[Papercut Press] 2000-12-11 - Fasting

Nehemiah 1:4 Now it came about when I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

Fasting was a long standing practice among the Israelites in the Old Testament. In the New Testament church it is clear that fasting was practiced (Acts 13:2, 14:23), but it was a voluntary practice. Generally, fasting has been done because of some approaching danger (Esther 4:16), fear (Daniel 6:18), grief (2 Samuel 12:16), or national disaster (1 Samuel 31:11-13).

Tertullian says that the early Christians adopted a specific practice of fasting. Generally, Christians fasted on Wednesday and Friday. These days were chosen to remember the days that Christ was betrayed and crucified. These days of fasting were called "dies stationum," which implies that the life of the Christian was to be like the life of a soldier.

The abstinence in fasting can be from all food, particular foods, individual meals, and for selected periods of time. Fasting is voluntary. Fasts that are prescribed are less desirable because there are no binding stipulations in Scripture that we must fast. However, there are many reasons for us to consider fasting.

Fasting has long been part of the practice of godly men and women. This does not, in itself, mean we should fast, but it may be evidence that there is a real reason to fast. If godly men and women, generally, seem to be people who practice fasting, maybe there is a connection.

Acts of self-denial, even in a denial of those things that are proper and good, tend to mortify the lusts of the flesh. The act of fasting is one way to show our bodies, in a way we feel personally, that our souls and our spiritual lives are of greater worth than our dying bodies.

However, fasting must not only be voluntary and free, but it must also be sincere. The fasting of the Pharisees was hypocritical (Matthew 6:16-18). But our fasting should be done with the freedom that we practice this discipline by choice in order to train our bodies, hearts, and minds to focus on that which is unearthly.

One of the best statements I have come upon on fasting was written by John Calvin in his Institutes, book 4, section 12, chapter 14, paragraph 15, "Therefore let us say something of fasting, because many, for want of knowing its usefulness, undervalue its necessity, and some reject it as almost superfluous; while, on the other hand, where the use of it is not well understood, it easily degenerates into superstition. Holy and legitimate fasting is directed to three ends; for we practice it either as a restraint on the flesh, to preserve it from licentiousness, or as a preparation for prayers and pious meditations, or as a testimony of our humiliation in the presence of God when we are desirous of confessing our guilt before him."

We are presently in the season of feasting. All diets, it seems, end at Thanksgiving and begin again on January 2. But this is still a good time to consider fasting. It is one of those spiritual exercises that can aid in deepening our walk and communion with the Lord. A deeper walk with Christ is one of those sought after aspects of the Christians life that we ought to do all we can to strengthen.

Soli Deo Gloria,

[email tim] brutefact@hotmail.com