I must admit, having lived a good portion of my adult life practicing a lifestyle of excess, fasting is a fairly new topic to me. One look at me and you can readily surmise that, historically, I’m not in the habit of skipping meals. Honestly, denying myself pleasure and gratification hasn’t been one of my life’s bigger achievements. But, hey…it’s never too late to learn new things, right?
Prior to taking a class in Spiritual Disciplines at Dallas Baptist University under the tutelage of Dr. Jan Daehnert and attending our current home church, Trinity Bible Church of Richardson, I hadn’t spent much time studying the topic of fasting.
In modern society, the idea of doing without leaves many of us mortified. It is a discipline that is truly counter-cultural, even in the church. In part, fasting got a bad rap due to the excessive measures of self-denial practiced in the Middle Ages. It is a good example of what happens when we as Christians rely on our own power rather than the supernatural power of the Lord. Absent of reliance on God, the law creeps in and takes over. As humans, the law gives us both a sense of security and power. Equally, as humans, because of our sin-nature, we are given to abusing things God intended for our good.
A second challenge we face today, regarding the practicing the discipline of fasting, is the unending bombardment of the notion that we will starve to death if we don’t get our three big meals of the day, not to mention our due ration of snacks. In our world of abundance, we don’t consume out of necessity, but out of sheer want. We don’t eat because we are hungry; we eat because we can.
Annually, at Trinity Bible, our congregation is encouraged to participate in the observation of Lent, a season of penitential fasting leading up to Easter. We do this to prepare our hearts and minds for the commemoration of Easter. Since we do not fast on the day of resurrection (Sunday), Lent begins the Wednesday, 46 days before Easter Sunday.
Basically, the idea, as I understand it, is that individually each of us intentionally commit to do without, or give up, something that we derive pleasure or gratification from. It can be something that we feel is taking our focus off where it needs to be or gaining an ever increasing hold on our lives. At the end of the day, it’s something that we value and see as a sacrifice for us to do without. No pain, no gain.
In our 21st Century affluent North Dallas culture engrossed with First World problems, this can be food, but often, is more likely to be something else—like video games, TV, or social media. Food-wise, it’s usually something very specific—like red meat, soft drinks, sweets, or caffeine. By doing this, we prepare ourselves for worship on the Holiest of Holy Days, Easter Sunday.
Fasting is mentioned throughout Scripture. In Biblical times, it was commonly practiced and therefore we don’t tend to find a detailed passage specifically instructing us on the “do’s and don’ts” of fasting. However, the Bible does give us examples of when fasting is practiced, both in the Old and the New Testament.
Here are some passages that will provide you some additional insight on the Biblical view of the spiritual discipline of fasting*:
- 2 Samuel 12:13-25
- Esther 4:1-17
- Isaiah 58:1-14
- Daniel 9:1-19
- Joel 2:12-17
- Matthew 4:1-2
- Matthew 6:16-18
- Matthew 9:14-17
- Acts 12:25-13:3
- Acts 14:21-23
(*7 Days on Fasting, Logos Bible Software, Copyright 2000–2014, Faithlife Corporation)