What is fasting? To fast is simply to abstain from food for a meal or a day or longer. In many faith traditions, fasting is a deeply spiritual time where one’s usual practice of eating is replaced by prayer.
Historian Charles Yrigoyen, Jr., says, “The spiritual reasons for fasting have been pretty much lost on today’s society, particularly in Protestantism. Many United Methodists are surprised to learn that John Wesley fasted two days a week, Wednesdays and Fridays, in his younger days. Later he fasted on Fridays.
“Wesley was convinced that fasting, abstaining from food or drink, was a practice firmly grounded in the Bible. People in Old Testament times fasted (Ezra 8:23). So did Jesus andhis followers (Matthew 4:2; Acts 13:3), and Wesley saw no reason why modern Christians should not follow the same pattern. His plan of fasting sometimes allowed for limited eating and drinking. He found that fasting advanced holiness.”†
Fasting is not necessarily an easy practice! John Wesley is oft-quoted for saying, “Bear up the hands that hang down, by faith and prayer; support the tottering knees. Have you any days of fasting and prayer? Storm the throne of grace and persevere therein, and mercy will come down.”
Fasting and Prayer are frequently cited in the writings of Wesley as well as the Old and New Testaments. The pairing of the spiritual and the temporal is a way to connect the whole person, using the time away from food as a time in prayer.
†John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life
©1996 Charles Yrigoyen, Jr., p.33
(Charles Yrigoyen, Jr., is General Secretary Emeritus of the General Commission on Archives & History, United Methodist Church.)