Why do Christians fast?

(Wikimedia Commons/Christian Advs Sltg)A stained glass window showing Jesus praying.

One of the practices observed by Christians is the act of fasting which is the temporary abstinence from food. Fasting can take at least 24 hours and can stretch to several days and even weeks, depending on the desire to forego the pleasure of eating in favor of communing with God.

The Bible does not require us to fast, but it is mentioned in several verses. If Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, it is our Christian duty to follow his example. Fasting is equated with deep prayer and communing with God. Self-deprivation of earthly pleasures like food is the most effective way to focus on Him.

Fasting is a form of sacrifice and a symbolic gesture that you are putting God above other things, including the most basic need for food. It is a demonstration of your total trust in His power to sustain you both physically and most importantly, spiritually.

Since fasting is linked to prayer, the time spent on this act should be focused mainly on God. Distractions from people and other worldly things should be avoided in favor of devotion to His Word through the Bible and allowing Him to reveal Himself and His purpose for you.

Fasting is originally a Jewish tradition in the Old Testament during the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:19–31). It was a day of contrition when Jews came before God in remorse for their sins. Christians in the New Testament continued to fast. However, while the ritual of animal sacrifice to atone one's sins was done away with, repentance remained a basic element.

This means that when fasting, there should be an intention to confess your sins and ask for forgiveness, and the willingness to turn away from past misdeeds to lead a holy life. Your heart should be on the right track and your intention should be pure — not to display self-righteousness as what Jesus warned in Matthew 6:17–18.

Unlike the fasting of the Mosaic Law which was obligatory, Christian fasting is not mandatory. So why do it at all? Scriptures cites instances when early Christians needed to fast: when they needed to embark on an important journey (Acts 14:23), when seeking spiritual guidance and when facing important decisions (Acts 13:4).

As Christians, we are to make God our priority by lifting to Him our plans and desires for our life (Matthew 6:33), and to seek His guidance every step of the way. For this, we have to listen intently to Him, and the most effective way to do this is through deep prayer and fasting.

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