Continuing our reflections on prayer and fasting, this week I write about the reasons for fasting. Scripture has many examples of people fasting. It was not an unusual practice. Although it may have fallen out of favour among Christians, fasting has recently gained prominence among those looking to lose weight or to get or keep fit. We find it among the various media outlets, many magazines and websites which now promote fasting. The thing about these fast is that they are ‘secular’ fasts, they are not directed towards the ‘spiritual’ aspect of fasting. The way in which the fast is used by the religious community is to seek closer connection with God, not to lose weight. You could say it is used to gain weight, gain ‘spiritual weight’ in terms of a deeper understanding and relationship with God and hence others. With fast and praying we learn more about loving God with all our heart, mind, body and soul and loving our neighbours as ourselves. If that is not accomplished by the fast then we have not really come close to God. We need to go back and practice again until we get it right. Let’s look briefly at some Scriptural examples.
Moses: one early example is the story of Moses on the mountain for forty days and nights [Exod 24.18]. During that time Moses came close enough to God to be given the Ten Commandments. There were times when he was so close in fact that he could see the back of God but not his face as the glory of God passed by [Exod 33.21-3]. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, and Moses face would shine with such radiance that the Israelites asked him to put a veil over it [Exod 34.33-5]. What amazing encounters Moses had with God, because God trusted him and Moses was obedient to make special time with God. Be sure to make special time with God.
Jesus: probably the most well-known example is the temptation in the wilderness. Recall it was the Spirit of God that drew or even drove Jesus into the wilderness for forty days and nights of prayer and fasting [Mt 4; Luke 4; Mk 1]. As it was with Moses, Jesus met with God who sustained him spiritually and physically. Jesus learnt to love God with heart, body, mind and spirit; so strongly that he could resist all the temptations of satan. And this is what he taught his disciples, to love God with as much passion, and to fast and pray.
There is much more I could say concerning fasting and praying, but I encourage you to do your own research from the Scriptures and share them with one another. Be encouraged and encourage one another with what you find from your own experience of praying and fasting. And if you think you cannot fast, why not seek direction on that as well. It is not a compulsion, and you are not a lesser person for not practising a fast, it is simply a discipline that can help draw you closer to Christ.
Finally, let’s hear your prayer and fasting stories. I heard one from Rebecca the other day about her father’s fasting practices. I was amazed. Why not ask her to share them with you.