May 16 I Monday
2 Kings 24-25
“‘Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’”
What do we think of when we hear the word “fasting”? When we look at Scripture, the Greek word for “fasting” is nésteia, which means “to abstain, as a religious exercise, from food and drink either entirely if the fast lasts for a single day, or from a customary choice of nourishment for an extended period of time.”
As a Christian, what has our experience been with fasting? For some churches, fasting is not a topic that is commonly talked about or focused on; instead, these churches tend to place their attention on Bible study, prayer, fellowship, giving and serving. One of my formative childhood experiences where I learned about fasting was in Sunday school. A teacher told us about his super-spiritual friend who went and fasted for forty days from food and lost a ton of weight in the process. As a child, I remember thinking, “If that’s what fasting is, I don’t think it’s going to be for me because A) I am a kid, B) I don’t have a lot of meat on these bones and C) I’ll probably die fast if I have to fast in that way.” Hence, growing up, I thought fasting was something that the pastors and the super-spiritual did; it was not something for the everyday Christian.
When we look back in church history, fasting had always been there. Even in the second century, Tertullian, an early church father, wrote the first Christian book on fasting, literally called On Fasting. In the fourth century, Marcella, a Roman Christian woman, after the passing of her husband, opened up her home and used her wealth to invite people into the discipline of Bible study, prayer and fasting. Another notable mention is Augustine, from the fifth century; not only did he practice fasting, he also wrote on it. In the 13th century, we have Thomas Aquinas who, like Augustine, practiced and wrote on fasting. By the Protestant Reformation, we have Martin Luther in the 16th century who regularly fasted, encouraged fasting and wrote on fasting. In the 18th century, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Movement and a key figure in the First Great Awakening practiced fasting once a week.
Throughout Christian history, fasting has not been this nominal, obscure part, but has been an integral part of Christian practice. In fact, it has often been a keynote marker of revival movements of what God is up to. Like the godly men and women before us who practiced fasting, if we do not currently include the discipline of fasting in our spiritual practice, would we consider including it?
Prayer: Dear Jesus, like men and women in church history who fasted and prayed as they sought Your face, teach me to fast and pray in a manner that is pleasing to You. Thank You, Lord.