Desert Wisdom: Fasting (1)

Bunge moves from examining the times for prayer to the theme of fasting and prayer—an often-combined emphasis in early Christianity—a combination noted in the Bible itself.  We will spend several blogs on this connection.

As with prayer, Jesus and the earliest disciples were concerned with establishing the correct motive for fasting—not “to be seen of men” (to point to any piety or mortification), but to glorify God.  This is the only reason anyone should fast.

But assuming the motive is correct, the practice affords benefit.  Bunge rightly notes that in society, weight loss is about the only benefit usually ascribed to fasting, with perhaps some generic “spiritual” benefit.  But these barely scratch the surface of the Judeo-Christian practice of fasting.

We can begin our look at prayer and fasting by stepping into the stream of Judaism itself, and when we do, we notice that the early Christians carried forward the idea and practice of stated fast days.

In keeping with what we have said previously about prayer, we note again that the purpose of having set times for fasting is that they create “reference points” (reminders) which might otherwise slip out of sight, and over time, they generate a spirit of fasting (surrender and simplification) that goes beyond food and drink.

The Didache moved the stated fast days to Wednesday and Friday (in Judaism it was Monday and Thursday), most likely to parallel the penitential pattern of Jesus’ final week.  Over time, the church has added other stated fast days, establishing a pattern of formation in relation to this spiritual discipline.

Fasting calls us to the remembrance that Christ alone is our “food and drink,” and as we make him our Source, we are liberated from the addiction to secondary things.




About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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