Fasting is a practice which has been observed throughout Judeo-Christian history. In the Old Testament, fasting was often used as a way to repent or to mourn. It often accompanied prayer and signified the person surrendering to God or mourning for a loved one. We see the example of mourning in the book of Job. Job 3:24 (ESV) tells us, “For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water.”
Other times, however, we see this as a time for repentance and reconciliation. In the third chapter of Jonah the people of Nineveh receive the warnings through the prophet Jonah that God was going to destroy their city because of their sin. When the king heard the message, he chose to believe the message and tried to save his city.
“The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”” Jonah 3:6-9 (ESV)
Nineveh chose to fast and repent hoping God would, “relent and turn from his fierce anger.” In the end, God did choose to do this and spared Nineveh because of their repentance through fasting. As Christians, we fast during the season of Lent also as a sign of repentance from our sin. However, we have a promise and a hope Nineveh did not. We know that Christ died for our sins. We are always forgiven as long as we repent and turn from our sin. During this journey of repentance, fasting, and prayer, remember that we are on our way to holy week. This means a cross and also forgiveness. We know our fasting is not what saves us, but rather fasting is an example of us humbling ourselves before our mighty and loving God as the people of Nineveh did.
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1) Read Jonah 3. What can we learn from the people of Nineveh?
2) Why do you think fasting has historically been a sign for repentance?
3) How can you use the fasting this week as a form of repentance and turning back to God?