TLP 137: Fasting and the Holidays
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Welcome back to The Year Long Celebration of God’s look into the nature and importance of fasting in the life of a believer.
But since this is Part 3 of that discussion, I want to encourage you to listen to Parts 1 and 2 where we step through what the Bible really has to say about the subject including whether or not modern Christians should fast as part of their worship of God as well as the various reasons — good and bad — to fast.
On our last show we discussed how to make biblical fasting part of your Everdays, and today we’re going to talk about how to make fasting part of your Holidays.
And be sure to check out today’s episode notes, transcript, and fasting resources at CelebrationOfGod.com.
On Part 1 we established that though nowhere in the Scriptures are modern Christians commanded to fast, the clear assumption was that God’s people would be fasting.
On Part 2 we surveyed the various examples of fasting in the Bible and realized that a truly biblical fast is one where God is the ultimate focus. We’re to set aside our eating in order to intentionally focus on the Lord primarily through prayer and Bible reading. And the kind of fast will primarily be determined by the spiritual needs of the moment. And that’s where we outlined 10 great spiritual reasons to fast that all give God the glory.
So, let’s start by reviewing . . .
1. The Spiritual Reasons for Holiday Fasting
Fast to . . . Strengthen Prayer, Seek God’s Guidance, Seek Deliverance or Protection, Express Grief, Express Repentance, Humble Ourselves before God, Express Concern for the Work of God, Minister to the Needs of Others, Fight Temptation and Strengthen the Spiritual Disciplines, and Celebrate God.
Now, when it comes to fasting during the Holidays, many of these reasons may apply, but some won’t. For example, there is no specific Holiday where fasting as we seek deliverance or protection naturally fits. That’s not to say that it couldn’t be part of your fast, but it’s just not an obvious connection that would apply to all of God’s people at the same time.
I’ll explain more in a moment.
2. The Kinds of Holidays Fasts
Just like last time, we have a choice between Normal Fasts and Partial Fasts. And the choice will be yours. You’ll need to determine the most Christ-honoring fast for the holiday, your health, and your spiritual needs.
However, unlike the personal fasts that will most often be Private, these Holiday fasts are intended to be enjoyed by all of God’s people, which makes most of them a Congregational Fast. This means that — Lord willing — there will be many, many other Christians joining you in this fast whether you know it or not.
But within the sphere of your life and the people you know, I would encourage you to invite your fellow disciples to fast with you during the holidays which would mean that — hopefully — the majority of your holiday fasts will be at least Small Group Fasts.
But — of course — there’s no requirement, and you are more than welcome to enjoy any of these Holiday Fasts by yourself. At the same time, there are likely many other brothers and sisters in Christ fasting right along with you in other parts of the world, and I find that this reality is very encouraging.
When it comes to the length of the fast, some will be very short, and others will be very long. We’ll look at the specific differences momentarily.
And since we’re talking about annual Holidays, these fasts definitely fall under the Regular Fast category.
Okay, that was mostly review, so let’s consider . . .
3. The Holiday Fasts in The Year Long Celebration of God
Since The Year Long Celebration of God starts in September, we’re going to begin at the beginning of the celebratory year and consider all of the holidays and potential fasts in chronological order.
Now, with the exception of Advent and Lent, most of these holidays don’t traditionally include a fast, but I want to walk through each of the holidays and consider the pros and cons of fasting in conjunction with that holiday.
By the way, as we talk through how to worship God through our fasting, you may encounter a holiday you’ve never heard of before, or you may wonder how to celebrate God on a certain holiday. If that’s the case, I recommend you visit CelebrationOfGod.com to learn more about how to deepen your worship of the Lord by utilizing our holidays.
You can also click on the links in the description of today’s episode for easy access.
Okay, the first Season of The Year Long Celebration of God is the Season of Mercy and the first holiday is Creation Week.
Since that’s a holiday that was created by us, I can say with all certainty that it wasn’t intended to include a fast. Therefore, it would be appropriate to partake in Christ-honoring feasting and no fasting. We’ll call this a potential No Fast Holiday.
