Five questions about Christian fasting

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A friend recently asked me some questions about the spiritual discipline of fasting. I’m not an expert on fasting, but I tried to give some straightforward answers to her questions based on my understanding of the Scriptures from a reformed perspective.

I’ll share a modified version of my reply to her, with her permission.


Dear A,

Fasting is certainly a powerful spiritual discipline. Since God is inviting you, it seems, to practice regular fasting and prayer, it’s right that you should look into it.

The Christian tradition provides for varying reasons for fast: repentance for sin (personal or systemic), in order to deepen prayer or the experience of God, in order to intercede for something/someone, etc. Do you sense that this call is related to missions [she spoke about a concern for mission in her letter]? Is it related to something else?

Here are some specific responses to the questions you posed, I hope they’re helpful.

  • “Here’s some things I’m pondering: is there a certain day of the week that is supposed to be used for fasting?”

Traditionally fasts were observed on Fridays and not on Sundays because Friday recalls Good Friday and Christ’s sacrificial death and Sunday is the Christian Sabbath, the Lord’s Day when we celebrate His resurrection.

  • “Does it include not drinking water as well?”

As far as I know, fasting never includes abstaining from water. The body needs water more than it needs food and it can be dangerous to deprive yourself of it. Typically it is food (generally), or certain type of food like red meat.

  • Is there a certain way I should be praying throughout the day, like focus on just one thing?

My counsel is that on a regular basis you devote two periods of time to prayer—one in the morning; one in the evening. This was the practice of the English Puritans. Then, throughout the day cultivate the practice of praying as you encounter people/things/impressions. This way life can become a conversation with God. I always encourage believers to pray Scripture, especially the Psalms.

You can meditate during the day as well—typically by slowly reading/praying Holy Scripture (Psalms).

  • Is there any place in the Bible that talks about how to fast? 

To my recollection, the only passage that really speaks about fasting is the admonition to keep your fast a secret. Inherent in all spiritual practices is our propensity to begin to look at these practices as things that earn us favor with God or that make us better than other believers. Both of these impulses are a type of idolatry and are not good for the soul. See Mt 6:16-18.

  • Does it make the prayers more holy/ what is the significance?

Fasting doesn’t make your prayers more holy; rather, God can use the practice to make you more holy, which is infinitely more beneficial!

Grace and peace,

Jeff

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