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7-Day Practical Faith: The Discipline of Fasting

Matthew 4:2, Matthew 6: 16-18, and others

During Lent, I am taking up the discipline of fasting for the first time in a long time. I thought I'd write about this practice as the next in my Lenten series on spiritual disciplines.

I have fasted a few times before. The most dramatic was on two occasions, when I led 30-hour youth group fasts that focused our attention on world hunger. Another time, I skipped lunch each Wednesday during Lent to leave work and go somewhere to study, meditate and pray. That is not a lot of time without food when you consider various kinds of fasting, but since I get hangry easily, for me that's a long time! This is the type of fast I've been undertaking again this Lent.

A good question is why we would fast as Christians. These days there are plenty of recommendations for fasting to achieve better physical health. As Christians, we seek better spiritual health. As I look around and at Bible examples and comments on fasting, I see four general realms where fasting addresses our spiritual health:

  1. Repentance

  2. Preparation

  3. Expression of Grief

  4. Expression of Faith

Lenten fasting is often aligned with repentance. We contemplate and show remorse for our sins, with the intent to change our ways. Lent is a time for introspection as we consider how our sins drove Christ to the cross. Fasting is associated with repentance in the Bible, such as after the Israelites had rebuilt the wall of destroyed Jerusalem and conducted religious ceremonies that included fasting, confession of sins, and worship (Nehemiah 9: 1-3).

Fasting can signal preparation for an event, either good or bad. When Jehoshaphat was told of a vast army approaching Judah from the other side of the Dead Sea, he proclaimed a fast for all Judah (2 Chronicles 20: 3). Before Esther approached the Persian king to plead against a plot to kill the Jews, she asked the people to join her in a three-day fast (Esther 4: 15-17). When Jesus prepared for his ministry, he fasted in the wilderness, as pictured in this post (Matthew 4: 2).

Grieving people may fast. After the people of Jabesh-gilead buried King Saul and his soldiers, they fasted seven days (1 Samuel 31: 13). Realizing that the Lord has sworn to take his infant son due to his adultery, King David grieves the impending death with a fast (2 Samuel 12: 16).

It's interesting to see the myriad of ways in which Biblical people expressed their faith with a fast. When seeking guidance for battle, the Israelites fasted (Judges 20: 26). In the midst of apocalyptic visions, Daniel prays for the people and fasts (Daniel 9: 3). The prophet Anna fasted as part of her temple ritual, awaiting the arrival of the Messiah (Luke 2: 37). Jesus commands that our fasting should focus on God and not on approval of others (Matthew 6: 16-18).

My Lenten fasting seems to focus on repentance and expression of faith. What would a fast look like for you? Why would you fast? How can this tool of fasting add meaning to your life and address your spiritual health going forward?

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