Ed, my old neighbour in Saskatchewan, feels church people hide behind religious words, liturgical seasons and traditions that are smoke and mirrors to others. He tells me that, if I’m fasting and praying as a Christian, the fasting isn’t working because I’m not getting any thinner.
I admitted to him that I would have to undergo a total fast (no food or drink) for 40 days and nights to accomplish a significant weight loss. Fasting isn’t a church weight loss plan. For Christians, fasting is essentially giving up food (or something else) for a period of time. In the New Testament, fasting and prayer are a way of growing closer to God. We fast to focus on God and His word and His will for us.
In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus said, “When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth; they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen, and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
We know Jesus went into the wilderness to fast for 40 days and nights. At the end of his fasting, Jesus was tempted by the devil to use His authority as the Son of God for his own purposes rather than His Father’s objectives for Him. Jesus was sent to save sinners, not to glorify Himself. Fasting can help us understand God’s will for our lives. God’s will for us is more than for our personal pleasure and advantage.
In the Old Testament, fasting was often a way of expressing grief over one’s sins and humbling oneself before God. It was a sign of repentance and a way of asking God for forgiveness and mercy. Fasting in the Old Testament might be done individually or as a call for everyone to fast. In the book of Jonah, when he told the people of Nineveh that in 40 more days, God would overturn their city, the people believed God’s word to them. They declared a fast from the greatest to the least. They did not eat or drink and they all called to God in repentance and turned from their evil ways. God had compassion on them and did not bring destruction upon them. (Jonah Chapter Three)
Lent is 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed as a period of prayer and fasting, repentance of sin and self-denial that we might grow closer to God and change our evil ways. In the church season of Lent, we seek to become one with the attitude of Jesus, who as God’s Son made himself nothing taking the very nature of a servant, He humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
Pope John Paul II has said that Jesus himself has shown us by His own example that prayer and fasting are the first and foremost weapons against the forces of evil.
Matt Fraddhas said that prayer without fasting is like boxing with one hand tied behind your back.