But there’s another option. We’ve talked often about the importance of Preparing for the holidays. We need to prepare our spirits, our fellow disciples, and our spaces. What better way is there to prepare our hearts for the upcoming holiday than to dedicate time to prayer, fasting, and Bible reading?
This Preparatory Fast may be a fantastic option for nearly all of the holidays.
But you could also take the week long celebration of God’s work of Creation and come up with your own fast. For example — and please understand that I’m making these up in an attempt to spark your imagination — you could choose to fast on Sunday and Monday because during those days of Creation there was no food on the earth. Therefore, you could start eating again on Day 3 in celebration of His creating plants. But perhaps you could do only a Partial Fast, continuing to eat only fruits, vegetables, and grains, until Day 6 when God created animals.
Again, that’s just an example of how you could personalize your fasting during the holidays.
Of course, the bigger question needs to be which of the 10 spiritual reasons for fasting may apply the best to Creation Week. It doesn’t matter how imaginative and cool your idea for fasting might be, if it’s all about how cool you are . . . God is not pleased.
We need to have a Godward focus. The obvious choice is you could do a Preparatory Fast or a Holiday Fast directed solely at celebrating God, His power, the gift of creation, and all of the other facets of our Creation Week celebration.
But in the light of His power and majesty, that may prompt you to have a fast focused on humility.
Again, my desire isn’t to decree a specific liturgy, but to get your creative juices flowing for how you can deepen and mature your worship of God.
The next Holiday is Labor Day. This is one of the minor holidays, but this one often happens in connection with Creation Week, so this wouldn’t necessarily be a holiday with which a fast would make the most natural sense.
Now, I’m going to lump together all of the family days like Grandparent’s Day, Children’s Day, Family Day, and Mother’s and Father’s Day. In general, those are days that we celebrate God’s gift of those family members. However, it may make a lot of sense for you to fast on Father’s Day if your father is unsaved or living in unrepentant sin.
In a similar way, a childless couple may choose to fast on Children’s Day as a fast of petition if they are childless, or out of grief on what would have been a child’s birthday, etc.
We may fast on Grandparent’s Day if we have a grandparent who is in poor health and we’re beseeching the Lord for protection.
Moving on, the Day of Atonement is a wonderful day to fast as part of the observance. The day of Atonement is the Season of Mercy’s solemnity as we observe the fall of man.
A fast of grief, repentance, and to strengthen the spiritual disciplines would be very appropriate on that day.
Then we have Halloween . . . another minor holiday, but one on which fasting would be very appropriate. Those of us who observe Halloween in They Year Long Celebration of God celebrate God’s promised grace in light of the consequences of sin.
A fast on this day would be very similar to a fast on the Day of Atonement.
Next comes Veteran’s Day, a minor holiday where we celebrate sacrifice — starting first with Christ’s sacrifice and extending to those who have given their lives and livelihood’s for our liberties.
A fast of celebration and gratitude would be extremely appropriate.
Again, none of us have to do any of these fasts, and I’ve definitely never done all of the ones I’m going to suggest. The point is simply to start recognizing how we can utilize Biblical fasting along with our holidays in order to make them more God-focused and exalting.
And speaking of gratitude, I would recommend that the best kind of fast for Thanksgiving would be a Preparatory Fast. I believe that feasting to God’s glory is just as valuable as fasting to His glory. And since Thanksgiving is traditionally a feasting celebration, a Preparatory Fast before Thanksgiving can help to strengthen our focus on God as we prepare our hearts to give Him the preeminence that He’s due.
And then we move into the Season of Grace.
The first major holiday of the Season of Grace is Advent. Now, most people do not think of Advent as a time of fasting, but many traditions have viewed Advent as a Little Lent.
It was Bernard of Clairvaux who said, “Steep yourselves in the meaning of these Advent days. And above all, pay heed to him who is approaching; think whence he comes and whither it is he advances; consider his purpose in coming, the ripeness of the times, the route he may choose for his approach . . . . The Universal Church would not celebrate this Advent time with such solemnity of devotion did it not contain within it some great mystery.”
