Christians fast to connect with God more deeply. To understand why Christians fast I decided to research different fasting rituals and origins. By researching both the history and the traditions that many Christians follow during fasting has helped give me a clearer understanding of Christian fasting.
What are common Christian fasting rituals? Some common Christian fasting rituals include fasting during Lent and other times in a Christian’s life when seeking the Lord. Christians fast by abstaining from food or other distractions, to simply seek the Lord’s direction and to worship God.
We can see from the Old and New Testament that fasting was used by God’s people to more deeply connect with God.
Specific Fasting Rituals
Fasting today has changed some since Bible times, we no longer wear sackcloth like in the Old Testament. Jesus even spoke against flaunting your fast with such displays. Jesus does give us some instruction on fasting as it says in Matthew,
“But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.-Matthew 6:17, 18
When we as Christians go about fasting, we do not want to gain attention from others, otherwise, that will be the reward we are earning. Instead, we want to live our life normally our time to fast is a time to grow closer to God.
Many Christians today use their extra time during a fast to not only to spend more time with God but also to help those in need.
In the book of Isaiah we see God speaking to Isaiah about the true reason behind a fast, it is so we can help those who need our help, not to use the time for ourselves and our selfish reasons. Time is a precious resource and one way to use our time in a Christ-like way is using it to help others.
The Jewish faith had much stricter rules to go about a fast but because of Christ’s death on the cross, we are free from following the letter of the law. Instead, today we can fast when and how we feel lead to, but always seek to bring glory to God.
While there are no specific times for us as Christians to fast, many Christians fast in the period before Easter called Lent. Lent is forty days long and symbolizes the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert fasting before starting his ministry. Because of Jesus’ fast in the desert, many Christians follow his example and fast as well in the weeks leading up to Easter.
From early on in the New Testament we can see an example of people of faith fasting. Many of them were fasting for different reasons, and we can learn from their time spent with the Lord while fasting.
Israelite Army’s Fast
One of the first times fasting is mentioned in the Bible is in Judges. Israel was about to go to war against the tribe of Benjamin. They were being defeated and did not know what to do. I
Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the Lord. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord. And the Israelites inquired of the Lord. (In those days the ark of the covenant of God was there,-Judges 20:26-27
God told them to go into battle another day. The army listened to God.
Then ten thousand of Israel’s able young men made a frontal attack on Gibeah. The fighting was so heavy that the Benjamites did not realize how near disaster was.
The Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel, and on that day the Israelites struck down 25,100 Benjamites, all armed with swords.-Judges 20:34-35
In the book of Esther, we see both Esther and the Jewish people fast as Esther prepared herself to come before the king to plead for her people,
Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king.-Esther 4:16
Haman was planning to kill Mordecai, a Jewish man. Esther found out about this plan and went to plea before the king. She could be killed for going to the king unannounced. Esther knew the only way to save the Jewish people was to plea before the king.
In the end, the king hangs Haman for his wickedness. He listens to Esther.
The New Testament also has many examples of fasting. The foremost example being Jesus’ forty-day fast in the wilderness. Moses also fasted for 40 days twice in the book of Deuteronomy.
After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.-Matthew 4:2
Moses received the law after fasting for 40 days. Jesus gives the new law during the Sermon on the Mount shortly after fasting for 40 days as well.
Church Fasting in the NT
The early church also fasted, they fasted out of worship for God, and to exemplify their commitment to the Lord.
And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.-Acts 14:23
Recent History of Fasting
There are still many who fast today and who have fasted within recent history. Although many have fasted in the Bible it can be harder to apply their example to our lives, when theirs looked so much different.
Certain orthodox churches observe many days of fasting, the early church practiced this on Wednesdays and Fridays until three. Many considered this legalism and was no longer practiced on such a strict schedule. Christians moved on to fasting, not as a requirement but a choice, and a desire to be closer to God.
People such as Martin Luther and John Wesley strongly encouraged it to be used correctly, especially for those who worked in the ministry.
In 1756 when England was threatened by France the King made a national day of prayer and fasting. Again in 1940 England had a day of prayer, and many notable Christians fasted that day and encouraged others to do the same. In both situations, England was saved, from invasion and battle.
Fasting is a powerful spiritual discipline that Christians have been using for hundreds of years. Looking back through the scripture and history we can be inspired and encouraged on our fasting journeys. We see not only how to go about fasting, but why it is so important and how God has worked through other Christian’s lives.