By Rev Angela C Bosfield Palacious
In times like these we need an anchor; the anchor of prayer and fasting enables us to feel God’s presence, discern God’s will, and draw on God’s strength. It helps us to grieve with hope, and examine our consciences, repent and be transformed by the Holy Spirit.
A dictionary definition of fasting is abstinence from food, but it may be extended as a spiritual discipline, saying no intentionally to something that is good (or bad). This is self-control at its best. When done as a community it creates a closer bond spiritually and physically.
There are many scripture references to fasting in the bible, and the following are just a few:
- Matthew 6:16-18 NIV:16: “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. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 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.”
The acceptable fast is a private experience, not intended to be a source of pride. It is also not an optional extra but a habit that is cultivated. Jesus says “when you fast.”
- Isaiah 58:6-7:6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
God expects sincere devotion to be accompanied by prayerful action and not mere lip-service.
- Acts 13:2-3: Fasting and prayer open the disciples to hearing directly from God about the commissioning of Barnabas and Saul. “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off…”
They in turn do the same thing in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch: “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” (Acts 14:14: 23)
- Esther 4:16: “Fasting and prayer is Queen Esther’s response to the news that her people, the Jews, are to be annihilated: Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.’”
She gets her word from the Lord and averts the disaster.
- Joel 2:12-13: “The call for national days of prayer are based on the idea of communal repentance. We can certainly use a day a week or a week a month for the rest of the year to lessen crime and violence, immorality and anti-social behaviour in our land: ‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.”
Forty days is a biblical time frame for serious encounters with God: Moses writes the Ten Commandments while fasting (Exodus 34: 27); Our Lord spends this time fasting and praying, while being tested by Satan and preparing for his ministry after his baptism ( Luke 4:1-2).
There are several situations where fasting is a part of the grieving process. David grieves for Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam. 1:11-12). When it comes to the illness of his baby with Bathsheba he engages in fasting with prayer to change God’s mind but to no avail (2 Sam 12:15-17). The Psalmist also fasts when others are ill but they are not kind to him (Psalm 35:13-14). Other references are found in other books of the bible, such as, Daniel, Nehemiah, I Kings, Ezra, and Jonah.
What has your personal experience of fasting been like? You may have eaten only fish on Fridays for years or chosen to miss lunch (drinking only water and juice) and reading your Bible instead. There are fruit fasts or fasts from a particular food group. The Daniel Fast eliminates wine, meat and other seasoned foods and replaces them with vegetables and water, lasting for about three weeks. During Lent, others have chosen to “fast” from television, smoking or some other habit that they hope to stop permanently after the set period of time. Celibacy is a deliberate choice to fast from sex before marriage.
As we try to cope during this time of national tragedy and disaster, let us find comfort in the age-old practice of fasting and prayer.
• Rev Angela Palacious, a motivational speaker and author of several devotional books, is an Anglican priest. She may be contacted at 393-9000 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.