Fasting as a religious practice is followed in almost all the religions of the world. While it is difficult to trace the history of fasting in different religions, the Bible, well before some of its books started recording the life of Jesus Christ, makes several references to fasting. The practice of fasting in the Lenten season, which some pious Christians observe, is essentially based on the forty days that Jesus fasted in the desert. He spent this time just before he could launch on his mission of proclaiming to people His own experience of God’s love for humanity.
Reading the material on fasting one discovers that fasting, particularly in some of the western countries, among other things, is also becoming a fashion with the sole aim of losing weight and maintaining good physical health. And it is indeed doing them wonders. The spiritual masters, however, have been telling us since ages that fasting does even greater marvels to one’s soul. For example, by denying our carnal nature and craving for food we develop a desire to fulfill God’s version of reality. What He wills for our lives can be discovered through fasting and prayer. In addition our spirit and soul experiences joy because of fasting. It’s a decision to momentarily die to our flesh to fulfill the greater things of God who seeks us.
The Bible, through prophet Isaiah, goes a step further to tell us unambiguously as to what kind of fast God really desires from us. “Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord? Is this not the fast which I choose; to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
While fasting of various kinds can bring us different benefits, both physical and spiritual, a Christian is expected to do much more than just look for benefits for oneself. God desires that he break out of his own cocoon to experience the needs of the world, especially the poor and the needy. There are thus Christians who save the money that would have been spent on food and share that with the needy in addition to what they are expected to do as almsgiving in the Lenten season. Can we then make our fast such that it benefits both others and us?