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 (Manna 5)
What You Need To Know About Fasting
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The enchanting strains of the iman’s cry wafts across the end­less stretch of undulating sands as the golden skyline gracefully succumbs to darkness. A weary figure of bronze complexion trudges into a solitary tent which flutters against the continuous thrust of dry wind.

Once inside, the otherwise gloomy atmosphere outside transforms into a rather delightful one. Gathering round, he and his family share their only meal of that day with relish.

It is the month of Ramadan. This faithful believer of Islam, submitting to the injunction of the Koran, strictly observes a fast during the daylight hours.

He is not alone. Millions of muslims all over the world also commemorate the first revelation of the Koran by imposing upon themselves a strict fasting during the ninth month of the year in the muslim lunar calendar. Fasting in the month of Ramadan is, in fact, one of the pillars of Islam.

Fasting as a religious institution is, however, not unique to Islam. Its significance is appreciated by all the major religions of the world and most religious sects.

Among the American Indians, fasting was used in consulting totems. The Shamans used it to communicate with departed spirits because it was believed that prolonged hunger gave rise to visions. Similarly, the Greeks fasted before consulting their oracles.

The only significant exception to the ubiquity of religious fasting, in one form or other, is Zoroastrianism which forbids it.

What role does fasting play in Christianity?

What is ‘fasting’ as used in the Bible?

Fasting in the Bible generally means going without any food and drink for a period (Esther 4:16). References to the curious expression “to afflict the soul” (Hebrew : inna napso) in the Old Testament actually means fasting.

The Israelites fasted on the Day of Atonement. The penalty for infraction is to be cut off from the community (Lev 23:27-32: Num 29:7; Jer 36:6). On the other hand, although mention is made of fasting in the New Testament (Acts 13:2, 14:23), there is no strict law that Christians are obligated to fast.

What is the purpose of fasting?

While fasting is not mandatory in the New Testament (and therefore in Christianity), there are occasions when it becomes a necessity.

I.        To aver! or remove national calamities

The history of Israel is characterized by a constant influx of national disaster. Many men and women of great faith turn to God for deliverance. As a result of their prayer and supplications, God listened to them.

During the reign of Jehosphaphat, when the Moabites, the Ammonites and the Meunites joined forces with the intention of attacking Judah, King Jehospaphat proclaimed a fast throughout the land, and by the help of God the Jews had a complete victory (II Chron 20:1-4, 20-23, 30).

When Haman, minister of Persia, was about to eliminate all the Jewish people, Queen Esther, Mordecai, and the Jews fasted and prayed. God listened to their prayers, and consequently delivered the Jews from the great disaster.

When the house of God (Eph 2:19) and the citizens of the heavenly commonwealth (Phil 3:20) are attacked by Satan. when heresy is prevalent (cf. Mt 24:23-24) or when persecutions are imposed upon her (cf. Acts 8:1-3), the whole church should get united, fast and pray to God earnestly for delive­rance and blessing.

II.    To seek forgiveness of sins

Prayers with fasting can not only solve the faith crisis of the church as well as the individuals, but’ also express our penitence before God. The people of Nineveh, for example, responded to the warning of Jonah, “yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” they believed God and proclaimed a fast. Even the king himself put on sackcloth and sat in ashes. God saw their repentance, and so decided not to destroy them (Jon 1:1. 2; 3:1-10).

In our Christian life, God allows strayed believers to suffer poverty, disease or hardship, so that they will seek God. Therefore, if we fail the glory of God. we have to confess our sins, and contritely ask the Lord to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I Jn 1:9).

III.  To seek scriptural understanding

Daniel fasted for three weeks in order to understand the vision given to him. During the time of fasting he prayed to God for enlightenment. As a result, God sent His messenger saying, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, as I have come because of your words” (Dan 10:1-3,12). Later, he was given the meaning of the mysterious vision.

Numerous passages in the Bible are too profound to understand. But if you are eager to know the meanings of these verses, you may, in addition to research, fast and pray so that God may grant you spiritual understanding.

IV.  To receive spiritual gifts

The Lord Jesus once rebuked the demon and the demon came out of an epileptic boy. In response to the inability of the disciples to cast out the demon, Jesus stressed the importance of prayer and fasting (Mt 17:14-21). Sometimes, we find that we lack in power and our prayers are not effective. Under such circumstances, we ought to fast and pray for power and faith (Mt 17:20).

V.     To propagate the Gospel

In the church at Antioch, many prophets and teachers fasted and prayed for the growth of the church. Once, the Holy Spirit told them to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the Gentile mission. Sent out by the Holy Spirit, the apostles went about preaching the words of God, performing miracles, and leading many to believe in the Lord.

In the same way, the appointment of elders in every church was done in prayer and fasting (Acts 14:23). When we ask God to open a door of grace to the Gentiles, we must pray with fasting as well (Col 4:3, Act 14:27).

In addition to the preaching of the Gospel, our prayer and fasting is important for the special occasions when we need divine guidance. For example, Ezra, proclaimed a fast at the River Shava to ask God to open a way for them (Ezra 4:16). Nehemiah fasted and prayed to God so that he might find favour, before the king allowing him to return to his own country to rebuilt it (Neh 1:3, 4, 11). All the people of God clearly understand the true meaning and purpose of fasting, and act according to the will of God.

When is fasting necessary?

The Bible records how fasting is held at various periods and durations with an indefinite span of time. Samuel and the Israelites fasted at Mizpah for deliverance from the hands of their enemies. (I Sam 7:6). Some prayed and fasted with a fixed duration of time. Esther fasted three days and three nights to beseech God to deliver her people (Esther 4:16), whereas David fasted six days for the healing of his son (II. Chron 12:16-28).

Others like Daniel fasted for three weeks in order to get the interpretation of the vision (Dan 10:3). The longest period of fasting appears in both the Old Testament and the New Testament: Moses fasted for forty days and nights to receive the Law of God (Deut 9:9,18), and Jesus, prepared for His ministry (Mt 4:2).

These instances point to one fact that there is no fixed duration of time for one to hold a fast. What matters is: we must understand why and how we fast, and faith should always be present.

The DONT’S of fasting

Fasting is a form of self-affliction. It manifests one’s devotion to God. But there were cases where fasting became unacceptable to God (Jer 14:12; Is 58:3; 1:13, 14):

I.    Don’t do it as a formality

Very often people fail to understand the purpose of fasting and treat it as a mere formality. They fast only because others do. They may even feel proud of their achievement.’ This is wrong.

II.   Don’t do it hypocritically

As taught by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 6:16-18, we hold fasting for some definite good cause while, leading a normal prayerful life in private.

III.  Don’t commit sin

Just as God will not allow iniquity (Is 1:13), we must keep ourselves sanctified and show our love, faith and hope.

IV.   Don’t slack in prayers

Prayer will support fasting and increase one’s spiritual strength from God. Follow the way Jesus fasted and prayed. He was full of power and was filled by the Holy Spirit (Lk 4:1,2, 14,15).

“Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not?

Why have we humbled ourselves, and thou takest 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 wicked list. 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 man to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a rush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?

Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs 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?” (Is 58:3-7)