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What’s With Fasting?

Of all the rituals Christians embrace, fasting gets short shrift. Some Christians fast at certain times, but it’s my impression that large numbers of Christians don’t fast at all. And I don’t think it’s because of Jesus’ counsel against making a show of the practice. (Matthew 6:16-18, NIV) He gave the same counsel about prayer. (Matthew 6:5-8)

Given how often fasting is mentioned in scripture; that it was a practice for Jesus and his disciples; and that early Christians fasted as part of worship and to set apart individuals for a specific purpose (Acts 13:1-5; 14:23), it’s remarkable that fasting isn’t as common as praying, singing, and reading scripture today.

What’s more, in Isaiah 58:5-8, God speaks sharply about the power of fasting: “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen…only for bowing one’s head…? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice…to set the oppressed free…? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter…to clothe [the naked]…? Then your light will break forth…you will call, and the Lord will answer…Here am I.”

God’s message to his people often demanded help to the downtrodden, even to the point that it was said to be the same as providing help to Jesus. (Matthew 25:40) In Isaiah 58, fasting was described as a means to that end.

In Mark 9:29, Jesus seemed to raise the priority of fasting when the disciples asked him why they weren’t able to drive out a particular evil spirit. Jesus replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.”

What’s with fasting? Perhaps a lot more than we realize, in need of heartfelt attention, leading to hunger and thirst for righteousness.


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