Fasting, the willing abstinence from some or all food and drink, has been practiced by various religions for many reasons. As a nation, the Jews have historically fasted for three reasons:
– to encourage sorrow for sin, especially on Yom Kippur. See Joel 2:12-18 and Leviticus 16:29-34. This was commanded by God and intended to raise his people’s awareness of spiritual wrongdoing and the need for atonement.
– to remember great tragedies of the past such as Tisha B’av – the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. While not specific scriptural commands, these are meaningful national remembrances of their difficult history.
-to seek God’s intervention for looming catastrophes such as the treachery Esther faced (Esther 4:16) or the difficult journey Ezra was planning (Ezra 8:21).
Christians fast for similar reasons. Although we differ in that we see atonement for sin complete in Christ, and, undoubtedly, we have fewer remembrances of great sufferings than the Jews, nonetheless, we fast to stimulate a spiritual mindset and to seek God’s help for difficulties facing us individually and as a church community. The concept is to deny our physical nature in order to heighten our spiritual awareness and hunger.