Choosing to Fast: A Spiritual Guide
During this season of Lent, our wilderness journey with Jesus seems even bleaker since our nation is struggling to balance the needs of hungry and poor people with the need to reduce budget deficits and the national debt. Lent calls us into a time of prayer and fasting, turning to God for guidance and expecting that God will lead our nation in a new direction.
Yes, I will fast as an offering to God.
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There are many biblical precedents for fasting, and a variety of ways to understand its spiritual significance.
The prophet Isaiah reminds us that true fasting is about treating vulnerable people with justice and compassion. Our nation’s leaders do not see a way out of our current quagmire, but when we fast, we turn to God, trusting that God will once again "make a way."
Biblical Precedents for Fasting
Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went back to Bethel and wept, sitting there before the Lord; they fasted that day until evening. Then they offered burnt-offerings and sacrifices of well-being before the Lord.
2 Samuel 1:12
They mourned and wept, and fasted until evening for Saul and for his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.
21Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might deny ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our possessions. 22 For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and cavalry to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king that the hand of our God is gracious to all who seek him, but his power and his wrath are against all who forsake him. 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.
At the evening sacrifice I got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God.
When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
15Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, 16'Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.' 17Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so.
My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt.
3 'Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?' Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day, and oppress all your workers.
4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.
Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.
12 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain-offering and a drink-offering for the Lord, your God? 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly.
And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful festivals for the house of Judah: therefore love truth and peace.
Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving with righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than wealth with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to lay up gold.
13 The Lord heard their prayers and had regard for their distress; for the people fasted for many days throughout Judea and in Jerusalem before the sanctuary of the Lord Almighty.
She fasted all the days of her widowhood, except the day before the sabbath and the sabbath itself, the day before the new moon and the day of the new moon, and the festivals and days of rejoicing of the house of Israel.
So if someone fasts for his sins, and goes again and does the same things, who will listen to his prayer? And what has he gained by humbling himself?
2 Esdras 6:31
31If therefore you will pray again and fast again for seven days, I will again declare to you greater things than these, 32 because your voice has surely been heard by the Most High; for the Mighty One has seen your uprightness and has also observed the purity that you have maintained from your youth.
He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.
16 'And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; 18 and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
14Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, 'Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?' 15 And Jesus said to them, 'The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
…then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day.
I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.
2While 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. 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.'
And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.
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