The Common Good

Praying and Fasting in the New Year

Biblical wisdom teaches that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. The holiday season is a season of feasting and of celebration. We share good times with family and friends over sumptuous meals with a variety of desserts -- cakes, pies, candy. However, after the holiday of feasting, I suggest a time of fasting.

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Some of us fast for health reasons. (People with chronic health issues or who are taking medicines on a regular basis should consult their health professional before starting a fast.) Fasting is a spiritual discipline. It is one of the disciplines that Jesus speaks about in the Sermon on the Mount -- alms-giving, prayer, and fasting. All three of these disciplines ought to be done in secret. Jesus teaches: "But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your [Lord], who is unseen, and your [Lord] who sees what is done in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:16-18)

Fasting as a spiritual discipline is a way for us to deepen our relationship with God. It is a way for us to humble ourselves before God. It is a kind of living sacrifice that says to God that our relationship is not only a relationship where we are always asking for God to grant us this or that favor, rather our relationship is one where we humbly seek the will of God.

Prayer and fasting together are necessary for some kinds of spiritual work. We see this in Mark 9:29. Prayer and fasting are ways to help us to allow for a two-way communication with God, to allow the Holy Spirit to remind us of the will of God. God's will as expressed through God's word tells us who and what to pray for. Our own willingness to fast and to pray is a reminder to ourselves that we are willing to submit to the will of God. Biblical wisdom says: "For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13)

Many of us have personal challenges that we need the wisdom and the strength to face. We are also concerned for the state of our nation and of our world. A new Congress will begin its work in January facing monumental challenges that will require statesmanship rather than politics. There will be an election in the Sudan that may lead to a split of the nation, and we pray that it will not lead to civil war. There is a delicate post-election situation in the Ivory Coast. And then, there is the war in Afghanistan and continuing terrorist threats around the globe. We have a biblical obligation to pray.

"First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings, and all who are in high position, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity." (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

There are various kinds of fasts. Some people commit to the Daniel's fast for three weeks (Daniel 10:2-3). Choose the fast that works best for you (it may not be food). In our prayer and fasting, we demonstrate trust in God's promise: "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Happy New Year.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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