Fasting is not just for monks you know! I joined millions of Christians today (and from centuries past) in a Wednesday fast. Christians changed the Tuesday/Thursday practice to Wednesday/Friday – remembering Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion. There is a renewed emphasis today on fasting – part of the thirst for true spiritual formation.
One of my sons called me yesterday and mentioned that he and a friend had decided to fast in preparation for a more God-focused time together. So I joined them today and it was, in part, a way of being with them in prayer. Sometimes as parents we may be moved to fast when we know our children are facing decisions or temptations. Fasting can increase our spiritual sensitivity to God and also reveal our own negative passions that have a tighter grip that we have admitted to ourselves or God.
Here is a portion of an article from Frederia Mathewes-Green on fasting and repentence. It’s from her website – essay section.
From the earliest centuries, Christians have identified certain practices that have been helpful to the “athlete in training.” Here are some of them:
- Fasting. People are beset by all different temptations, but everybody eats. Restricting foods‚—not necessarily a total fast, but simply declining favorites for a time—can be a way of strengthening the “willpower muscle” to be ready when needed to handle a bigger temptation. An athlete doesn’t lift weights just so he can lift more weights. Those healthy muscles are ready for any situation he meets. Turn down a doughnut today, and tomorrow you might be able to resist calling the driver in front of you an idiot.
- Bite your tongue. Yes, not calling someone an idiot is a frequent theme in Scripture and early Christian writings. Both place great emphasis on controlling anger, perhaps as much as on sexual continence. Jesus said the penalty for calling your brother a fool was “the hell of fire.” “Your brother” includes people who can’t hear you, like politicians on tv. It’s not the harm to them that’s at stake so much as the surging, disorienting pride in your own heart.
- Mind your thoughts. Jesus said that to commit adultery in the imagination is the equivalent of committing it in fact. Nearly all sins begin with thinking about sin. Control the thoughts and you have a good head start on behavior. You may not be able to keep thoughts from appearing, but you can decline to entertain them; birds fly overhead, but you don’t have to let them nest in your hair. Paul counsels that we think about things that are true, lovely, gracious, excellent, and praiseworthy, so you might want to read some Dickens tonight instead of watching that sleazy sitcom.
- Practice humility. Humility is not the same as resisting the urge to show off (which is modesty) or denying that you have gifts and talents (which is lying). Humility is remembering that you have a beam in your eye. In every situation remember what God knows about you, and how much you have been forgiven. You might think you can fool people, but no matter how charming you appear, spiritually you have spinach in your teeth. Account yourself the “chief of sinners” and be gracious toward the failings of others. Overlook insults and be kind to those who misuse you. Be swift to admit when you’re wrong. Ask others to forgive you, and forgive them without asking if you want God to forgive you.
- Pray constantly. Try always to recall that God is with you, dwelling in you. (This helps a great deal in controlling thoughts.) For more than 1,500 years, some Christians have tried to do this by forming the habit of praying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” all the time, a kind of background music to other thoughts. It not only helps one resist more turbulent thoughts and deeds, but also creates a kind of mental foyer in which thoughts and impulses can be examined before they’re allowed inside.
- Ask God to help you repent. We really don’t want to do this, and we find a million excuses to change the subject. Read stories about repentant sinners, like John Newton, the slave dealer who wrote “Amazing Grace,” or the once promiscuous Mary of Egypt. Those are reasonable models for you, not an ivory-tower saint. Keep thinking of yourself as the Prodigal Son. Think over your deeds and conversations each evening and look for areas to improve. Read Psalm 51 before bed every night. Someday you may actually believe it.
btw – Scott McKnight is coming out with a book on fasting and has blogged on the subject on 3-20-07. What have been your experiences or struggles with fasting?