A Hunger for God
FASTING PRACTICED BY MANY RELIGIONS TO BUILD AWARENESS
by Robin Gallindo
Fasting, the discipline of denying oneself food for a length
of time to heighten spiritual awareness, is one of the most widespread
religious practices in the world.
From Buddhists to Baha'is, world religions have long revered
the practice as a way to qwell the distraction from the world and
concentrate more fully on spiritual matters.
Among Christians, however, only a few denominations have
maintained the practice of fasting to any degree. Catholics and Orthodox
Christians, for instance, are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good
Friday and to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent. It may mean
abstaining from all food and drink or limiting the consumption of food
to two small meals and one main meal.
"Fasting brings forth a certain hunger. It's directed at a
more deeper love of God than at a hamburger and fries," said the Rev.
Gavin Vavereck of St. Mary's Catholic Church. Though Catholics are
obliged to fast on certain days, most will also refrain from alcohol,
coffee, desserts or candy during Lent, Vaverek said.
"It's something to remind us of a change of habits, to focus
our minds and hearts to be more open to God's love. It makes you
appreciate what you do have," Vaverek said.
Episcopal churches observe a sort of "liturgical fast," where
celebratory services such as marriage and baptism are not held during
Lent, said Jennene Laurinec, parish administrator of Trinity Episcopal
Church. "The general theme is pentinence and repentence. We don't
observe a corporate fast, but individuals may choose to do so on their own."
For most evangelical Protestants, however, fasting has rarely
been used for spiritual purposes. Except for periods of spiritual
awakening in America's history, the discipline of fasting has been
regarded -- like a vestige from another era -- as something that belongs
solely to faith traditions of a more liturgical perspective.
That appears to be changing. Evangelicals are beginning to
embrace the discipline for personal spirutial growth and to promote
Dr. Harry Lucenay of First Baptist Church admitted most
Baptists "haven't spent much time with" the discipline of fasting, but
said he's found occasional three-day fasts to be very meaningful.
"I slowed my clock down and was able to practice the unhurried
life. I felt more alive to what was going on around me. The hunger
pains let me focus on the fact that I was doing it to meet with God, but
not to manipulate Him," Lucenay said.
"We're a very fellowship oriented people. We just like to
eat. But we're discovering life is out of control, and one of those
places where we've lost control is eating. What does that say about
what dominates us?" Lucenay said, adding he's felt a "nudging" in his
soul to preach about it.
Fasting can expose what truly separates people from God, says
author John Piper, who adds that taming the strongest appetite of food
can strengthen self-control in other areas as well.
"The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but
his gifts," Piper writes in his book, "A Hunger for God. "The most
deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple
pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself,
the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable."
Christians who practice fasting say it's an opportunity to
slow down and meditate on the presence of God. They see the sting of a
hunger pang as a reminder to forego the temporal for the eternal.
The Rev. Russell Craft of Longview Christian Fellowship said a
40-day juice fast last year heightened his level of prayer. He
encourages his congregation to combine fasting and prayer on Wednesdays,
"My sensitivity to the presence of the Lord increased
tremendously. It was like having a hotline to God," Craft said, adding
he lost 35 pounds during the fast. "After three days, the hunger
stopped. It actually increased mental sharpness."
Perhaps the leading national evangelical for fasting has been
Campus Crusade for Chist founder Bill Bright, who says in his book "The
Coming Revival: America's Call to Fast, Pray and Seek God's Face," that
he was concerned with "America's slow slide into moral decadence" over
the past 30 years.
"Fasting is a primary means of restoration. By humbling our
souls, fasting releases the Holy Spirit to do His special work of
revival in us," Bright said, adding increases in divorce, violence,
pornography, drug addiction and suicide has happened in full view of the
Bright, who has used the $1 million he received as recipient
of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion to promote fasting, has
teamed up with evangelical preachers like Promise Keepers founder Bill
McCartney to encourage participation in communal fasts. In the past
five years, organizers estimate that close to 10 million Christians have
fasted as a result of their efforts.
Last year, 3,000 people gathered in Houston's Astroarena and
an estimated 2 million people from 40 countries joined them via the
Internet to take part in a 28 hour fast. This year, up to 100 million
Christians are expected to take part in a global Lenten prayer focus for
world evangelization called "Prayworld! 2000."
Participants are being encouraged to fast a meal a day, during
daylight hours or for longer periods, and to pray for revival,
reconciliation and piritual awakening. Bright has talked about his
40-day juice fasts as a powerful way to humble himself and seek God for
Though the Bible does not give specific guidelines, fasts
undertaken by Christians today tend to be structured like those in the
Old and New Testaments, lasting anywhere from one day, to three, seven,
21 and 40-day periods. Some are complete, others cut out only liquor
Those who do fast cite Biblical examples, from Jesus to David
and Moses. Before he began his public ministry, for instance, Jesus
underwent his own 40-day fast during which Satan tried to lure him into
giving up the fast, at one point urging him to turn stones into bread.
Although there are no biblical commands to fast, some say it's
almost a given based on the context of Jesus' teachings.
FASTING INCLUDED AS RELIGIOUS HOLIDAY OBSERVANCE
While it may be new to evangelical Protestants, world
religions have included fasting as part of the observance of religious
* Observant Jews fast from both food and water on Yom Kippur,
also known as the Day of Attonement, to humble themselves before God and
seek forgiveness of past sins.
"It's not an easy fast. We begin at 6 p.m. one evening and go
straight through til the first three stars appear the next evening,"
said Rabbi David Levin of Temple Emanu-El in Longview. "God opens His
book of life and decides who will live and who will die, and He asks us
once a year to repent of our sins."
* Muslims fast during Ramadan, a month of daytimg fasting from
food and water. It's seen as a time of total submission to God, a time
for prayer and repentence. During daylight hours all food and water are
forbidden, and the fast is broken in the evening, after sunset.
* Baha'is fast from sunrise to sundown during their month of
Ala, which this year is March 2 to 21. The fast is complete and is
observed to create awareness, said Richard Hicks of Longview.
"It's symbolic of the need for spiritual awakening, to
dedicate ourselves to detachment from the world, and attachment to God,"
Hick said, adding the fast is binding on those from age 15 to 65 years
* Buddhists fast periodically to clear their minds, emulating
the Buddha, who, they believe, reached enlightenment 1,000 years earlier
while engaged in a 36-day fast.
* During Lent, Catholics and Orthodox Christians are required to
fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and to abstain from meat on
Fridays. The Orthodox Christian church requires additional days of
fasting, including days during Advent.
Among most Protestant churches, however, fasting remains
optional. Those who do fast cite examples of it in both the Old and New
Jesus, for instance, underwent his own 40-day fast during
which Satan tried to lure him into giving up the fast, at one point
urging him to turn stones into bread. Jesus' response: "Man does not
live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of
---Wire services contributed to this report.
©Copyright 2000, Longview News Journal