As we look at the bible and also the wisdom of the saints who’ve gone before us, we find that there are many times and periods in life when fasting might be appropriate.
Sometimes people fast through force of circumstances. They don’t know what to do, so they fast. They are grieving, so they fast. They are in crisis, so they fast. They are sorry for the wrong they’ve done, so they fast. They need healing, so they fast. They want to pray fervently for a situation, so they fast.
Sometimes people fast because the Holy Spirit particularly guides them. This is true of Jesus, who ‘was led by the Spirit’ into the wilderness for a long fast (Lk 4:1-2). In this case, circumstances do not force the fast – in fact quite the opposite! Jesus is already full of the Holy Spirit (Lk 4:1) having had a dramatic encounter in his baptism and seemingly ready for ministry. Yet the Spirit knows he is not yet ready. More preparation is needed, aided by fasting. That’s why it’s important that we listen to the prompting of God’s Spirit in our lives. Sometimes, for reasons that we may not always understand at first, God calls us to fast. At such times, fast.
Sometimes people fast as a regular habit or discipline. They build it into their calendar. In New Testament times Pharisees fasted twice per week (Lk 18:12). Many in the early church fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays, although it was not obligatory. Some chose to fast for one day per month or on particular holy days. In the early church some fasted for 40 hours up to Easter morning, reflecting the time Jesus was in the tomb. The Roman church later encouraged a 40 day fast of varying sorts during Lent, which some still practice today. In recent years a number of churches across the world have sensed the Spirit calling their communities to fast in January, with churches fasting for 7 or 21 Days as a sign of dedicating the year ahead to the Lord.
So there are many times and seasons in life when we could fast. How do we decide? For me, I aim for a balance between the planned and the spontaneous. I want to be flexible enough so that I am ready and willing to respond to circumstances by fasting. But I also want to build in a regular fast into my life. When I was Vicar of St Chad’s Church in Sheffield I fasted every week on a Thursday as part of a weekly day of prayer in the church. I am challenged to develop a similar, planned pattern as part of my spirituality again. Why? Because, as Mahesh Chavda says, there is ‘hidden power’ to prayer and fasting.
Lord Jesus, I thank you for your incredible love for me – whether I fast or not! Thank you Jesus that you modelled a life of discipline and spontaneity. Help me to learn from you, and strengthen me to develop good habits that will sustain and equip me as a disciple, so I can serve you and those around me effectively, and see your kingdom come on earth as in heaven. Amen.