In January our church is having a week of prayer and fasting. So I thought I better write something about this topic. What I have done is to take some points from a famous article written by Charles Rumfitt (1907).
Rumfitt begins by teaching that fasting is to be ‘unto God’. It dishonours God to fast in a way that simply seeks to impress people. ‘It is to be done in the presence of God, as much as possible from the knowledge of the world, with the whole man -body and mind- face to face with God. It is both a state and an act of worship, for God's glory, and that only. Apart from this principle, fasting, as a religious act, is not good, but rather an evil.’
He also cautions against fasting as a means of trying to merit standing with God. After all, Christians live and breathe the air of grace. We live in the light of his unmerited, unearned and undeserved favour. We should not, and cannot, try to earn anything from him.
Rumfitt suggests that if we are fasting ‘unto God’ then ‘all other features, such as total or partial fasting, the times, and the duration, may be left to each to decide for [themselves].’ ‘There are no rules. It is a principle to be put into operation spontaneously, according to the exigencies of the spiritual life, the constitution, and the leadings of the Holy Spirit.’
He lists the following benefits of fasting:
1. Fasting teaches us self-control. ‘The body is intended to be the servant and instrument of the mind, but in the carnal mind it is the master.’ The Christian is in a battle between the sinful nature and the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. I enjoy my food, but there is always the danger of over-eating. A person who learns to control their appetites will be better able to control their heart. Learning control in one area of our lives affects all the other appetites.
2. Fasting tends to make the Christian life more genuine. Rumfitt sees giving, prayer and fasting as three disciplines held together by Jesus. He observes that a person may easily give without praying or pray without fasting; but, the person who fasts generally prays and gives. This is because fasting is the most difficult of the three, and expresses the deepest feelings. Indeed, fasting not only reflects deep godly feelings, it stirs them up.
3. Fasting lessons the power of temptation. ‘Fasting, whether partial or total, is an antidote to sensuality. It is almost impossible for a man to overcome evil as long as he is self-indulgent, and one of the surest ways of weakening the power of lust is to mortify the flesh, because then the taste for many things is decreased …’
4. Fasting helps us worship. Worship is to involve the whole of our being. The Psalmist writes, ‘all that is within me bless his holy name’ (Psalm 103:1). I have to admit that I don’t understand how this works, but fasting ‘strengthens the reasoning powers and intensifies the purpose; it accompanies and deepens repentance … it gives wings to prayer: it gives greater power to supplication.’ I suppose all that really needs to be said is that the Bible shows God’s people, including Jesus, fasting at times of intense prayer. If it strengthened their praying, then we should look for it to strengthen ours.
I close with two quotes I find helpful:
‘The purpose of fasting is to loosen to some degree the ties which bind us to the world of material things and our surroundings as a whole, in order that we may concentrate all our spiritual powers upon the unseen and eternal things’ (Hallesby).
‘If we are full of what the world offers, then perhaps a fast might express, or even increase, our soul's appetite for God. Between the dangers of self-denial and self-indulgence is the path of pleasant pain called fasting’ (Piper).