How Does the Church Define Fasting?

How Does the Church Define Fasting? April 30, 2024

A girl praying in a church pew
Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash

Fasting carries more profound significance within Christianity. It embodies notions of love, sacrifice and devotion that trace back to the practices of Jesus Himself, who engaged in fasting to demonstrate His devotion to God.

By reducing food intake, Christians can emulate Jesus’s example and deepen their relationship with God. Discover what fasting entails, how often Christians practice it and some tips you can implement.

What Is Fasting in Christianity?

Fasting is the core Lenten practice of self-discipline involving partial or complete abstinence from any type of sustenance. It’s a term often confused with abstinence or the restriction of specific foods.

The concept of fasting is evident in both the Old and New Testaments. However, there are no definitive rules on how to practice abstinence properly — all passages refer to it as a way to get closer to God. Sometimes, it’s also a way to sacrifice so God can grant prayers.

In Isaiah 58, Israelites abstained from food for a day to seek help from God. The nation lamented when help didn’t arrive. Instead, God pointed out how the Israelites oppressed their people. Through the prophet Isaiah, He said how He wanted the people to abstain from their violent, oppressive ways.

In some instances, fasting could be a way to get God’s attention and guidance. A passage from Matthew 6:3-18 reads, “When you give up eating, comb your hair and wash your face. Then people will not know that you are giving up eating. But your Father, whom you cannot see, will see you. Your Father sees what is done in secret, and He will reward you.”

When Do Christians Fast?

During the Lenten Season, Catholic priests order abstinence from meat on Fridays. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Catholics are mandated to fast in addition to meat abstinence. However, these rules don’t apply to children, the elderly and sickly individuals whose health may be endangered without proper food consumption.

Many sectors of Catholicism have lenient rules when fasting during the Lenten Season, with some people only fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Traditionally, fasting for Lent entails reducing food consumption for 40 days before Easter.

For Protestants, fasting is an individual decision. Many churches also honor the withdrawal of indulgences such as media consumption during Lent. In the Eastern Orthodox Churches, people are encouraged to refrain from eating the following foods:

  • Weekdays of Lent: Eggs, meat, fish, dairy, wine and oil
  • Week before Lent: All types of meat
  • Good Friday: Abstinence from all foods

The Principles of Fasting

At the heart of fasting are principles that make the act more intentional.

1. It Should Be Performed for the Right Reasons

Before fasting, reflect on your intentions. Do you seek repentance, wisdom, healing or renewal? Ensure your motive centers around God’s glory so He will honor your heart and bless you in His unique way.

2. It Should Accompany a Prayer

Praying is a vital part of the fasting process among Christians. If you search every instance of fasting in the Bible, you’ll see everyone prays to connect oneself more deeply with God. Talk to the Lord, ask Him questions or read a Bible passage.

3. It Should Be a Voluntary Act

Fasting is never imposed — it’s an act you choose to deepen your connection with God. True spiritual growth comes from a genuine desire to serve the Lord.

5 Tips for Practicing Fasting

While fasting is intended to improve your spiritual connection with God, it shouldn’t have to cause you significant physical and mental discomfort. Follow these tips to make the most out of your fasting experience.

1. Set Realistic Expectations

If you’re fasting for the first time, consider starting slow. Try a manageable intermittent fasting method instead of not eating all day. For instance, you can do the 12/12 fasting method, where you consume meals and drinks during a 12-hour window and fast for 12 hours.

You can also do a partial fast, during which you abstain only from foods such as meat and alcohol. If you have medical conditions, consult your doctor first to see if your condition will allow you to fast.

2. Avoid Temptations

Temptations come in different forms, such as a craving for your favorite burger. Matthew 4:1-11 details how Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, where Satan tempted him to turn stones into bread and challenge God. With the Lord’s grace, Jesus withstood these temptations, showing you can overcome yours, too.

3. Redirect Attention to Something

Avoid temptations by staying busy. The first moments of fasting can be challenging, mainly if you’re used to eating an afternoon meal or midnight snack. Instead of dwelling on your hunger pangs, consider directing your attention to a fulfilling activity. Do yoga to help reduce your anxiety levels or write your thoughts in a journal.

4. Eat Nutritious Food

Ensure you still nourish your body with essential nutrients despite fasting by eating fruits and vegetables during your feasting window. Add more fat, carbohydrates, and protein sources like eggs and chicken for long-lasting energy throughout the day.

The first three days of fasting are usually the hardest — you’ll likely experience hunger and occasional cravings. If that happens, increase your water or juice intake.

5. Try Fasting Outside Lent

Doing partial or complete fasting throughout the year will help prepare your body for the Lenten Season. Ensure you’re physically and mentally able to do so before attempting this discipline.

6. Fast from Something Other Than Food

Fasting is not limited to abstaining from food. If you have a health condition, consider fasting from social media or some other regular enjoyment that will lead you closer to God. Let go of the world’s pleasures and devote yourself to prayer.

Fasting as an Act of Love

In a world where fasting often gets attention as a weight loss strategy, its importance as a venerable disciplinary practice and devotion endures among Christians. It serves as a lesson to relinquish earthly pressures and immerse yourself in the love of God. If you want to start fasting, keep your heart steadfast — God will honor your faithfulness.

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