Can sinners fast? We have seen many occurrences wherein the scripture God’s people engage in fasting to amend their relationship with God (Jonah 3:5-9, Judges 20:26, Acts 9:9, Joel 2:12). It is known to be an art of religion, and that it predates Christianity itself. It is the practice of abstinence from some physical substances, especially foods and drinks, and all forms of the desirable act for the body which afterward fuel the spiritual needs. Fasting provides strength to those who observe it keenly to fight the temptations of the world. Simply put, fasting is akin to abstinence.
Fasting is a topic that is least discussed in churches, during preaching, religious pamphlets and tracts, online articles or blog; while topics like salvation, healings, even tithing and lots more are widely discussed giving little or no attention to fasting which can serve as a catalyst to help in growing and maintaining a spiritual journey of a Christian. In the gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus teaches us about fasting. Fasting should not be a probable act, rather a necessity for every Christian (Matthew 6:17-18, Matthew 9:14-15). The Catechism of the Catholic Church also teaches us that “The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways; especially through praying, fasting, and almsgiving (CCC1434)”. Therefore, it is important to cross-examine the following “why do I need to fast? How do I fast properly? Can a sinner fast and get rewarded for fasting? When is it proper for me to fast?”
What is the purpose of fasting?
Often, I ask myself, why I have to deny myself of healthy living by skipping meals which can even be a disservice to my body. However, we not only fast to seek solutions to unanswered prayer, rather it is a way to make amends for our sins and the aftermath comes with the merits of receiving God’s Favor (2nd Samuel 12:16, 1st Samuel 7:6, Daniel 6:18).
The Bible contains many sinners that the act of fasting served as an atonement for their sins. It is a vivid way of being remorseful when one is astray from God’s way. It is also a way of doing penance for the sins committed by a repentant sinner (2 Samuel 12:15-17, Joel 2:12-13).
There are many reasons a Christian observe the act of fasting, ranging from; repentance, to expressing grief, to harnessing spiritual strength, to overcoming temptation, to seeking spiritual protection, and to seeking deliverance, all from God (Matthew 4:2, Isaiah 58:6, Isaiah 58:6, Exodus 34:28). These affirmations are why anyone could engage in fasting, and undoubtedly there are several circumstances in the scriptures with different timelines about how the people of God and the early Christian involved themselves in this powerful act. The book of Jonah 3:5-9 shows us how the people of Nineveh showed their remorsefulness to God when they fasted for 3 days and sought for God’s mercy when they repented from their sins. Also, in the book of Jeremiah 36:9, the Children of God made reparations for their sins when they observed fasting and amended their relationship with God. In the New Testament, the disciples fasted before the Pentecost and the made them prepare adequately for the coming of the Holy Spirit. During the days leading to the Pentecost, the Disciples were able to stay in communion with God and understood the teachings Jesus more clearly. The disciple also fasted when they were about to make decisions in the appointment of the Deacons and in other circumstances (Acts 6:1-7). There are several reasons why any individual could observe a fast and this depends on the aim of the one that is fasting. In the book of 2nd Sam. 1:11-12, King David and His followers mourned the death of King Saul and Jonathan his Son when they heard of their death and fasted for till evening.
Sometimes, temptations may abound, but one of the most effective ways to overcoming temptations is by indulging in fasting. When we fast, we harness more spiritual strength which helps us in our daily fight against the devil and his cunning temptations. Thus one another principal purpose of fasting as a Christian is to use it as a spiritual weapon in overcoming temptations. All these are some reasons you might want to fast. It is not enough to know the purpose of fasting alone but to engage in the act and gain indulgence and favors in the sight of God.
Can sinners fast?
A few weeks ago, I discussed the topic “Prayer” and the controversial question about if a sinner is eligible to fast and “can sinners pray to God” came up. It is in this converse that I convinced a colleague of mine that a sinner’s prayer can be heard and answered by God. Earlier on, I said that fasting is an aid compliance i.e. it is an act of contrition for our sins which God doesn’t usually turn eyes to but looks compassionate on anyone who indulges in it. Thus, when we have sinned and gone astray from the way of the Lord, fasting is one of the basic tools of coming back to God and showing remorsefulness for our sins and to gain indulgences. Also, fasting is one of the most effective ways to approach the Holy table of God when we have sinned. A typical example of a sinner that fasted and got mercy from God the Father is King David in 2nd Samuel 12:15-17. After God had condemned David through His prophet Nathan, he makes reparations for his sins through fasting and God once again returned him to His sight. Another quiz that needs to be catechized is how one can observe proper and acceptable fasting. We see Christ’s teaching about fasting when he absconds the way the Pharisees go about fasting; the show-off fasting, in His teachings. Jesus condemned show-off type of fasting and taught and He is still teaching us today the importance of fasting discreetly. In the book of Isaiah God told His people that when they fast, it should not be seen as an obligation to him rather it must be exercised with a sincere heart (Isaiah 58:3-7, Isaiah 58:1-14). It is now a custom for people to pretend to align with God by indulging in fasting without remorsefulness and repentance of heart. Thus, as a repenting/repentant sinner, we must be very conscious of how we go about fasting, if it is to be acceptable before God and not to be wasted like the sacrifice as that of Cain.
