Monday, January 4, 2010

Should Christians Fast?

Should Christians Fast?

I’ve been reading about fasting lately and trying to develop this spiritual discipline in my life. In fact, one of my goals for 2010 is to make this more of a regular practice. I hesitated in writing about it this morning, simply because I have not yet practiced it regular and consistent enough to speak about it from the standpoint of personal knowledge. But perhaps by writing about it and making my “resolution” public, I’ll be more apt to follow through. Besides, in my personal reading this morning I’m in Mt 4, where Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness and had fasted for 40 days. So this is what I’m thinking about right now. Well, I’m not thinking about fasting for 40 days. I’d be happy to do 40 hours. So far I’m only up to 24 (hours, that is), which is pretty easy.

But why fast at all? Perhaps a better question is, “Why haven’t we fasted at all?” I’ll admit that in my 30 years as a Christian, I’ve never practiced it, except on one occasion many years ago. That occasion was such a difficult experience for me that I never tried it again (I have a high metabolism, and it didn’t help that I was working manual labor and burning lots of calories that day). But I am finding that I am not alone in not having practiced fasting. Many Christians have not, and they do not understand why we would even want to. Fasting is seen as an ancient practice that is mostly irrelevant to our day, except perhaps during extreme or special circumstances. I have only once heard a sermon on it, and seldom have I seen brethren write about it.

Part of the problem, perhaps, is that fasting is never popular in a self-indulgent society. We live in a culture that denies itself very little. And while we might see the need to deny ourselves illegitimate things (e.g., illicit sex, drugs, etc.), or perhaps to enjoy legitimate things in moderation, most Christians see neither the need nor the purpose of going without food, even for a single meal (except when they are trying to lose weight, of course).

I’ve even used Scripture to support my lack of fasting. After all, Jesus’ disciples (and I assume Jesus himself) did not seem to fast as a regular practice, unlike John and his disciples (Mt 9.14-17). When John’s disciples asked Jesus why his disciples did not fast, Jesus answered that the attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them (vs.15). And while there would be a day when the bridegroom (Jesus) would be taken away and his attendants (the disciples) would fast, such a solemn and “mournful” practice is not normal when Jesus is with you. To fast when Jesus is with you is like putting new wine into old wineskins—something you just don’t do. I believe the “days when the bridegroom is taken away” refers to the days that Jesus was in the tomb. But since his resurrection, Jesus has been with us (Mt 28.20). So why then should Christians fast? Isn’t celebration more appropriate? This is the question I want to pursue with you in the weeks to come.