By John Grimm
The spiritual reasons for fasting have been lost on society. United Methodists are surprised to learn that John Wesley fasted two days a week in his younger days. Later he fasted on Fridays. Charles Yrigoyen Jr., in “John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life,” writes:
Wesley was convinced that fasting, abstaining from food or drink, was a practice firmly grounded in the Bible. People in Old Testament times fasted (Ezra 8:23). So did Jesus and his followers (Matthew 4:2; Acts 13:3), and Wesley saw no reason why modern Christians should not follow the same pattern. His plan of fasting sometimes allowed for limited eating and drinking. He found that fasting advanced holiness.
Being holy, is that a reason to fast? Being holy seems to be a reason to fast. Isaiah 58 helps us get to how we should fast.
Why isn’t fasting working? We are rebelling. These questions matter: Do we practice righteousness? Whose interest are we serving? Are we quarreling?
God’s grace allows us to see the harsh reality of our lives. Sin is in our lives. At times, our attitudes are horrendous. It almost sounds like we, like Israel, can be spoiled brats trying to get the attention of our downtrodden parents! There must be more to drawing near to God.
What must change to have grace in our lives? We understand the kind of fast has the Lord chosen. The fast the Lord has chosen includes justice, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, giving clothes to the naked, and welcoming the stranger (among other tasks). By doing these works, we work in the grace God has given us.
God’s grace can work through fasting. It is not a diet. Fasting is not an idea for young adults and youth who are worried about their body image, who are leaning toward purging. That is a sign of needing help. If you need to get closer to God, to be more holy, then fasting can be one way that you draw closer to God. That is if you are helping those who need help. Otherwise, we are just spinning our wheels.
It is in the basics of our faith that we gain the means to be closer to God, to become holy as he is. During Lent, we can give up chocolate or sweets. That would be categorized as abstaining. But to give up a meal or two and spend the time in prayer and giving those funds to the needy, that is fasting.
Will you fast this Lent? For those of us with health concerns, talk with your doctor before you fast. For those of us who need to get closer to God, to allow his grace to work in our lives, then let us fast. Just do not let anybody know when you are fasting.