When should we be fasting? The call to fast seems to clear in scripture. The fact that our Lord assumes that we will be fasting in the Sermon of the Mount (see Matt. 6:16) would give clear indication of the appropriateness of fasting. However, when should we be fasting?
As we see Anna giving herself to fasting and prayer; She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying (Luke 2:37b), we see something of what the devoted believer should be like. Individually believers, sometimes on their own sometimes in agreement with others, should have fasting included in their devotion to the Lord.,
Moreover our Lord saying “when you fast” (Matt. 6:16a) indicates that in the regular course of our lives we should be being constrained to give ourselves to fasting to reinforce our praying. This draws us into the point that fasting as a spiritual exercise is always connected to prayer.
Here I am thinking about when a church should be called to fasting. I suggest that this should be a part of church life, but not a regular part of church life. It should be that we are called to give ourselves to fasting in special circumstances.
In Acts 13:1-3 for example we read Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. Here we see the general worshipping the Lord and fasting, but then they specifically fasted and prayed about the sending out of Barnabas and Paul.
If the elders of the church are calling the congregation to fast about an issue too regularly then the impact is lost. Special calls for the church to give themselves to these disciplines should be given, but only in certain pressing situations.
Moreover, I would say they would generally be for matters bearing specially in the life of the church. It is things that particularly affect us that should lead us into this prayer and fasting discipline. In bolstering this argument I would see that the church at Antioch quoted above fasted about the issue of sending out Saul and Barnabas, A furtehr relevant incident is when Esther is facing the necesstity of going in to King Artaxerxes, there we read in Esther 4:16-17 Esther relaying to Mordecai to “Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, day or night. I and my female servants will also fast in the same way. After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law. If I perish, I perish.” So Mordecai went and did everything Esther had ordered him. Again an issue pressing upon the Jews led to the Jews being called to fast.
So if the elders of a church are never calling the church to fast then there must be something wrong. But similarly if the elders are calling the church to fast about too many things then something is also wrong.
Those are thereby some thoughts on when we should be fasting. The matter needs to be considered generally and specifically.