Just like Lent is a season of Preparation looking forward to Easter, Advent is a season of Preparation looking forward to Christmas. It’s a wonderful time to search our hearts, deal with unconfessed sin, and mediate on Christ’s first and second Advents.
Which means that when the Twelve Days of Christmas arrive, there’s no more reason to fast and plenty of reasons to feast God’s goodness.
The next minor holiday on the list is Valentines. Again, it’s a minor holiday that quickly comes and goes, but any time to fast to God’s glory is a good one. You could have a celebratory fast in love and adoration for the God of love, or you could do a Preparatory Fast meditating on the truths of love as you get ready to celebrate it.
And then comes the Season of Life.
The first holiday in this season is Lent — which as we already mentioned is a preparation for Easter.
Most people recognize Lent as a season of fasting or “giving things up.” I encourage you to listen to our podcast episodes about Lent in order to better appreciate the purpose and intricacies of Lent as well as the observances that occur during the Passion Week.
I will say that Lent presents a wonderful opportunity to take parts of our fast and use it to minister to the needs of others.
Again, we’re skipping over the family days we mentioned early on in our list.
And that takes us to Ascension.
By this time, if you participated in any kind of penitential fast during Lent, I believe you’ll be in a really good spiritual place. However, since there are six weeks between Easter and Ascension, a Preparatory Fast might be a great idea. It could be a day or just a meal, but any intentional substitution of physical sustenance for spiritual sustenance would be a great idea.
Jesus Himself is the Bread of Life. Ascension is a celebration of Christ’s completed work on this earth and the inauguration of the New Covenant. By all means, enjoy the Bread of Life in Preparation for Ascension.
And then about a week later comes Pentecost which is a celebration of God’s gift of the church. That too could be accompanied by a Preparatory or Celebratory Fast. But this would also be a good time for a fast that expresses concern for the work of God in this world as well as ministering to others as the body of Christ.
And then comes the Season of Power.
The next minor holiday is Independence Day which we use as a celebration of the freedom that comes through Christ. So, in that way it’s very similar to Veteran’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and the like.
And then comes Scripture Day. Fasting on Scripture Day could be wonderful as we reflect on the fact that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Scripture Day is a wonderful opportunity to dedicate extra time to communing with God in prayer and Bible study.
And then comes the Consummation.
The Consummation is the biggest Anticipation of the year and would therefore be a good time to not fast as we look forward to the future Marriage Supper of the Lamb. However, I could get on board with a Preparatory Fast or an occasional fast in reflection of the fact that we’re living in the Already as we wait for the Not Yet.
And that sets up perfectly to restart the Celebratory Year in the Season of Mercy and Creation Week.
So, whether you’re hoping to strengthen your prayer life, seek God’s guidance, deliverance, or protection, express grief and/or repentance, humble yourself, express concern for the work of God, minister to the needs of other by doing that work, fight temptation and strengthen the spiritual disciplines, or simply Celebrate God, the Holidays provide many opportunities to participate in a Regular Congregational Fast of God’s people.
And I think now is a good time to point out that Christian fasts are so much more beautiful than the Jewish fasts in the Old Testament. What distinguishes Judaism from Christianity is that the longed-for kingdom of God is now present as well as future. The King, Jesus Christ, has come. Jewish and Christian fasting both look forward to a future day, but what’s different about Christian fasting is that it rests on the finished work of the Bridegroom in the past.
This makes our fasting so much more celebratory than the ancient Jewish fasting which was marked by a perpetual watching and waiting. Yes, we watch and wait for His future return, but we look back to His completed work.
And all of this leads us to . . .
4. The Tools for Holiday Fasting
Just like I mentioned last time, if you visit CelebrationOfGod.com you will find our fasting resources that now include or will include Fasting Bible Readings, Fasting Journals, and Fasting Guides.
This is a work in progress, but my plan is to include more thoughts on fasting as we look at the individual holidays in the years to come.
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a discipleship experience designed to equip followers of Christ to better know, love, and worship Him as they help others in their lives do the same. We exalt God, teach His people how to practically worship Him every day of the year, and train them to disciple others.
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AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.