“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” Isaiah 58:6 NIV
The Christian religious season known as “Lent”, a period of fasting, is preceded by a day of feasting. The tradition is celebrated by different cultures and referred to by many names, such as, Shrove Tuesday (old English), Mardi Gras (French), Fastnacht Day (Germanic cultures), Mairt Inide (Ireland) and in the Portuguese and Spanish cultures it has come to be known as carnival (English translation). The original purpose for the day before lent was a day of reflection, contemplation and confession in order to obtain forgiveness of sins. Over time the practice of removing rich, pleasant foods from the house by eating them, has evolved into a day of feasting for many cultures.
Fasting is a religious discipline that has to do with much more than abstaining from food. It is practiced by religious communities around the world and essentially indicates a person’s desire to get serious about their relationship with God or to appeal to him for an intervention. In the Bible people fasted as communities or individually. Queen Esther, for example called for a fast so that the exiled Hebrew people could pray for deliverance from a plot to destroy them. When Peter was imprisoned and scheduled for execution, the church gathered at Mary’s house and prayed for his escape. In both cases their prayers were answered.
Fasting, when properly managed, can also produce health benefits. According to a May 2011 report, fasting helps to utilize body fat for energy thus reducing cholesterol and decreasing the number of fat cells in the body. "This is important because the fewer fat cells a body has, the less likely it will experience insulin resistance, or diabetes." http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110403090259.htm In a book first published in 1905 under the title, Ministry of Healing, Ellen White stresses the importance of moderation, suggesting that it improves “mental and moral vigor. It also aids in the control of the passions…There are men and women of excellent natural ability who do not accomplish half what they might if they would exercise self-control in the denial of appetite.”
Whether fasting for religion or health we should never overlook the most important of fasts. We must never be so self-focused that we forget to serve. The Biblical concept of true fasting is not just about afflicting self for a better spiritual, mental or physical outcome, but to relieve the burden of the weak, the suffering of the sick and to be the voice of those who have none.
Be a Blessing.
Mark A. Stoddart, M.Div.
Administrative Director for Spiritual Wellness
Shawnee Mission Medical Center