The life of a born-again Christian is characterized by constant spiritual practices – daily reading of the Word of God and prayer. We know that we need daily communication with God to remain cheerful in faith. But, in addition to those mentioned, there are other practices that Christians sometimes attach too much importance to or, on the contrary, neglect them to a certain extent—for example, fasting.
In these pre-Easter days, the topic of fasting becomes especially relevant. Fasting is one of the most important components of the Christian life, so most Orthodox believers consider it their duty to fast at least during two major fasts – pre-Christmas and pre-Easter(lent).
Emphasizing the importance of fasting, the Orthodox Church teaches:
“Fasting is a great spiritual feat and, above all, an expression of the Orthodox ascetic ideal. The Orthodox Church has always pointed out the high importance of fasting for spiritual life and salvation. Therefore, fasting is celebrated in the Triode as a multi-luminous grace, as an invincible weapon, as a beginning of spiritual feats, as a wonderful path for virtues, as food for the soul, as a source of any good thought, as an imperishable existence and an angelic life inheritance, as the mother of all goods and virtues.”
Unlike the Orthodox, Evangelical Protestant churches do not attach sacred significance to fasting. And unfortunately, in some churches, it is not so often possible to hear a sermon on this topic. And therefore, there is another extreme: not understanding the content of this spiritual practice can sometimes neglect it in our spiritual life.
And one more danger: entering into a fast without understanding its essence and grounds, we do not get the maximum benefit from it. In other words, we need to know why we fast and what we can expect from fasting. Knowledge plays a crucial role in this matter.
Understanding what fasting is, what its real essence and purpose is, reveals the only source of truth – the Word of God.
What is fasting?
The word “fasting” in the original means “abstinence from eating”. Fasting means temporarily giving up food for a specific spiritual purpose. But the essence of fasting is not only in the temporary restriction of food consumption.
If we examine and analyze all the examples of fasting mentioned in the Bible, we can briefly summarize that fasting is always a consequence of a deeply spiritual experience. Fasting expressed the recognition of deep dependence on God. Fasting is a sorrowful, essential search for God and His will during grief, pain and difficult circumstances.
Why is it the refusal to eat? Interestingly, people who are often in stress, anxiety, or deep feelings lose their appetite and often forget to eat, completely focusing on their grief.
Therefore, fasting is a natural reaction to spiritual circumstances and experiences. Deep spiritual needs have naturally provoked fasting. This is not something we should force ourselves to do. It is not necessary to fast for the sake of fasting, performing it as an ordinary religious rite.
The decision to fast is always a voluntary step to express your feelings before God. This is not God’s decree or order. The Bible mentions only one case when God ordered His people to fast – it was a public fast that took place once a year on the feast of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16 chapter). Today Christians do not celebrate this day; God does not require us to fast. Fasting is only our desire and initiative.
Do not perceive fasting as fasting. Fasting is not a tool for punishing the flesh. We will not get away from our sinful nature; the flesh will not become more holy or humble after that. But fasting is one of the best tools for focusing on God.
It is also worth remembering that fasting is not a means to force God to do what we want. On the contrary, it is time that changes us. Fasting is not an amplifier of our requests. Fasting is a spotlight or a lens with God in focus.
It is important to understand that fasting has never made anyone more holy or spiritual. The basis for fasting is our sincere desire to concentrate on God, know His will, analyze our spiritual life, repent of our sins, and find solace and healing in God.
Fasting is the humility of the flesh and spirit, the recognition of absolute dependence on God, the proclamation of His authority in our lives and all the circumstances that develop around.
In all cases of fasting described in the Bible, prayer is an invariable component of it. It’s not enough to give up food, trying to concentrate on God. You need to talk to God about your experiences, circumstances and spiritual struggle. And prayer helps us in this.
What are biblical reasons for fasting and prayer?
- When they were looking for God’s help, protection and guidance. This was the purpose of the fast of Queen Esther, the prophet Joel and King David. These biblical heroes fasted, begging God for protection from enemies in times of danger. Deep feelings for the fate of the people and their manifestation before God were accompanied by prayer and refusal of food.