Hence, when you want to indulge in fasting you should ensure you abide by the guidelines laid down in the Bible and even by the Catholic Church, all of which I have tried so hard to simplify thus:
Fasting and getting God’s Favors
It is in human nature to expect responses; it is on this note that whenever we fast we expect some form of sign from God, the Most Benevolent and Almighty. But, to truly earn indulgences from God, it takes the genuine of our heart. Jesus points out in one of His teachings when he publicly condemned the hypocrisy of the Pharisee because they fast to gain the respect of the people. This very much applies today in the Christian world where some priests/pastors/leaders of the church indulge in fasting simply to gain the respect of the congregation. Even worse, some priests/pastors/leaders of the church fast on behalf of an individual in exchange for money. Another similar scenario is what I used to do when I was a lot younger. During lent, I save my money for food (I get a lot of savings because I rarely buy anything when the whole family is fasting) and after lent; I buy a lot of material things I have always wanted with my lent savings, even things it would have been hard for me to save and buy without lent. All these vices are what Jesus is unhappy about when he chastised the Pharisee’s way of fasting and when God told His people through His prophet to tear their hearts and not their clothes.
In Today’s World that Christianity struggles to thrive amidst the ways of the world, many people find it difficult to indulge themselves in the act of fasting. Oftentimes, when I decide to fast either from foods or drinks or from some other physical needs, I find all these things in abundance at my disposal. Have you ever been in a situation where you fast and your breakfast came ready earlier than usual or that you are not going to drink or smoke for a particular period and drinks and cigarettes turn up easily? My answer would not have changed a million times and I bet the same can be said of you. Well, I say congratulations to you, because that is a sign that you are on the right course and that the devil does not want you to achieve the spiritual height.
So, the question remains how can a sinner fast successfully and be accepted by God? As Christians, we ought not to only fast but also pray and sometimes do almsgiving; these three acts should be simultaneously practiced. Jesus taught us the way to do this; instructing us to be in fellowship with God and not to be righteous in the way of man but live a life that is appealing to God himself. Also, we must ensure that we pray and do almsgiving while we fast to reinforce our spiritual strength. The Catholic Church has laid down some guidelines that can help us to inculcate the act of fasting. The Church dedicated Fridays to fasting because of the death of Jesus and for us to gain indulgence. Some dioceses of the Catholic Church have also dedicated some days to fast and pray for peace in the world. The church also encourages us to fast before receiving the Holy Communion which is a spiritual food.
Hence, when you fast, ensure that you deprive yourself of whatever you crave the most. I once asked a friend of mine how he goes about fasting and he told me he seldom fast from eating meat. For some people, it might be total abstinence from food, for some parts of their meal, for other, it may be drinking or smoking and even sometimes some people abstain from having sex with their partner and for unmarried people, they ensure they abstain from any form of pre-marital sex (which ought to be the norm if you ask me anyway). When you fast ensure that you beat-down your body from enjoying any satisfaction, this way you are truly fasting and God is truly pleased when we try to elevate our spiritual needs over our bodily needs.
When Can or Should I Fast?
As I have said earlier, anyone can fast; you may ask yourself when the right time to fast is. The truth is there is no period a person cannot indulge in fasting. Therefore, there is no specific or particular time to fast, rather anytime we need God’s infinite mercy in our lives (When don’t we need it?). However, to inculcate the habit of fasting in your Christian journey you may try to sway in a habitual deed by selecting specific days and dates. The Catholic Church has two specific seasons for us as a time to be in preparation and to be sober which are the Lenten and Advent Seasons. You can as well use these periods to boost your spiritual journey. It is only Sundays that are exempted from fasting since we celebrate the victory of Our Lord Jesus Christ over Death and Hell. (CCC)
Conclusively, Fasting is an act by which we strengthen our Christian voyage on this earth; it is, in fact, the tool for a sinner to repair damaged relationships with God. I urge you to imbibe in this your newfound way of life. Anytime you are about to take a big decision in your life and or when you need God’s Guidance, fast!
The case of David can be a strong suit for us and it serves as a reminder to us all that, we can always go back to our creator and that we are a work in progress. This encourages us all to fast as often as we can and gain God’s favor. Remember that when you pray, you fuel your spiritual engine, but when you fast and pray you fuel and lubricate your spiritual engine.
Stay Safe and Stay Blessed!
Tagged as: fasting.