When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, Matthew 6;16-17
What I find interesting about what Jesus says there about fasting, is he doesnt say “if you fast” but “when you fast” Jesus assumes that fasting will be part of our spiritual life. Its clear when you read the book of Acts, that it was a normal part of the life of Jesus disciples and the church. ” So after they had fasted and prayed” Acts 13:3
I suspect that fasting isnt quite as normal for us, but then again neither do we seem to experience the power of the Spirit at work in our lives and church that we read about in Acts. Those two facts may be related.
So what is fasting? That seems like an obvious question but we should perhaps think more clearly about fasting. So lets do that …
Andrew Murrray once wrote than “fasting helps us to deepen and confirm our resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything even ourselves, for the Kingdom of God.” Fasting then, among other things, puts us in the right posture towards God. So its no surprise that Scripture and the history of the Church are full of examples of fasting which often are connected to incredible responses by God. It seems like people and sometimes whole communities were deeply impacted by their experience of fasting.
WHAT FASTING ISN’T
However we need to be careful because some have described fasting as an almost mechanical way that we can manipulate God into doing what we want him to do. So the message that subtly and sometimes not so subtly is given is that if we just fast long enough or often enough God is duty bound to give us what we want. It’s important for us to grasp that, that is not what fasting is all about. In fact, that kind of attitude in which we think we can simply manipulate God by not eating can be deeply damaging to our spiritual lives and churches.
WHAT FASTING IS
In the best definition of fasting I have come across Scot McKnight describes fasting like this: “Fasting is the natural inevitable response to a grievous sacred moment in life”
When something serious in life happens we respond as “whole” person mind, soul and body. If someone we love dies, we think about the pain of our loss, we feel that pain in our emotions and its often expressed by our body in not feeling like eating. In the same way when we realise a “grievous sacred moment” like the seriousness of our own sin, or a great need that our church community has, we will think about it, we will respond with our emotions and the natural bodily response will be to express our seriousness, grief, regret and desire for change by abstaining from food.
Scot MckNight says something I found interesting. He says that too often in Church we put the focus on the wrong place. We concentrate on getting the right results from fasting rather than having the right attitude to what has happened that causes us to fast.
McKnight says “Fasting is response to a sacred moment not an instrument designed to get us our desired results” he goes on say “Biblical fasting starts right here, because of the sacredness of some moment, or task ahead, an embodied person chooses to avoid physical indulgence for a period of time in order to focus their attention on God” This what a time of prayer and fasting should be about for us as a community.
Lets fast because we desperately need God, not to try and manipulate him.
HOW TO FAST
Here is how McKnight describes fasting in the Bible “The biblical sense of fasting involved not eating anything from sun up to sun down (twelve hours) or on occasions from sun down to sun down ( twenty four hours). Absolute fasts involve denying the body water and food. Rarely does a fast in the Bible extend beyond twelve hours, though sometimes it does”
The normal “biblical” fast then would have been a 12 hours abstinence from food but not liquids. So lets be ” biblically normal” Why not try and go without food for twelve hours if you can, or perhaps half that if you are fasting for the first time? (Don’t attempt to fast if you have a medical condition that would be adversely affected. You could fast from something else, perhaps the TV or the internet?)
Remember Jesus` warning about fasting, don’t make a big deal about it to other people in a way that draws attention to yourself. Keep it between you and the Lord unless you are fasting with others about a specific need.