- When they repented of their sins.The people of Nineveh were fasting when Jonah announced God’s judgment to them. Ezra also confessed and mourned his sins, humbling himself before God through prayer and fasting.
- When we focused on God’s plan and His revelation. Daniel fasted in anticipation of a revelation from God. He couldn’t think about food, only wanting to understand God’s Word. This was the most important thing for him until the Lord gave him a revelation.
- When they adhered to the Day of Atonement. it was a specific command of God – an annual public fast during which the Israeli people repented and mourned their sins before God.
- When we were sad about loved ones after their death. So David fasted and wept for his dead children. So Israel fasted after the death of Saul and Jonathan.
- When leaders were appointed to serve. When the apostles appointed leaders to serve in the New Testament, they prayed and fasted. It was an extremely important decision, so their hearts were filled with the desire to make the right choice, seeking God’s will. The apostles were so responsible that they refused to eat for some time.
What are time intervals to fast?
Just as there is no specific command in the Bible to fast, so there are no instructions on exactly how to fast and how long to do it.
The longest fast mentioned in the Bible lasted 40 days, so Moses and Elijah fasted. In the New Testament, Jesus also performed a forty-day fast to prepare for His ministry alone and in peace: “… and after fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered” (Matthew 4:2).
King David did not eat anything for seven days, Queen Esther, together with the Jewish people, fasted for three days. They often fasted from sunrise to sunset.
Also, one of the varieties of fasting described in the Bible is the so-called “Daniel’s fast”. It provides for the use of only simple food for three weeks. “I did not eat delicious bread; meat and wine did not enter my mouth, and I did not anoint myself with spices until the fulfilment of three weeks of days” (Dan. 10:3).
Sometimes fasting in the Bible was not only abstinence from food – often, people who fasted did not even drink water.
It isn’t easy to talk about a specific time frame for the post. Since there is no specific command of God, every Christian determines his own fasting time intervals.
Also, although fasting in the Bible is almost always accompanied by abstinence from food, there are other ways of fasting. Anything that you can temporarily give up to better focus on God can be considered a fast.
Modern fasting is a rejection of what distracts your attention from God. Analyze how much time you spend with your gadget? Perhaps refusing to use social networks is much more difficult for you than refusing to eat? In any case, abstaining from things that take our attention or bring us special pleasure is a good way to express your humility before God.
What are wrong reasons to fast?
1. The desire to lose weight improve metabolism in the body
This approach to the post is categorically wrong and definitely will not be useful. There are diets for weight loss, so you should not have motivation when starting this spiritual practice. “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). Fasting is not fasting. If our fast is only abstinence from food, we can’t wait for it to end so that we can finally eat; if all our thoughts are focused only on this, then such a practice can hardly be called fasting.
2. The desire to impress others, to show our righteousness
Fasting should not be a tool for demonstrating one’s own spirituality. Jesus taught that fasting, according to religious reasoning, is a personal, even secret matter between God and a person who fasts (Matthew 6:16-18). The Pharisee and the publican parable shows that fasting does not make a person morally or spiritually better for others (Luke 18:9-14).
3. The desire to adhere to the religious formality
It is not worth fasting because everyone fasts, or “Christians should.” It is not worth fasting just because the period of fasting has come. If we do not understand the content of fasting, this spiritual practice becomes just a religious rite. God can be compared to a father who does not like it when children express their love for Him not out of the dictates of their hearts but only out of a sense of duty (Isaiah 58:5-7).
4. Desire to beg something from God
God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want. As a result, the thought may appear to somehow “appease” God so that He still gives the desired answer to our request. Fasting with the desire to ask God for mercy and protection, we do not strengthen our request; we reveal our humility before God. Before starting a fast for some need, it is worth checking your desires and goals with the Word of God.
If you choose to fast:
- concentrate on who is God,
- meditate on His faithfulness and the grace He bestows upon His children,
- check your spiritual state,
- check your motivation
- fast in a spirit of humility and joy.
Fast to get a deeper relationship with God and get as close to Him as possible. The trials we go through sometimes take our eyes off Christ. Don’t use fasting to focus on your own problems or try to get God to fix your problem immediately. Tame your heart and the desires of your flesh (not just those related to food).