Fasting represents an act of obedience to the word of God. We are asked to fast in every major religion. Since we believe God requires fasting of us, we fast. However, how much thought do we give to why and when fasting for God is desirable? Below are twelve reasons for fasting.
1. Divine Commands to Fast
The Torah, Gospels and Qur’an prescribe fasting as a religious practice.
The LORD said to Moses, “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present a food offering to the LORD . . . This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. [Leviticus 23:26-32 (NIV)].
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. [Matthew 9:15 (NIV) ].
He [Jesus] does not . . .expressly enjoin either fasting, giving of alms, or prayer; but his directions how to fast, to give alms, and to pray, are of the same force with such injunctions. For the commanding us to do anything thus, is an unquestionable command to do that thing . . . Consequently, the saying, “Give alms, pray, fast” in such a manner, is a clear command to perform all those duties . . . [John Wesley, Sermon 27, Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount].
. . . when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others 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 (NIV)].
O YOU who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God: [Quran 2:183].
2. Spiritual Awareness and God-consciousness
Perhaps the most esoteric and wondrous purpose for fasting is to come nearer to God. Though our stomachs and bank accounts may be full, we can still experience an insatiable spiritual appetites that cannot be quenched by transient pleasures and possessions.
Sharpen thy sickle, which thou hast blunted through gluttony—sharpen it by fasting. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven . . . And how mayest thou be able to do these things? By subduing thy body, and bringing it into subjection. For when the way grows narrow, the corpulence that comes of gluttony is a great hindrance. Keep down the waves of inordinate desires. Repel the tempest of evil thoughts. Preserve the bark; display much skill, and thou hast become a pilot. But we shall have the fast for a groundwork and instructor in all these things. [St. Chrysostom: On the Priesthood; Ascetic Treatises].
Something in the process of spiritual fasting elevates our consciousnessus, carrying us into closer relationship with the Divine Reality, and providing an extraordinarily satisfying encounter with God.
As bodily food fattens the body, so fasting strengthens the soul. Imparting it an easy flight, it makes it able to ascend on high, to contemplate lofty things, and to put the heavenly higher than the pleasant and pleasurable things of life. [St. John Chrysostom].
3. Purification of the Soul
Our excessive indulgence in worldly pleasures increases disregard of spiritual matters, irreverent frivolity and forgetfulness of our deeper aspiration
The right practice of abstinence is needful not only to the mortification of the flesh but also to the purification of the mind. For the mind then only keeps holy and spiritual fast when it rejects the food of error and the poison of falsehood. [St. Leo the Great].
. . . every wise man will refrain his soul, and keep it low; will wean it more and more from all those indulgences of the inferior appetites, which naturally tend to chain it down to earth, and to pollute as well as debase it. Here is another perpetual reason for fasting; to remove the food of lust and sensuality, to withdraw the incentives of foolish and hurtful desires, of vile and vain affections. [John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on The Mount“].