Recovering the Lost Art of Fasting
I’m sitting in my bed with a painful stomach virus that started on the morning of Thanksgiving Day!! Family and close relatives were coming over in a few hours to watch the Cowboys get blown away this year and gorge themselves with all the fixins’. It’s one of my favorite holidays of the year, and I am stuck in bed shivering and about to swallow 2 Nyquil pills.
Trying to find God’s presence in my sickness, I was convicted to share about a spiritual discipline one would never think about during this holiday season: The Lost Art of FASTING. Yes, you heard me, “F-A-S-T-I-N-G”. It was a paper I wrote in my first year of PhD studies around this holiday season. It reminded me that this holiday season can be JOYFUL without GORGING yourself on every impulsive appetite for pleasure. Yet the source of JOY is from our Savior King who once said, “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow” (John 15:11 NLT)!
—————–The Lost Art of FASTING ———————–
Growing up in the Midwest of the great state of Texas, much of my religious influences was a product of my own environment. Right in the heart of Bible Belt, I enjoyed the comfort of being surrounded by openly professing Christians and church steeples at every corner of the city. I was confident that I knew what it was to live a Christian life along with the disciplines involved for maturation. I was blessed to be raised up in a Christian home; my father was a pastor, daycare was at the church during the week, I was schooled in a local Christian private academy, I grew up in the church, most of my friends were churched, and I continued my education at a Baptist seminary. Yet through most of my early years, the spiritual discipline of fasting was hardly practiced or mentioned. At best, it surfaced as a side note on some occasions in sermons. During these years, I never met anyone who seriously practiced fasting. Later, I relocated and served in three different churches, observing no active practices of fasting by any of the members and leaders of the church. If we can read through the many examples in the Bible, why has this discipline been neglected in the majority of American Protestant circles? The intent of this research is to identify how the spiritual discipline of fasting has vanished from the modern Protestant church, and the second objective is my attempt to developing an intentional discipline of fasting within my life. Finally, we can attempt to build a recovery plan by cross referencing contemporary practices with proper Biblical examples for the modern Christian church.
From his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster attributes two reasons to the decline of this discipline,
“First, fasting has developed a bad reputation as a result of the excessive ascetic practices of the Middle Ages. … Second, the constant propaganda fed us today convinces us that if we do not have three large meals each day, with several snacks in between, we are on the verge of starvation. This coupled with the popular belief that it is a positive virtue to satisfy every human appetite, has made fasting seem obsolete” (Foster, 47).
His first reasoning is partially true; the decline in the practice started with the early church, and resurfaced in the Middle Ages, with little regards to the biblical faith and a higher inclination towards an act of penance. Misguided at this time, fasting, a form of self-torture, would help rid the mind and body of the carnal appetites. As a result, the ostentatious behavior evidenced superior holiness, very much like the intentions of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day (Nordell, 380). Foster’s second reason is a whimsical response to make light of the distorted priorities of the American culture, focusing on the physical health over spiritual renewal. In both of these extreme cases, fasting has been severely misinterpreted, and, therefore, the proper purpose of fasting has vanished…