The biblical practice of fasting dates back to the Old Testament as a spiritual discipline to deepen our communion with God. Today, fasting is still practiced by many Christian denominations and is annually observed during the time of Lent in preparation for Easter Sunday. Lent is a 40-day period of reflection and prayer to remember the life of Jesus Christ - specifically his temptation, struggle, suffering, crucifixion, and death.
The church celebrates the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. The act of abstinence and self-denial from worldly pleasures gives Christians purposeful time to pray, repent, and focus on gratitude. Often in today's modern world, fasting has been pushed aside for the comforts of the modern church. Whether your church does not observe Lent fasting or you simply don't know how to do it, you can discover the Christian significance of fasting for Lent and practical guidance for your fast in the Lenten season of 2022.
What is Christian Fasting?
Christian fasting can be explained as refraining from food for spiritual purposes and edification. Merely abstaining from food because it is not available or for medical causes does not equate to Christian fasting. There must be a spiritual motive and purpose for fasting as a Christian, especially the fasting of Lent.
In his book “A Hunger for God,” John Piper writes, “Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God. Christian fasting is not only the spontaneous effect of a superior satisfaction in God, it is also a chosen weapon against every force in the world that would take that satisfaction away.”
The purpose of fasting must be to draw closer to God.
Why do Christians Fast for Lent?
Christians have observed Lent for roughly 2,000 years to honor and commemorate Jesus’s death and burial before glorifying His resurrection. One of the central traditions of Lent is fasting, the discipline of abstaining from specific foods or something you enjoy for a set amount of time. The Newspring Church describes the purpose of fasting, stating: "Fasting helps us practice saying “no” to our desires and saying “yes” to Jesus [and the will of God]."
In scripture, fasting is a spiritual discipline to develop a closer communion with God. It’s a practice of devotion in which we show our obedience to Jesus and repent for sin. In the Book of Joel, fasting is described as a "return to the Lord" saying "Yet even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster" (Joel 2:12-13).
Fasting is joined with prayer as spiritual practice and disciplines to deepen our trust and reliance on God for all things. As faithful Christians, we must train our hearts and minds to know that all good things come from God.
"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).
"Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord" (Joel 1:14).
How to Fast: A Guide for Fasting in the 40 Days of Lent
For Protestants: Amid the many Protestant churches, you will find a mixture of recommendations concerning the Lenten fast. This is an outcome of the Reformation, as founders such as Martin Luther and John Calvin desired new followers to center their Christian lives on salvation by God's grace rather than traditional spiritual disciplines.
Today, most Protestant churches view fasting as an individual decision for members who wish to strengthen their relationship with God. Additionally, many churches do support members to withdraw indulgences such as favorite foods, social media, and watching TV during Lent.
For Catholics: The custom of fasting during Lent has long been embraced by the Roman Catholic Church. The rules are very distinct and include fasting on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Fridays during Lent. However, the fasting rules do not apply to young children, the elderly, or anyone whose well-being may be endangered by the abrupt variation in diet.
The modern dictates for fasting and abstinence are found in the Code of Canon Law for the Roman Catholic Church. To a confined extent, they can be adjusted by the conference of bishops for each country.
For Orthodox: Some of the most stringent dictates for fasting are observed in the Eastern Orthodox Church. During the Lenten season, there are a number of days when members are encouraged to rigorously restrain their diets or abstain from eating altogether:
- On weekdays during Lent, meat, eggs, dairy, fish, wine, and oil are restricted.
- The week before Lent is "Cheese-fare," when all animal meats are prohibited.
- Good Friday is a day for a complete fast, during which members are encouraged to eat nothing.
Spiritual and Physical Benefits of Fasting
The spiritual edification of fasting encourages our reliance on God and repentance for the lack thereof. Fasting for Lent is primarily a spiritual discipline to orient our complete dependence on God. We repent for not always acknowledging God's presence and grace in providing for our every need. Our God is a loving God, and fasting is one way to refocus our lives upon seeking His kingdom of heaven first.
"And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).
Fasting has gained popularity for its health benefits in the last decade, as many have questioned the diets and lifestyles of modernity. The physical health benefits of fasting have been studied to show promising biological advantages from ancient spiritual practice. Healthline reported a collection of health benefits from fasting. Some that are mentioned include:
- Promotes Blood Sugar Control by Reducing Insulin Resistance
- Promotes Better Health by Fighting Inflammation
- May Boost Brain Function and Prevent Neurodegenerative Disorders
- Aids Weight Loss by Limiting Calorie Intake and Boosting Metabolism
- Increases Growth Hormone Secretion, Which Is Vital for Growth, Metabolism, Weight Loss, and Muscle Strength
Encouraging Bible Verses when Fasting for Lent
"And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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."
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
"Yet even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.'"
Lent Prayer for God's Guidance
Lord God Almighty, shaper and ruler of all creatures, we pray for your great mercy, that you guide us towards you, for we cannot find our way.
And guide us to your will, to the need of our soul, for we cannot do it ourselves. And make our mind steadfast in your will and aware of our soul’s need.
Strengthen us against the temptations of the devil, and remove from us all lust and every unrighteousness, and shield us against our foes, seen and unseen.
Teach us to do your will, that we may inwardly love you before all things with a pure mind. For you are our maker and our redeemer, our help, our comfort, our trust, our hope; praise and glory be to you now and forever. Amen. ~ Alfred the Great, 9th century
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