Recently my church decided to designate a time for corporate fasting and praying, in order for repentance, renewal, and revival to develop within our congregation. Our Elders have humbly concluded that we as a congregation have become complacent in our evangelism, and spiritual growth. Thus, in response they have called the congregation to fast and pray.
In light of this, I began to think again about the topic of fasting in the Bible. While the practice seems far removed from western American culture, it appeared to be a central practice among the Jewish community and early Christians. Additionally, fasting was never done for fasting’s sake alone; fasting was always done with a purpose. Fasting was not an end, but a means to an end. As one sifts through the scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments several purposes manifest.
Donald Whitney in his book “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” defines fasting as “a Christian’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.” The number of purposes for fasting goes beyond the following, but I have focused on these three in order to emphasize fasting in a corporate context.
TO SEEK GOD’S GUIDANCE FOR THE CHURCH
Fasting was seen as an intricate part in deciding how to go about the work of the church. In Acts 13:1-3 we find that the church was “worshiping and fasting” when the Holy Spirit instructed them to set aside Paul and Barnabas for the work of God. In similar fashion, we find that elders were decided upon in Lystra in conjunction with prayer and fasting in Acts 14. It seems fitting that when decisions for the early church were to be made, and guidance from God was sought after, fasting was involved.
TO EXPRESS REPENTANCE
Whenever a genuine and passionate cry for repentance is offered up by God’s people it is usually evidenced by a time of fasting. That is, fasting outwardly portrays the subjective emotions of the repentant believer. A proper example is found in Daniel 9 where Daniel prays a beautiful prayer of repentance on behalf of Israel. Here is a sample of that prayer from Daniel 9:
“Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. 4 I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land…To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him 10 and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.”
TO UNITE GOD’S PEOPLE IN WORSHIP TO GOD
When corporate fasting is described in the Bible it usually places focus on a unified single-mindedness toward the holiness of God. Fasting expressed in a practical way, the desire to acknowledge the folly of man and the perfection and power of Yahweh. In Nehemiah 9 following the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, the people of God assembled together and participated in a corporate fast (9:1). Later on the text describes that upon reading the Law of God, the people confessed their sins and worshiped God (9:3). The early church also connected worship to God with fasting in Acts 13:2. Fasting therefore, appeared to be a response to God’s perfect holiness. It’s as if those we read in the Bible saw fasting as a declaration of their total dependence on God’s provision and grace.
So, how does all of this apply to the church today? While fasting seemed routine in the days of our forefathers, does it have any relevance in the contemporary church? I think it does. I believe fasting draws our attention away from the cares and desires of the flesh and points us to the purpose of our existence, to glorify God. It is so easy for us in today’s culture to lose sight of the mission and purpose of the church. Fasting, as a unified body, helps direct us back to that purpose, to reestablish the reason we were called out in the first place. It outwardly portrays the subjective emotions of the repentant believer, and places focus on a unified single-mindedness toward the holiness of God.
What do you think? Should Churches participate in corporate fasts?
 Whitney, Donald S. (Nave Press, Colorado Springs) Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 160