John Wesley: “Some have exalted religious fasting beyond all Scripture and reason; and others have utterly disregarded it.”
We have been studying the last weeks about prayer, and something which often goes hand in hand with prayer is fasting. You can pray without fasting, and fast without prayer. But we can see that when these two activities are combined and dedicated to God’s glory that they reach their full effectiveness.
Our series is ‘Living like Jesus’ and living like Jesus publically starts with living like Jesus privately. We will see over the next few days what Jesus taught about fasting and why fasting is important.
Jesus while on earth followed the law of the Old Testament which specifically required prayer and fasting for only one occasion, which was the Day of Atonement. This custom became known as “the day of fasting” (Jeremiah 36:6) or “the Fast” (Acts 27:9). But we can also see that Jesus fasted on other occasions when not required by the law, for example The 40 days and 40 nights before His temptation by Satan (Matthew 4:2).
The Bible is full of examples of people fasting, in the Old Testament we see Moses fasted during the 40 days and 40 nights he was on Mount Sinai receiving the law from God (Exodus 34:28). King Jehoshaphat called for a fast in all Israel when they were about to be attacked by the Moabites and Ammonites (2 Chronicles 20:3). In response to Jonah’s preaching, the men of Nineveh fasted and put on sackcloth (Jonah 3:5). Prayer and fasting was often done in times of distress or trouble. David fasted when he learned that Saul and Jonathan had been killed (2 Samuel 1:12). Nehemiah had a time of prayer and fasting upon learning that Jerusalem was still in ruins (Nehemiah 1:4). Darius, the king of Persia, fasted all night after he was forced to put Daniel in the den of lions (Daniel 6:18).
Prayer and fasting was just something which was important under Jewish Law or the old covenant, it also occurs in the New Testament. Anna “worshipped night and day, fasting and praying” at the Temple (Luke 2:37). John the Baptist taught his disciples to fast (Mark 2:18). Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before His temptation by Satan (Matthew 4:2). The church of Antioch fasted (Acts 13:2) and sent Paul and Barnabas off on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:3). Paul and Barnabas spent time in prayer and fasting for the appointment of elders in the churches (Acts 14:23).
Christians throughout the church history have fasted and witnessed to its value, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, Jonathan Edward and Charles Finney, just name a few.
Now the fact that persons, in scripture and church history held fasting in high regard does not make it necessary, or even desirable, but it should make us pause long enough to be willing to re-evaluate our beliefs and practise when it comes to fasting.