There is a simple answer, and it’s one given by Jesus. After he called his first disciples, in the gospel of Luke, he was questioned by the Pharisees as to why his disciples didn’t fast. Here is the question, in its context, from Luke 5:
33 And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” 34 And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” 36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”
Two things happened here.
- First, Jesus refused to be defined by the Pharisees — the good, upright, common-sense, religious folk. So Jesus’ answer must first been seen in that light. He refused to do things “the way they had always been done,” or “the way they were supposed to be done.”
- Second, though, was the simplicity of his answer. His disciples didn’t fast because he was with them. He was the “bridegroom,” and it was a time of celebration! But when he left, it would be a time of longing. The feast of the party would have passed, and Jesus’ disciples would long for the days when he would be with them again.
Fast forward, then, to Acts 13:1-3. A new church had grown in the city of Antioch — a diverse church, filled to the brim with spiritual gifts. But the person of Jesus was not with them — he was at the right hand of God, as Stephen had seen at his death in Acts 7.
With Jesus no longer with them in person, the time for fasting had arisen.
We face a similar dilemma. The person of Jesus — Jesus, in his physical body — is not with us. So we fast.
Be ready, though. Fasting will declare at least three things to God:
- It declares to God that we are immovable in our plea. True, God does not value effort in prayer (if he did, then certainly Jesus’ effort in prayer, at Gethsemane, would have changed God’s mind — but it didn’t). But it does say that we are willing to put “on hold” everything we value most, so that nothing will cloud our prayer.
- It declares to God that we do trust him. Fasting isn’t about food. It’s about declaring to God that we trust him to sustain us while we fast. So we learn the value of trust when we fast.
- In the words of Richard Foster, it “reveals the things that control us.” He continues, “We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. David writes, ‘I humbled my soul with fasting’ (Ps. 69:10). Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear — if they are within us, they will surface during fasting. At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we will realize that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.”
And this is why we fast.
We will begin a 48-hour time of fasting and worshiping and praying this Friday. Click here for more information.