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On Fasting, by Mary Ann Johnson

What did fasting mean for Jesus? What should fasting mean for me?

First, we are NOT to fast like a Pharisee. The Pharisees wanted everyone to know how holy they were so they either had a dirty face or put ashes on their face. They did not comb their hair and they generally looked disheveled. In other words, they wanted to call attention to themselves so you would know how pious they were.

Since Jesus said in Matthew 6:16-17, “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get.  But when you fast, comb you hair and wash your face.” So…from the 2 verses we can discern that we are called to fast, otherwise Jesus would not have said when you fast. Also note you will be rewarded for fasting, we will talk about rewards later.

There are many references to fasting in both the Old and New Testaments (too many to list). We are told that Jesus himself fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. Matthew 4:2, “For forty days and nights he fasted and became very hungry.” So yes, you are supposed to be hungry when you fast. The 40 days and nights brings to our minds the 40 years that the Israelites spent wandering in the desert. They begged God for food and he provided. Most Old Testament dietary law as given in Leviticus and Deuteronomy was for the physical and spiritual benefit for God’s people. When we fast we are reminded to pray (let your stomach grumbles be a call to prayer). By not preparing meals and eating we have more time in our day to pray.

God calls us to fast for our spiritual and physical good. So there is a benefit for us when we fast—the reward that Jesus alluded to earlier. More prayer feeds and helps heal our soul. More fasting helps heal our body—the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and alms giving that begins Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday). Lent is comprised of 40 days of fasting as Sundays are not considered a fast day. Modern custom has most liturgical christians giving up something for Lent—chocolate, television or whatever you might consider and idol in you life.

What if this Lent was different? What would/could happen if you fasted for a period of time each day during Lent?

  1. You would have more time for God.
  2. You would have more alms for God—the money saved from the food you did not eat.
  3. God would use the pathways that he designed from the beginning to start the process to heal your body of sickness:  from Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes and all diseases of inflammation.
  4. God will delight in your time spent with him.

If you have never fasted for a prolonged period of time I invite you to begin the journey. If you fast regularly then maybe you are called to deepen your fasting time.

Week 1: Eat NO snacks between meals. Eat nothing after your dinner until breakfast the next morning.

Week 2: Eat nothing after dinner. Delay eating breakfast for 2 hours. So if you normally eat breakfast at 8AM you would delay until 10AM.

Week 3: Eat nothing after dinner. Delay eating breakfast for 3 hours.

Week 4: Eat nothing after dinner. Delay eating breakfast for 4 hours.

Week 5: Eat nothing after dinner. Delay eating breakfast for 5 hours. Pick one day and fast from dinner to dinner so that you eat only one meal in the day.

Week 6: Eat nothing after dinner. Delay eating breakfast for 6 hours. Pick one day and do a 24 hour fast.

When you fast in this way you are practicing intermittent fasting or time restricted eating. You have a “feeding window” of time in which you eat. When you fast for 16 hours straight your body starts a process call autophagy. This is when you body begins to break down old damaged cells and start new cell growth and repair. Cancer cells can be detected and eliminated. This process doesn’t work efficiently unless your have this period of fasting. God knows this. He designed you and he designed you to fast.

During your fast you can have water, coffee, tea and electrolyte drinks as long as they contain no sugar or artificial sweeteners. You may have a small amount of cream in your drink (1-2 tablespoons). Use heavy cream or half and half as they contain less natural sugar (lactose) than skim milk or low fat milk.

Explore the way God uses fasting to heal your body as fasting brings your spirit closer to Him. Since you will eventually not be eating breakfast you can use that time in communion with God.  He is our daily bread—feast on Him.

[This essay is not to be construed as medical advice.  If you have medical issues you may need to consult with your general practitioner prior to beginning a period of fasting—sometimes medications need to be adjusted.]

{General questions about the content of this post may be addressed to Mary Ann Johnson.}