Christian Fasting – What’s it all about?

Fasting is a practice that has observed since the beginning of recorded history. One of the places we find records of early peoples fasting is in the Christian Bible. One of the very first documented occurrences of a fast can found in the book of Genesis in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. Here it is recorded that while Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God, he fasted for 40 days.

While there are many Biblical references to Christian fasting, Christians have no set rules or times for fasting as the Muslims do. Probably the most structured time of fasting is found in religions, such as Catholicism, where Lent observed. During this time, worshippers choose one thing in their lives to fast from. This can be a type of food, such as coffee or chocolate, or an activity, like watching television. This action of giving up a favorite thing is supposed to remind the worshipper of the sacrifice of Christ. Participation in Lent, however, is not mandatory for any member of the Christian religion.

Since there no set in stone Christian fasting rules, we can only follow the examples of fasting Jesus set for us in the Bible:

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting…However, when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your unseen Father; and your Father, who sees what done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18 NIV

Since Jesus does make this mention of fasting in His Sermon on the Mount, it is clear that fasting is an accepted practice. There is a record that Jesus Himself fasted for 40 days in the wilderness before He began His public ministry. By the above passage, Christians also infer that God does not respect fasting done only as a show. To fast correctly and in a way that will bring glory to God and not ourselves, we must not make a show of our fasting.

In his article “Is Fasting a Christian Duty?”, W. Frank Walton contends that Christian fasting came about much like the practices of foot washing and the holy kiss. “They (these practices) all originated in culture, not divine revelation, as a cultural way to express an underlying principle,” states Walton. He goes on to add that fasting is not commanded for Christians as a binding obligation, but rather a way to express their sorrow for wrongs done and the depth of their repentance.

Another way Christians use fasting is in connection with a prayer to deepen their relationship with God. Many people find they can use the time they would have spent preparing and eating their food in prayer instead. They also believe this time of fasting heightens their awareness of their spiritual self and causes them to be more in tune with the Holy Spirit.
Unlike Muslim fasting, there are no set rules for Christian fasting. Christians infer from scripture that fasting is an accepted practice and that it should not do in the show, but in a real desire to grow spiritually.