It occurred to me last week that it was time for me to fast. Fast for my country! Frankly, I don’t know a better place for me to begin at a time when our nation seems to be descending ever deeper into coarse, brutish barbarism. I find so much of the news disturbing, and leaders so out of touch, so out of their depths. And so I ask, “What can I as a citizen do?” How can I respond in a way that is Christ-like, Biblical, tried and true? That’s when I knew that I needed to begin with fasting.
I thought of a time in American history when people knew they needed to fast. It happened in May 1774, as news reached citizens in Williamsburg, Virginia that King George III would punish Boston far to the north by blockading the Boston harbor beginning June 1, 1774.
Virginians wanted to do something but felt at a loss as to what. So Thomas Jefferson presented a resolution to Virginia’s House of Burgesses calling for a day of “Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer”, on June 1, 1774. Jefferson’s resolution gained quick support from Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Richard Henry Lee; the resolution passed unanimously. George Washington wrote in his diary for June 1, 1774: “Went to church, fasted all day.”
My mind then went farther back, to distant Bible times. In 444 B. C. in far off Persia, Nehemiah receives the heartbreaking news that the attempt of a small band of exiles to rebuild Jerusalem and its walls had failed. Nehemiah knew that meant that his countrymen and homeland were once more helpless to attack.
Nehemiah lived a comfortable life in a king’s court in far off Persia, but wanted to do something for his people. So he did what God’s people have always done in times of trouble; he fasted. He tells us about it in the book of the Bible bearing his name, Nehemiah 1:2-6:
I asked them about the Jews that survived, those who had escaped the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They replied, “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.” When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven. I said, ‘O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments; let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for your servants the people of Israel, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Both I and my family have sinned.
As I read Nehemiah’s words I knew that I needed to do what he did: “mourn”, “fast”, “pray”, and “confess”. Not unlike the day of “Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer” in Virginia.
Richard Foster, in his classic on Christian spiritual disciplines, gives insight to the often-neglected practice of fasting:
Scripture has much to say about fasting that we would do well to look once again at this ancient Discipline. This list of biblical personages who fasted becomes a ‘Who’s Who’ of Scripture. Moses the lawgiver, David the king, Elijah the prophet, Esther the queen, Daniel the seer, Anna the prophetess, Paul the apostle, Jesus Christ the incarnate Son. Many of the great Christians throughout church history fasted and witnessed to its value.
Jesus saw fasting as so important and basic to a life of worshipping God that he taught it as one of the three main disciplines for the spiritual life, setting it alongside of giving and prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, where he stated, ‘When you fast…(Matthew 6:16) not ‘If you fast…’” (Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline)
I am pretty much a beginner at fasting, but I know it’s importance and I want to do it. I hope you will read next week’s eVotional about what I’m learning about this important spiritual practice. And maybe you will join me, and others, in fasting, praying, and confessing. There’s no telling what God can do!
Grace and peace,