By David A. Busic
Do spiritual leaders fast today? I am not trying to be provocative. I really don’t know.
John Wesley believed that while God’s grace cannot be earned, sanctified Christians are not to idly stand by to receive grace, but rather they are to actively engage in the means of grace. The means of grace are the various ways God works to give to His children daily strength, abiding peace, renewing faith, spiritual power, and a pure heart.
Historically, the means of grace can be divided into two categories: works of piety and works of mercy. Works of piety are primarily what we do to enhance our personal relationship with Christ. Works of mercy are what we do to engage God’s ministry and mission in the world. Both works of piety and works of mercy have an individual component (what we can do alone) and communal component (what we must do with others).
Individual works of piety include meditating on the scriptures, faithfully attending worship, sharing our faith with others, prayer, and fasting. Communal works of piety include participating in the sacraments, accountability to one another (also known as Christian conferencing), Bible study, and preaching.
I know that spiritual leaders meditate on the scriptures, share their faith, and pray. But do they still fast?
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John Wesley believed fasting was so important that he fasted every Wednesday and Friday and urged his early Methodists to do the same. He even refused to ordain anyone to the Methodist ministry who would not fast on those two days.
Jesus regularly practiced both prayer and fasting. While I cannot find a place in the Scripture where Jesus explicitly commands fasting, the implicit assumption is that He expected His followers to practice it. For example, Jesus’ teaching on fasting in the Sermon on the Mount is in the context of giving and prayer. He seems to assume that giving, prayer, and fasting intertwine as a vital aspect of Christian practice and devotion. Therefore, to exclude fasting from our spiritual practice would be like excluding prayer and giving.
Like all the means of grace, fasting is not done for the sake of God. It is for us. I do not believe that fasting makes God want to help us one iota more than He already desires to do so. Rather, fasting places us in a posture of humility, with an increased sensitivity to the Spirit of God, where we can be open, honest, and more in tune with His will and purposes for our lives.
As a follower of Jesus, I no longer see fasting as something I must do to get God’s attention. I view it as an invitation for grace to flow.
I cannot speak for others’ works of piety. But as a spiritual leader, I will fast.