If the voluntary giving-up of food is a good thing to do, when should I do it? This is a third of 5 Fasting Questions that many people have: WHEN?
When should I fast?
As we look at the bible and also the wisdom of the saints who’ve gone before us, we find that there are many times and periods in life when fasting might be appropriate.
Sometimes people fast in response to present circumstances. They need guidance, so they fast. They are grieving, so they fast. They are in crisis, so they fast. They are sorry for the wrong they’ve done, so they fast. They need healing, so they fast. They want to pray fervently for a situation, so they fast. A community wants to cry out to God together, so they fast.
Sometimes people fast because the Holy Spirit particularly guides them. This is true of Jesus, who ‘was led by the Spirit’ into the wilderness for a long fast (Lk 4:1-2). In this case, circumstances do not force the fast – in fact quite the opposite! Jesus is already full of the Holy Spirit (Lk 4:1) having had a dramatic encounter in his baptism and seemingly ready for ministry. Yet the Spirit knows he is not yet ready. More preparation is needed, aided by fasting. That’s why it’s important that we listen to the prompting of God’s Spirit in our lives. Sometimes, for reasons that we may not fully understand at first, God calls us to fast. At such times, fast.
Sometimes people fast as a regular habit or discipline. They build it into their calendar. In New Testament times Pharisees fasted twice per week (Lk 18:12). Many in the early church fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays, although it was not obligatory. Some chose to fast for one day per month or on particular holy days. In the early church some fasted for 40 hours up to Easter morning, reflecting the time Jesus was in the tomb. The Roman church later encouraged a 40 day fast of varying sorts during Lent, which some still practice today. In recent years a number of churches across the world have sensed the Spirit calling their communities to fast in January, with churches fasting for 7 or 21 Days as a sign of dedicating the year ahead to the Lord. We at The Belfrey are about to begin a period of 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting.
So there are many times and seasons in life when we could fast. How do we decide? For me, I aim for a balance between the planned and the spontaneous. I want to be flexible enough so that I am ready and willing to respond to circumstances by fasting. But I also want to build in a regular fast into my life.
As we approach these 21 Days, we're being given an important opportunity to fast and seek God together. So please take this seriously. People will be fasting in a number of different ways, but what's important is that we're all doing it, together. So let's make the most of this time. It may prove to be one of the most significant three weeks of our lives!
PRAYER Lord Jesus, I thank you for your incredible love for me – whether I fast or not! Thank you Jesus that you modelled a life of discipline and spontaneity. Help me to learn from you, and strengthen me to develop good habits that will sustain and equip me as a disciple. May this coming period of Prayer & Fasting be transformative for me, my family, my church, my city and my region. Amen.
...there are many times and periods in life when fasting might be appropriate
As we approach these 21 Days of Prayer & Fasting, we're being given an important opportunity to fast and seek God together.