Jesus assumed that his followers would fast. It’s a basic discipline that Jesus taught and practiced. But as I talk with Christians in the UK, I find very few fast. It is a neglected discipline. It is time to recover this practice and discover the benefits. Next week at The Belfrey we begin 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. To prepare and encourage us, over the next 5 days I’m going to re-post on The Belfrey Blog a series of five posts I published last year for my Discipleship Blog help those who are new to fasting and/or have questions about it. I hope they’re useful not just for Belfrey folk, but for all who want to grow as disciples of Christ.
Today we look at the first of 5 Questions about Fasting, asking the question: WHAT?
What is fasting?
The best and simplest definition of fasting I have found is this: ‘fasting is the voluntary giving-up of food’.
It is ‘voluntary’. That means it’s a conscious choice. So if circumstances force us to stop eating – like illness or a lack of food due to war or famine – that is not the kind of fasting described in the bible. Biblical fasting involves a human decision. It may well be inspired by the Holy Spirit, but in the end, a disciple is fasting when they have deliberately chosen to do so.
It is ‘giving-up’. It involves stopping something. Ceasing. Abstaining. Saying ‘no’. This is counter-intuitive as when we get hungry our bodies want to replenish our stomachs. To deny feeding our hunger – even for a short period time – can be a challenge, especially to those who aren’t used to it. But the benefits can be great.
It normally involves not eating ‘food’. Eating food is basic to human nature; it’s how we’re made by God. Fasting involves deciding, for a time, not to eat food, so we can pray.
It’s possible to fast from things other than food. For example the bible describes people temporarily abstaining from alcohol (eg. priests on duty – Lev 10:9) and married couples from sex (eg 1 Cor 7:5). For some these can become permanent fasts – like the Nazarites (Num 6:1-21) and John the Baptist (Luke 1:15) who never drank alcohol, and the people Jesus describes in Matthew 19:12 who choose long-term celibacy. In fact there are all sorts of other things we can fast from too – and there can be many benefits of this. However the main, basic kind of fast that the bible encourages is fasting from food.
PRAYER Lord Jesus, you taught your disciples to fast. So teach me about fasting. Help me to understand what it is and over the coming days and weeks help me to practice this discipline and see the many benefits in my life and the life of others. Amen.
Jesus assumed that his followers would fast.
Fasting involves deciding, for a time, not to eat food, so we can pray.
Matthew Porter is Vicar of The Belfrey in York.