And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast [Matthew 9:15]
The relatively short time span in which Jesus accomplished his mission was filled with awe-inspiring miracles, heart-rendering teachings and profound wisdom. These were more than enough to imbue his followers with God-consciousness and spiritual awareness.
Spiritually young and ritually inexperienced, the disciples were nurtured at the side of the Master. The need for spiritual nourishment through fasting would arise when the Master was gone.
When, in fact, the bridegroom was taken from them, his followers fasted. Fasting reinforced the call to a disciplined life of constant watchfulness.
Woe unto you that are full now, for you shall hunger [Luke 6:25].
Flesh Is Weak
Paul’s letters exhorted believers to renunciation of worldly possessions and to mortification of the flesh. Punishment of the body to subdue it produced the ascetic tradition of the early Christian church.
I drive my body and train it, for fear that after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified [1 Corinthians 9:27].
Ante-Nicene fathers of the church also observed fasting as an essential obligation. Later, punishment of the body for the sake of the soul became a monastic principle, and the punishment often took the form of fasting.
Wherefore let us forsake the vain doing of the many and their false teachings, and turn unto the word which was delivered unto us from the beginning, being sober unto prayer and constant in fastings, entreating the all-seeing God with supplications that He bring us not into temptation, according as the Lord said, The Spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak. [Polycarp to the Philippians].
Intention to Fast
Our intention to fast may be a response to a profound emotional crisis. Many of the fasts narrated in scriptures are of such a nature. Fasting is also a natural response when submission and penance need to be shown – whenever the mercy of God is sought. Such sobering events impel us to fast, and it becomes obvious that fasting cannot be postponed.
More commonly, however, we fast at our own discretion. As with any difficult endeavor presented to human beings, fasting then becomes the object of procrastination. We find countless reasons for postponing our fast.
Even persons who fast regularly experience some hesitancy in actually committing to a fast. We can recognize the need to fast and it’s benefits, but actually resolving to do so is not easy. And so, our fasting can be postponed for months, years – indefinitely.
If we are going to fast, we must make up our mind to do so within a certain period. The first important step is to make the intention to fast – then ask God to strengthen your will. With God, all things are possible.
In Shansi I found Chinese Christians who were accustomed to spend time in fasting and prayer. They recognized that this fasting, which so many dislike, which requires faith in God, since it makes one feel weak and poorly, is really a Divinely appointed means of grace. Perhaps the greatest hindrance to our work is our own imagined strength; and in fasting we learn what poor, weak creatures we are – dependent on a meal of meat for the little strength which we are so apt to lean upon. [James Hudson Taylor].