The Bible recounts specific times when fasting was generally called.
When the prophet Jonah announced that God was willing to destroy the city of Nineveh, this was the result.
«And the people of Nineveh believed God; and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. And the tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he made proclamation and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, nor drink water; but let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and beast, and let them cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knoweth whether God will not turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? ”
When the situation of misery prevented the normal office of religious ceremonies in Judah, the prophet Joel summons everyone to fast.
“Gird yourselves with sackcloth, and lament, ye priests; wail, ye ministers of the altar; come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meal-offering and the drink-offering are withholden from the house of your God. Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the old men and all the inhabitants of the land unto the house of Jehovah your God, and cry unto Jehovah.”
After the Israelites had been defeated in the war against the Philistines and the priest Eli had died (and his two wicked sons) and the Ark of God’s Covenant had been stolen and returned, they recognized that they were reaping the consequences of their sins. .
“And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray for you unto Jehovah. And they gathered together to Mizpah, and drew water, and poured it out before Jehovah, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against Jehovah. And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpah”
I Samuel 7.5-6
When there was a decree hatched by an enemy of the Jews, to exterminate all the Hebrews, Esther heeds the warning of her cousin Mordecai and responds like this:
«Then Esther bade them return answer unto Mordecai, Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast in like manner; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish ”
After the period of captivity in Babylon, the Jews who returned to Jerusalem, guided by the Scribe and priest Ezra and by Nehemiah and other governors, managed to rebuild the city that was in ruins, but before, a time of clamor and repentance was necessary.
« Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek of him a straight way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. 2So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was entreated of us. ”
In the past, some people made an incorrect use of fasting as if it were a meritorious sacrifice, this led them to the hypocrisy denounced by our Lord Jesus Christ when He spoke about the way of fasting of the hypocrites who did it because they wanted to appear to be very religious, but their religion was simply external and not of the heart. This can be read in the Gospel of Matthew 6.16
But the claim of our Lord does not suppress the practice of fasting, but rather seeks to cleanse it of pride and boasting since He Himself specifies by way of contrast the correct way of doing it «… but you, when you fast». (Matthew 6.17)
Fasting is primarily a private practice in which the believer abstains from food to seek God in prayer, reflection, and meditation on the Word of God. Furthermore, Isaiah clarifies that fasting is useless if it has a selfish purpose, we are commanded to share with those in need, which can often mean abstaining from some privileges that we enjoy. (Isaiah 58) If someone abstains from food only, he is not fasting to God or useful in any spiritual way. Abstinence is only helpful if it is done for the right reasons and in the right way.
Luke includes within the practices of the apostolic Church the custom of fasting, for the consecration of ministers (Acts 13.2.3) and to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Acts 14.3)
I am not suggesting to impose a fast on everyone because there are believers with health situations that prevent them from depriving themselves of food for several hours, but there are certain principles in the practice of fasting that we can all apply in our weekly routine.
The principle of fasting is this: Deprive yourself of something that is valid and permitted (such as eating) to dedicate that time to something of a pious nature. With this practice, we are wanting to show that we appreciate the spiritual more than the material. That we are giving priority to the eternal over the temporary.
If this is so, fasting can be extended in its application to several things that are lawful but of which we voluntarily decide to deprive ourselves to seek God more. We can then include the time dedicated to television, Internet social networks, sports, entertainment, etc., etc.
In a sense, the current circumstances caused by the viral pandemic of COVID-19 have forced many to abstain (fast) from these practices in order to prevent or stop the spread. But what are the activities by which the activities that are being regulated or prohibited have been replaced? Are we taking advantage of fasting from those social activities that are being banned?
Sadly, we saw a report confirming a recent, notorious increase in Internet pornography use. This is only a sample of how hard the human heart is.
As the prophet Amos said in chapter 4
«The rain stopped you …, I hurt you …, I sent death against you …, I disturbed you … but you never turned to me, says Jehovah»
We are facing a unique time, customs and schedules and activities have changed. And the believers, how will we take advantage of it?
Could not all who have the possibility, join together in fasting, setting aside Wednesdays for fasting and prayer?
This fast can be partial or full according to each other’s possibilities, but it should be a fast of repentance and humiliation crying out for the mercy of God on His people and on the nations. On His people because we have been weak in our testimony of Christ and we have allowed ourselves to be contaminated by the world with customs and practices contrary to the law of God and on the Nations so that many recognize the King Jesus Christ and understand that without Him they are lost.
May the prayer of the prophet Daniel, who imposed a fast on himself (Daniel 9.3), be our model, understanding that the holy city of Jerusalem is the Church of Christ. (Daniel 9.16-19)
O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, let thine anger and thy wrath, I pray thee, be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are round about us. Now therefore, O our God, hearken unto the prayer of thy servant, and to his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake. O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies’ sake. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God, because thy city and thy people are called by thy name.
This invitation (call) to fasting is in no way to be seen as a way of earning merit before God or something that leads us to boast of our spiritual level. It is precisely because we recognize how far we are from the biblical standard of holiness, that we are in this need to separate ourselves to fast and pray. There are no works that can pay for our sins, there are no works that make us deserve God’s favor (Ephesians 2.8-10), but these types of actions may be what many of us need in order to have greater communion with God, enjoy His presence and being able to hear His voice in His Holy Word the Bible.
God can use this time of prayer and fasting to give us a clearer sense of what the Church is and what impact the Gospel can make in the lives of men. When we pray let us think that we are united with many others who have also heeded the call and trust in the promise of the Lord.
“… pray for each other, that you may be healed. The effective prayer of the just can do much. ”
And if you cannot do it on Wednesdays, set aside some other day according to your possibilities, whether it is a small or medium or large amount of time, but set it aside to seek God, it may not be too late.
«Seek Jehovah while he may be found, call upon him while he is near»
“Seek ye the Lord, all ye lowly of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek justice, seek meekness; perhaps you will be kept in the day of Jehovah’s anger. «