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A Fast-forgotten Discipline

Updated: Feb 29

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)
 

At a recent Chinese New Year gathering, my friends and I talked about how to lose weight. This was because we found ourselves easily putting on a few kilos over the past year. Some of us blamed it on our declining metabolic rate, some attributed it to long working hours in front of the computer, and some like myself, simply could not resist good food!

 

Whatever the reason (or excuse), we unanimously agreed we had lesser time to exercise. Since we could not increase our ‘output’, why not reduce our ‘input’? And one of the low-hanging fruits is to cut down on our food intake by way of fasting. Among the different fasting methods, intermittent and keto fasting piqued our interest.

 

Intermittent fasting requires one to alternate between periods of eating and fasting, focusing on when one should eat. Keto fasting, on the other hand, introduces a ketogenic (high-fat, low-carb) diet that determines what one should eat. Both fasting approaches are gaining popularity of late.

 

The practice of fasting is not unheard of in the Bible. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount reminded His disciples to fast without making a fuss, so that their fasting may not be seen by others but by the Father who is in secret (Matthew 6:16-18). In the Old Testament, we come across accounts of Esther asking Mordecai to gather all the Jews to fast together (Esther 4:15-17) and Jehoshaphat proclaiming a fast for all Judah to seek help from the Lord (2 Chronicles 20:1-4), just to list a few.

 

Traditionally, during the season of Lent, Christians partake in three spiritual disciplines: prayer, almsgiving and fasting. While much has been said about prayer and almsgiving, little emphasis has been made on fasting. In a food haven like Singapore where dining choices galore, fasting appears counter-cultural.

 

But what exactly has fasting to do with us as Christians? To be sure, Jesus Himself fasted (Matthew 4:1-2) and taught His disciples about fasting. Jesus didn’t say “if”, but “when you fast” (Matthew 6:16). This implies fasting as an intentional and regular practice. Conventionally, fasting takes place during the usual meal times. Instead of feeding on physical food, one voluntarily goes without food.


Yet, fasting goes beyond the skipping of meals. In place, one purposefully uses that time for another specific cause. For instance, people prayed and petitioned to God during the fast (Ezra 8:21-23). Some suggest spending the time meditating on God’s Word or engaging in acts of kindness for others. Rightly understood, fasting is a deliberate spiritual discipline to seek more of God and His good cause.

 

What about those of us with medical conditions that make fasting from food a health risk? What about young children, pregnant women, and the elderly? Most will teach that fasting is not confined to abstaining from food. Martyn Lloyd-Jones opined that “fasting, if we conceive of it truly, must not be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose.” Seen in this light, fasting can take the form of giving up something that has been taking up our time and attention, for example, scrolling IG and Facebook pages, watching Netflix movies, playing online games or even our favourite pastime.

 

Brothers and sisters-in-Christ, this Lenten season, may I encourage us to recover the discipline of fasting and re-discover our intimacy with God. When we fast and what we fast from should draw us into a deeper connection with God. May this Good Friday and Easter Sunday be a meaningful one for you and I!

  

Reflection:

●      When can I voluntarily and intentionally set aside a time for fasting?

●      What is one thing I can start fasting from?

  

Resources:

 

 Ps Chao Rui

 

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