Africa-Press – Ethiopia. Fasting is one of those practices that run across all major religions, both ancient and modern. Every sect including Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Baha’i and Jews, that believes in a higher being has put aside a time of fasting for its followers. However, some religious people choose to fast outside the designated periods. Their motivation for fasting varies, for example, some fast during a visitation of a calamity in their lives. Whenever an unprecedented event happens in a religious person’s life, their response is to run to God for intervention through fasting and prayer.
Here, the motivation is worldly fears and a hope that providence will make the calamity pass over their lives. This is a weapon Christians have used for all the time. In the Bible, people such as Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, Daniel, Esther, Anna and John the Baptist, Jesus all fasted when faced with difficulties setting a precedence that during such a visitation, one should set aside days for fasting, humiliation and prayer suspending the ordinary pursuits and cares of life, and meditate upon the ways of God. Matthew 17:21 teaches us that fasting gives us power over the kingdom of darkness. “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” However, remember that fasting is not a way of manipulating God to get what you want.
Another reason people choose to fast is to discipline and subdue their bodily appetites in an effort to get closer to God. In fact, fasting gives one more time for prayer which draws us closer to God. It helps one discover what is more important. For this kind of fasting, a closer relationship with Jesus Christ is the ultimate motivation.
How do you fast properly?
In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus says, “When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others 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.”
Unlike our religious leaders, Jesus is not preaching the do as I say and not as I do gospel. He has a personal understanding of what fasting entails having fasted for 40 days and nights in the desert at the end of which he was tempted by Lucifer himself but overcame him. This is an element I think a number of Christians overlook, I mean, how many times have you met a friend looking like they just lost their favourite pet only to be told that they are fasting? With a holier than thou attitude, they approach their fasts as heavy burdens to be borne as an expression of their devotion. This is exactly what Jesus is preaching against, no one needs to know about your fasting, it should be between you and your God. In the book of Isaiah God says “5 When you fast, you make yourselves suffer; you bow your heads low like a blade of grass and spread out sackcloth and ashes to lie on. Is that what you call fasting? Do you think I will be pleased with that?” We should be careful and pray for the spirit to guide us to do the right thing otherwise we might miss our reward just like the Pharisee and tax collector at the temple.
Just like exercising and other physically demanding activities, fasting requires commitment and discipline. It is to say not for the fainthearted. Many Christians will be filled with determination on Ash Wednesday to fast the 40 days but when you meet them at lunch on Thursday, the story will be different. However, those who persist and endure the thirst and hunger often for about 12 hours a day, are rewarded handsomely. Many have reported spiritual victories over the world, the body and the devil just like Jesus Christ did on His 40-day fast.
For those that have low endurance but still yearn to experience the rewards of fasting, their respective religions have devised different ways to make fasting easy for their followers. You can participate in a partial fast such as the “Daniel Fast” where you eat no meats or sweets (Daniel 10:2-3). You can practice a total fast taking no food or water when drastic measures are needed (Esther 4:16). Remember that you are disciplining your body to be used for God, you are not trying to harm your body which is to be a living sacrifice to God. Fast only if your health allows and it is wise to check with your physician before fasting, easing into it at first such as missing one meal or just having a juice fast. Use the time you would normally eat to pray or to serve others.
Modern science has also through research affirmed to benefits for fasting for the human body. So, invariably anybody who fasts gains both physically and spiritually. Sometimes fasting can become addictive and could become fatal, in this case, just like in many other aspects of our lives let it be in moderation.
Isaiah 58:6-7 tells us that “The kind of fasting I want is this: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. 7 Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives.” God does not find pleasure in your hunger and anger, He delights in you being kind, considerate, generous and helpful to those who are less fortunate than you.