This week’s post is an answer to several questions I received recently about fasting. What is it? How do I go about it? What is the goal? What are the results?
Let me start with what fasting is. As Richard Foster puts it in his book Celebration of Discipline, fasting, in the Biblical context, is abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. Let me add that while the practice is absolutely shown in the Bible, and one that Jesus himself participated in, fasting is not exclusively a Christian practice. Many other world religions practice fasting as well.
At the core of fasting is the principle that we cannot take up anything new when our hands are already full. By removing something from our life we create room for God. Fasting also serves as a reminder to turn to God. Each time a hunger pang hits, for instance, we have a tangible reminder to pray.
Motive for fasting is the key. Let me say it like this…the only motivation for fasting is to draw near to God. Fasting is opening yourself to God; inviting God to speak while you listen; acknowledging your total need for God. Anything else is a false fast or maybe better put “a diet”.
How to go about fasting is the next question to tackle. For me, I fast from dinner on Thursday to dinner on Friday. In reality, this is not enough time for the body to feel much of the effects, but my normal rhythm of eating has been broken and faux hunger pains find their way into my consciousness. These are wonderful reminders to pray. And that is the key to what I do weekly. I circumvent my regular pattern of living so to be more aware of my relationship with God. There has been much written and practiced concerning a longer period of fasting lasting anywhere from 21-40 days. While I acknowledge this exists, I have not taken up a fast lasting anywhere near that long.
Let me say that not everyone can fast from food due to health concerns. But everyone can fast from something. The concept of fasting can be effective by abstaining from something else in your life such as your phone or TV or even riding in a car. Imagine spending a day walking or riding a bike to where you need to go and use that time in prayer? Or not sitting looking at FaceBook or email and instead giving that time to prayer? You get the idea…
I want to say that I am no expert at fasting. In fact, there are many people with more experience who can be a better role model and teacher. In fact, let me suggest Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline as a great primer on many of the spiritual disciplines including fasting. For me, I don’t desire to be an expert at fasting but rather a practitioner. I do know this…regularly pre-empting my normal eating pattern has given me more desire to grow closer to God and at times positioned me to hear what I may very well have missed.
I have challenged the good people at the Downtown community of First United Methodist Church in Lexington to fast and pray Fridays with me. In particular, I ask that we spend time praying for the United Methodist Church and First Church as we await decisions from the February 2019 General Conference. What is at stake is written in other places so I will not rehash it here but suffice to say the future of the UMC hangs on the decisions made in St Louis this February. A good time to pray and fast for sure.