Word For Today – 4 February 2021 – Fasting

Written by on 05/02/2021

Word For Today – 4 February 2021 – Fasting

Today I want to talk about the importance of fasting.  Fasting is a traditional Lenten practice for Christians and although Lent doesn’t begin until Ash Wednesday on February 17th, we are encouraged to fast at other times of the year.  Fasting is not just for Lent and it is certainly not just a weight loss program.  Fasting is a spiritual power program and it is a spiritual discipline that the Church encourages us to undertake throughout the whole year.

In fact this Friday, the fifth of February, Radio Maria England is supporting and encouraging our listeners and friends to join with us in a regular pattern of monthly fasting throughout the year.  The intention is to fast every first Friday of each month and to dedicate these Fridays to prayer for what some Catholics call the triumph of the immaculate heart of Mary.  What we are praying for is for the triumph of the love of our Lord in our lives, in our homes, in this country, and in our world.  There are many challenges facing us and it is not just covid and the Lord is calling his people to prayer and to fasting.

The record of the saints, prophets, and Patriarch’s in the Bible who have fasted is a “Who’s Who” of Scripture.  Eliezer, Abraham’s servant fasted when he was seeking a bride for Abraham’s son Isaac; Moses fasted on Mt. Sinai for 40 days. In fact the scriptures record two occasions when Moses fasted for 40 days. You may remember that Hannah went to the Temple and fasted and prayed for a child and the Lord heard her prayer and the important prophet Samuel was conceived.  It was Samuel who anointed King David.  Following his act of adultery and murder King David fasted and prayed for his dying son.  The great prophet Elijah fasted following his victory over Jezebel.  When Israel returned from exile the scribe Ezra fasted when he was mourning over Israel’s faithlessness and Nehemiah fasted in preparation for his trip back to Israel.  Esther fasted and prayed when Israel was threatened with extermination and the Lord delivered His people.   Daniel, one of the important prophets that Jesus references, fasted on numerous occasions.  Fasting was also a regular practice of the Early Church.  Paul fasted for three days following his Damascus Road experience and the Christian community at Antioch fasted and prayed when they sent off Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journeys.  In the New Testament Christians always seem to have fasted and prayed when they had important decisions to make such appointing new elders for the churches.

In Luke’s Gospel we read that Jesus, following his baptism was full of the Spirit and was then led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days.   In Lent we fast in commemoration of the Lord’s 40 day fast.

Jesus told the disciples “when you fast,” not “if you fast” (Matt. 6:17, cf. 9:15).  Fasting is not unusual and is an expected of Christians.  What does fasting do? It can help release the Holy Spirit into our lives and it can transform and empower our prayer life.  When the Lord came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, he discovered that the disciples had been unable to help a father and his sick son and he told them that the only way they would have been able to help them and have their prayers answered was ‘through prayer and fasting’ (Matt. 17:21).  Fasting strengthens our prayer life.

The central idea of fasting is the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of concentrated or focused spiritual activity and prayer and there are different sorts of fasts.   Total fasts are when no food or liquids are consumed but this is not recommended for children, if you are elderly, have any health issues, are pregnant or a nursing mother.  The Apostle Paul went on an absolute fast for three days following his transforming encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:9). Both Moses and Elijah went on a supernatural absolute fast of forty days (Deuteronomy 9:9; I Kings 19:8).  People often choose partial fasts and an example of this is in the book of Daniel which describes the prophet abstaining from “delicacies,” meat, and wine (Daniel 10:3).

If you decide to go on a water-only fast you need to be very careful about physical activity because you will find that your body will release toxins and you may suffer from headaches and nausea.  When you decide which sort of fast you will do remember to consider any medical advice, use common sense and pray about it!  The most important consideration in fasting is your motive. Why are you going to fast this time and who or what are you praying for?  And if you do fast remember to set time aside to pray and to read the Scriptures.

There are other forms of fasting that you may like to consider.  We are all experiencing a ‘people fast’.  The solitude and physical isolation that we are all experiencing now need not necessarily be a burden, but it can support our prayer life because there are potentially less distractions and fewer ‘voices’ that we need to listen to.  Why not try a noise fast?

I am very fond of the music of Taize but if you have ever been to visit the community at Taize in France you will know that worship there includes important periods of silence.  I have regularly been to Taize for a week’s retreat and there have been as many as nine thousand, mostly young people, gathered together from across the world and from many different churches and to sit with them in silence and adoration is powerful.  In the many times that I have been I never once heard a phone go off!  The silence is not just the space between songs, but it is an essential part of the worship at Taize and it can remind us of the importance of silence.  There is a verse from the prophet Isaiah which reminds us that it is in quietness and confidence that our strength lies (Isa 30:15) and not of course in our frenetic activity.  I would say that silence strengthens trust.

Although we cannot gather at the moment as we might like this does not necessarily mean that we are speaking less so another sort of fasting you might consider is from conversation.  In our media obsessed culture there are many competing voices and noises.  Perhaps you might like to consider a Media Fast. Why not try a NETFLIX fast, or fasting from video games like Minecraft, the internet or your mobile phone.   When we deny ourselves the things that we enjoy or which can distract us we will become more conscious of the voice of the Lord – a voice that is always gentle just read 1 Kings 19 and how the Lord speaks to the prophet Elijah – the voice of the Lord is described as the sound of a low whisper.  Fasting can really help us listen.

There are two warnings about fasting in Scripture.  Jesus told his disciples not to make a big fuss about fasting but to keep it as a secret discipline and not to tell people so that only God our Father knows and that the Lord God, who sees what we do secretly will reward us openly (Matt. 6:16-18).  A second warning is from the prophet Isaiah who reminds us that fasting is no substitute for caring for those in need and for acting justly (Isa.58:5- 8).

Don’t make fasting a problem – enjoy it because when we fast, we are taking the Lord and His love seriously.  There is a lovely promise in Scripture in both the New and Old Testaments (James 4:8 and Jer. 29: 12-14) that if we draw close to the Lord He will draw close to us.  Fasting really is a spiritual power program and it’s a blessing not a burden!

Father Sam Randall

Currently, Word For Today is broadcast everyday except Sundays at 1:20pm, 7pm and 10pm.  On Sunday, it is broadcast at 1:20pm, 6:45pm and 10pm.

Word For Today will be changing it’s broadcast time starting February 15th.  I will be broadcast everyday except Fridays and Sundays at 1:45pm, 7pm and 10pm.  On Sundays, it will be broadcast at 1:45pm, 6:45pm and 10pm.  On Fridays, it will be broadcast at 7pm and 10pm.


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