A few years ago I made a personal commitment to God that I would fast one day every week. I had engaged in prayer and fasting before that, mainly for spiritual wisdom and strength to confront specific situations I was going through in my life. All the Pentecostal churches I have attended, encourage it’s members to regularly engage in prayer and fasting as a way to address a number of issues, whether spiritual or temporal. So it is something I am comfortable with and I have an appreciation for the Muslim practice of fasting during the daytime, as they observe their holy month of Ramadan.
I made this commitment for a number of reasons. The first was to establish a covenant with God. I would commit to denying myself of basic nourishment from sun up to 6pm once a week, and God in return would commit to increase my faith, spiritual wisdom and strength.
The second was to identify, even symbolically, with those who had no and/or limited access to food and water, to satisfy their own daily basic physical needs. I am aware though that this is just a “symbolic” identification, for the fact is that after 6pm, I not only have more than enough food and water to consume, but I also have a variety of choices of what I want to eat and drink. That being said, there is still much difficulty in denying oneself in the face of such abundance.
Therefore the third reason, which is directly tied to the second, is to develop self-control. We live in a culture/society, where we are not encouraged to deny ourselves anything. We live in the “Age of The Triumph of Greed and The Primacy of Selfish Fulfillment”. We are encouraged and even expected to fulfill all of our physiological, emotional and intellectual needs, wants, desires and luxuries…. and through advertising and marketing we are bombarded with the various pathways which leads to our material Shangri-la. Personally, I look forward to “that” first cup of coffee in the morning. I actually crave it! It has become more than a habit…. it’s a ritual…. an addiction. Making the conscious decision not to have that cup of java in the morning is painful…. it’s damn hard if you want to know the truth. I can’t explain it, but every week, when I deny myself coffee for that day, although it is relatively a small thing, it’s like I have conquered a psychological and physiological “shackle” on my being. Every week I prove that it has no hold on me and I am in control.
The final reason is a matter of health. Although there is some controversy within the medical community on the types or degrees of benefits from fasting, it is agreed that it does assist in detoxifying and cleansing the body.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But 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 Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”. Matthew 6: 16-18.
I am currently involved in a Bible study (Alpha Course) at my church on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). When we came to this topic of fasting, which the passage above is based on, I was a little taken aback that no-one, except myself, had ever fasted. I was even more amazed of the reasons (excuses) why they didn’t fast. The church has called for prayer and fasting a number of times since I’ve been regularly attending there since December 2006. I took it for granted that if not all, most Pentecostals fasted even periodically. I became aware of how much of a personal and spiritual commitment it was to fast, especially to do it weekly. To deny oneself of the very basic needs of life for “a part of a day” isn’t an easy endeavour to undertake, especially in a society of material abundance. However, I do not consider myself “special” or “more righteous or spiritual” than those Christians that don’t fast. I have come to appreciate God all the more for providing me with the strength to do it…. for the truth is that every week I go through a tremendous struggle and look for excuses not to fast.
So what is the joy of fasting? For me, it’s knowing that I have kept my commitment to God and have also overcome the power of my basic desires…. for that day…. and for that week.