Georgia Condell writes:
In a world that obsesses about calories on the one hand but that suffers huge problems of eating disorders and mental health, I wonder what place there is for Christian fasting in our contemporary society? Whilst fasting has continued to be an important part of other world religions, the role of fasting for Christians in Western society seems to have become marginalised and seen as old-fashioned and legalistic. As Lent draws near, I wanted to urge us to reconsider a spiritual discipline with Jesus and the early church considered vital.
Jesus in his sermon on the mount in Matthew 6:16-18 reminds his contemporaries about the pitfalls of fasting, reminding them that fasting is between us and God, not an opportunity for boasting. Importantly, though, Jesus says “when you fast” not if. He assumes fasting will be part of our walk of faith, not an optional extra. Old Testament heroes of faith, such as Nehemiah, Daniel, David and Moses all fasted. Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights to prepare himself for ministry and the early church regularly fasted and prayed (Acts 13:2, 14:19-23). In all these examples fasting is integrally linked to prayer. There is something profoundly powerful about seeking spiritual nourishment with an empty stomach and it is something that I want to encourage us to reconsider.
I would add here that I don’t find fasting easy. I have fasted on and off throughout my Christian life, over various lengths of time and with varying degrees of success. This reflection is not intended to be a guilt trip or an added burden but rather an invitation to discover Jesus in a more intimate way and to be empowered in our Christian journeys.
It may be that you want to dip your toes into the practice, by foregoing lunch in order to pray and reflect. You may want, like Daniel, to do a partial fast and simply keep your daily diet simply with no luxury foods. Some people, for a variety of reasons, may not not be able to fast from food. What about a fast from social media or netflix? Whatever you choose to do, keep it between you and God. It should be an opportunity for spiritual growth. Finally here’s what Isaiah has to say about fasting in chapter 58:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Fasting done right can be glorifying to God and an opportunity to see justice done. I hope this is both a challenge and an encouragement.