is essential to fast and pray to get guidance, wisdom, courage and resources.
- To seek deliverance and victory
The People of Israel fasted and prayed for deliverance. (Judges 20:26) When Satan and his cronies try to conspire against us, we need deliverance and victory. Esther fasted and prayed for the protection and deliverance of Israel from the hands of conspirator Haman, who wanted ethnically destroy the nation of Israel. (Esther 4: 15-17)
- To worship God
Anna fasted and worshiped God in the Temple of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:37) Anna though an old woman was following strict discipline of fasting and worshipped the Lord.
- To express need
Hannah prayed and did not eat as she was depressed. (I Samuel 1:7) Hannah received her desire and God blessed her with Samuel. David prayed for the healing and deliverance from death for his son. (II Samuel 12:1-23) However, God rejected his prayer. David accepted that and immediately resumed his normal duties when his son died as punishment for his sin of adultery.
- To Intercede
Daniel interceded for the children of Israel. (Daniel 9:3) By reading the prophecy of Jeremiah, Daniel understood that the Babylonian captivity will last for 70 years. So, he fasted and prayed for delivering the nation of Israel from the slavery of Babylon. Intercession is a privilege for Christians. They should pray for others. Most religions teach people to pray for themselves and their family. Christian prayer embraces the whole world.
- To receive the Law
Moses fasted for forty days and nights to receive the Law. (Deuteronomy 9: 9-18) Moses had to prepare himself in humility to receive the sacred Law and covenant.
- For spiritual discipline
Pharisees fasted two days a week as a spiritual discipline. (Luke 18:12) This was their regular practice. There is church tradition like Lent, when people fast for 40 days before Easter. Seasons of fasting prayer is essential to take stock of our spiritual life and progress.
Ahab wanted to have the vineyard of Naboth but he was not willing to sell. His wife Jezebel the queen instigates the local leaders to proclaim a fast and bring false accusation that Naboth has cursed the Lord and king and stone him to death. (I Kings 21:9-10) Later Ahab takes possession of Naboth’s vineyard.
There are people who like to show the world they fast. King Saul was rejected as King, Prophet Samuel was not in favour with him. Hence, Saul wanted to keep the people on his side. To show people that he was pious and religious, he declared a fast during war, until he avenged his enemies. (I Samuel 14:24) Can an army fast and indulge in war.
Fasting a lifestyle
Prophet Isaiah writes about true fasting. It is not just a ritual or ceremonial discipline, it is true lifestyle of a person who worships the righteous God. ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. 4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58: 3-8)
Fasting means to be humble before God. We come to his presence with humility knowing that we are just human and He is Sovereign Lord. Humility is a virtue Lord wants to reward. As water flows towards the lower ground, God’s grace flows towards those who are humble. Humility is created in our minds and hearts when we see the awesome majesty of God.
- Not take personal pleasure
Coming to the Lord with fasting is not for personal pleasure, but give glory and honour to God. It is an act of sacred worship and consecration. It is not a fun or entertainment gathering.
- Do not quarrel and fight
The children of Israel quarreled and fought. It was not a pious, religious, spiritual, and sacred assembly but gathering in which conflicts, divisions ruptured. There was nothing spiritual there only carnal emotions.
- Do not involve in violence
The Israelites used their fist to attack others. Their language for settling scores was violence. This wicked deed could have been against poor, marginalized and workers. Instead of treating with dignity the powerless, helpless and hopeless, they used violence to suppress them.
- Loosens the chains of injustice
God expected them to have fast which means to loosen the chains of injustice. They have to be pursuing righteousness. They should expel injustice from their mindset, attitude, relationships, systems and structures of the society.
- Unties the chord of yoke
The children of Israel could have put people under yoke instead of untying them. Giving loans on exorbitant interest and other yoke. Bonded labour, child labour and other forms of yoke are tied upon innocent and poor people. Releasing such victims should be the goal and purpose of a fast.
- Freedom to the oppressed
The oppressed are under constant pressure. Children of Israel oppressed others as they were oppressed by taskmasters in Egypt. They were holding fellow Israelites as slaves, they ought to free them.
- Food for the hungry
Fasting means to give food for the hungry. The food they have not taken due to fasting ritual should be distributed to the hungry, poor and needy. Finding ways and means to feed the poor is essential outcome of fast.
- Provision for the poor
God expected them to be generous and give to the poor. “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.” (Proverbs 11:24) Fasting should teach us to be grateful to God, generous towards others.
- Clothe for the naked
God expected the Israelites to provide for those who are naked. Clothing them is giving them dignity and security. There would be always less privileged people around us who own less than what we own. Considering them and providing for them is a Christian virtue.
How to fast?
“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.” (Matthew 6: 16-18)
- Not gloomy
Those who fast should not go around with long face. They should not reveal to others about their fast. It is sad that there are people who advertise their fasting time table, which is not necessary. Instead, the person who fasts should be normal in appearance and attitude.
- People as audience?
Fasting is not for the people. It is not performance or entertainment show. It is a sacred duty to be done in the presence of God and not human beings. That means, our fasting should be seen only by God and not human beings.
- God is secret
God is invisible and children of God should approach him in secret. The prayer conversation during fasting has to be secret and not a public discourse. Even what we whisper in darkest night in a lonely place is heard by God. He even understands our groaning and responds to the same.
- Reward in open
God hears the secret conversations and rewards or answers in open. People will never know that we have prayed but see the glorious results of answered prayers.
Results of fasting
There are four results of fasting according to Isaiah.
- Light will go forth
There will be breakthrough in our lives. Light will shine in darkness. The end of tunnel will be there in our journey.
God will heal us. It is not just physical healing, but emotional and spiritual healing.
- Jehovah will be rear guard
A small child in his enthusiasm tries to lift all the stuff from the portico and walk back home. His father walks just behind the son. Each article or toy that is dropped is delightfully picked up by the father. This is the picture of my life. “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.” (Isaiah 58:8) He is my rear guard and picks what I fail or drop and makes it perfect.
- Answer to prayers
The Lord will be Immanuel: God with us. He will be encircle us with His presence.
Fasting is not a tool to exploit God, or intimidate enemies and impact others. Fasting is a discipline and life style that will make us more humble, dependent on God, seek his favour and receive marvelous blessings. Receiving blessings is to give comfort, consolation, encouragement, inspiration, guidance and blessings to others. Fasting is not a selfish act but a sacrificial act for His Glory and Kingdom.