On Fasting: Fasting for a time or fasting for a purpose?

In his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, General George Washington acknowledged a day of “fasting, humiliation and prayer” proclaimed by the Continental Congress to be held on Thursday, May 6, 1779. This has since been shortened to The National Day of Prayer  and is an annual day of observance held on the first Thursday of May, designated by the United States Congress, when people are asked “to turn to God in prayer and meditation“. Each year since its inception, the president has signed a proclamation, encouraging all Americans to pray on this day.

Gone is the humiliation aspect. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds nowadays, to Abraham Lincoln in 1863 it meant: Whereas it is fit and becoming in all people at all times to acknowledge and revere the supreme government of God, to bow in humble submission to His chastisements, to confess and deplore their sins and transgressions in the full conviction that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and to pray with all fervency and contrition for the pardon of their past offenses…

On May 15, 1776, Gen. George Washington ordered:

“The Continental Congress having ordered Friday the 17th instant to be observed as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer, humbly to supplicate the mercy of Almighty God, that it would please Him to pardon all our manifold sins and transgressions, and to prosper the arms of the United Colonies, and finally establish the peace and freedom of America upon a solid and lasting foundation; the General commands all officers and soldiers to pay strict obedience to the orders of the Continental Congress; that, by their unfeigned and pious observance of their religious duties, they may incline the Lord and Giver of victory to prosper our arms.”

Times have changed: The 2015 National day of prayer can be simplified to Obama asking for God’s continued guidance, mercy, and protection as we seek a more just world. 

Today, the aspect of humiliation is gone. Well, not altogether.

During a speech to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Hillary Clinton lamented that white Americans have a long way to go in realizing all the ways they’ve been given unfair advantages over the nation’s minority populations.

“White Americans must do a much better job of listening when African-Americans talk about the seen and unseen barriers you face every day,” she said. “We need to recognize our privilege and practice humility rather than assume our experiences are everyone else’s experiences.”

So, I guess humility is not totally dead, it seems to be one of her strong points.

But I wanted to discuss fasting. 

Do we fast, and if so, why do we fast?

Let us see what scripture says about the subject. In Zechariah 7:4-5 the  prophet wrote: Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying,  “Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me—for Me? 

This was a fast for a time.  The Muslim world holds a hard fast every Muslim year during the month of Ramadan, their 9th month, and since Islam is a lunar based religion with 12 lunar months making one year, Ramadan occurs 11 days earlier every year. This fast is to commemorate the revelation of the giving of the five mandatory contact prayers to be prayed by everybody at very specific times. As an example, the noon prayer must be started 2 min after the sun is in its zenith. To start it any earlier might offend Allah. This is not really a true fast, it is corporate mind control.

So, what is a true fast? In Isaiah 58:3-6 the prophet writes:

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen?
Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’

“In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure,
And exploit all your laborers.
 Indeed you fast for strife and debate,
And to strike with the fist of wickedness.
You will not fast as you do this day,
To make your voice heard on high.
 Is it a fast that I have chosen,
A day for a man to afflict his soul?
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush,
And to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Would you call this a fast,
And an acceptable day to the Lord?

 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?

Jesus adds a new dimension to fasting. I Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus says:

 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,  so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Jesus says, when you fast, not if. We are urged to fast, individually, not as part of a group fasting in solidarity, but to seek God’s face, in other words, fast for a purpose.

As we fast, let us fast and pray for a purpose as is stated in 2 Chronicles 7:14

If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.