Why Do We Fast?
Hey guys!! I hope this post finds you well! So I'm back with the topic of fasting! Lent starts tomorrow and I know many people all over the world, including myself are preparing to fast from Ash Wednesday until Resurrection Sunday. But that's not even exactly why I'm writing this post. I had a conversation about beginning the Daniel fast (what my church family does every Lenten season) with a few close friends of mine whom I love and respect; one of them said something that immediately made me sad and angry all at the same time. She shared feelings that "fasting is becoming too commercial" and thinks people engage in the act of fasting but there is no true heart change or change in actions, just that they are "giving up something". And for this reason she does not fast. Now, I wouldn't be me if I didn't feel a righteous indignation rising up on the inside of me lol, that I just couldn't let it go.
The fact that this society is so corrupted that they would even seek to taint, water down, trivialize, and "trend" if you will, the spiritual discipline of fasting, really grinds my gears. I questioned, "why do we fast?" I am by no means a theologian or a bible scholar but just a girl who loves Jesus and wants to share what I came up with after pondering this question.
Let's start with the obvious. What is the definition of fasting? After looking this up I came up with the following definition: "abstinence from food and/or drink as an element of private or public devotion". In the Bible there is no set definition nor commandment to fast but it is done in the Old Testament quite a few times surrounding the following themes: repentance, mourning, and seeking God's hand or guidance. Let's look at a few examples!
Joel 2:12 states “Even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning." The Lord is telling the people to fast, weep, and mourn so that they may turn their hearts back to Him and not on others things of this world. When we fast it is to purify our hearts and surrender them back to God. In Jonah 3:5 the people repented and “a fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth”. In the Old Testament it was customary to fast while in mourning, 2 Samuel 1:12 states, “They mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and his son Jonathan and for the people of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.” When it comes to seeking the Lord and discerning His direction I always look back at Esther and Jehoshaphat. 2 Chronicles 20:3 tells us “Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the LORD for guidance. He also ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting.” In Esther 4:16 she urges “"Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish." Jehoshaphat and Esther not only fasted themselves but called upon their entire communities because they were desperate to hear from God and probably realized the importance, power, and significance of solidarity and agreement of believers.
In the New Testament Jesus does not explicitly say that we must fast but His words and actions imply that we must lol. So what does He say? In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus says "When you fast, do not look gloomy like hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 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." So the first major thing to point out here is that Jesus says "when you" not "if you". He is giving instructions on how fasting should be done when you do so because you are most certainly going to do so. Also, Jesus is specifically letting us know that fasting isn't a trend or something we do to impress others like my friend was stating society has made it, but rather that it is to be strictly between us and God. We are not to brag and boast about fasting and we should actually keep it to ourselves as much as we can.
So now that we've gone over what He says, what does Jesus do? He practices the very spiritual discipline of fasting HIMSELF. For every Christian who cries out or who has ever cried out "Lord I just want to be more like Christ, help me to live like Jesus did, and the all-time favorite "what would Jesus do?", this should be proof enough as to why you should fast. Jesus prayed and abstained from food for 40 days in the wilderness and was tempted by Satan (Luke 4:1-2). Now Jesus is God and has a divine connection with God the Father as His only begotten Son and He prayed and sacrificed food and drink to communicate and commune with God the Father. I don't know about you, but that immediately convicts me. I pray to get closer to God daily but how many times am I willing to sacrifice and get in true seclusion in order to seek His face? Not as often as I should. Another cue I think we should take from Jesus is that His fasting was preceded by the Spirit. Matthew 4:1 tells us "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil". I think it is very important that we are led by the Holy Spirit in our fasting. We should not simply fast because everyone else is doing so or just to find favor in God's eyes, or definitely not to appease others. Now I also want to point out that we need to be careful about saying what we are "led" to do and not to do. Sometimes we are led by our feelings and not the Holy Spirit, but that's another topic for another time! Just be authentic in what you do for the Lord because He is the only one who knows our deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9-10).
I also wanted to give some background on the Lenten season as a bonus. As I stated previously, this topic of fasting was only discussed because of the Lenten season quickly approaching. So here is a little overview I came up with after doing some research:
What is Lent?
The Lenten season lasts for a total of 40 days. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends Resurrection Sunday (Easter Sunday). During this time, Christians reflect on Christ (life, death and burial, and resurrection). This is a time where we emulate Christ's many sacrifices through performing our own; by giving up food, social media, t.v., drinking, shopping, etc... anything that we truly enjoy for the purposes of replacing that pleasure with prayer, worship, and devotion to God. The 40 days is representative of the 40 days Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-2). Throughout the entire season we are mediating, repenting, fasting, praying, and preparing for the joyous celebration of Christ resurrection.
What is Ash Wednesday?
The first day of Lent, which is 40 days (not including Sundays) prior to Resurrection Sunday. The name comes from the practice of taking the ashes from the previous year's Palm Sunday (derives from Jesus triumphantly entering into Jerusalem and the crowd scattering palm branches in front of Him as he was riding in on a donkey) blessing them and placing them on the head of members of the church. At this time the person performing this act will tell the member to "repent, and believe the gospel" or "remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return".
I hope you all gained some knowledge about why we fast, through reading this long post lol! It was on my heart to share and so that's what I did. Love you all!
Until next time! Whatever you do, do it ALL to the glory of God.