We don't talk about fasting much in Christian circles. But in the anonymity provided by the Web people more freely express their views. I searched several online forums about the topic and here is what people are saying.
"Fasting doesn't work for me. When I'm hungry, I feel I have to eat something."
"No one can possibly concentrate on God when they are craving food. "
"It is not a commandment in the Bible although there is nothing wrong with doing it if you feel the need"
And my personal favorite
" Yes many christians fast for a small amount of time like a day or 2. but some really hardcore christians with mental problems will do it for like a week. because they say it makes them closer to god."
I've never had such awkward moments around other Jesus followers as the times it came up that I was fasting. First there was the decision if I should even tell them. Do they, "need to know." Because if it isn't absolutely essential for them to know, then my telling them would just be boasting. I am a Pharisee and my fast counts for nothing. Then if I don't tell them right away, and it comes up later, like when we set down to eat, it's even more awkward because I have left out a pretty important part of my life which also affects them.
Then there are the reactions. Some people decline to eat around me as if it would be just too painful for me to see someone eat. Some eventually eat but looked rather sheepish about it. Several people quietly admit they should probably try fasting too, or explain why they can't. In the middle of my seven day fast, I was talking with a dear brother whom I have the utmost respect for, and when my fast finally came up in conversation he said, "Well at least you weren't trying to tell me about it." as if I would have been committing a mortal sin had I brought it up at the beginning of the conversation.
The Bible has a lot to say about fasting. Yet I have seldom heard it brought up without a reference to Matthew 6:16-18. The misuse of these words of Jesus only help keep this valuable spiritual exercise at the fringe of our faith community. Here is what Jesus actually said.
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (NIV)The hypocrites disfigured themselves so that everyone who walked by them on the street would immediately know they were fasting. It became their super-religious identity. "Look at me, I'm holy because I'm fasting." So Jesus warns not to make a public spectacle of yourself and show off the fact that you are fasting. He never says not to tell anyone. In my private conversations with friends and family, there is no reason why I should feel weird about telling them I am undertaking a major spiritual exercise.
Ironically, I could talk all day about prayer, and no one would feel awkward. No one sees any boasting when I say, "I'm praying for you." But if I added, "And I'm fasting too," then suddenly people are offended. This is hypocrisy.
We are so uncomfortable talking about fasting because fasting is uncomfortable. I don't think very many Christians fast. It's hard to say for sure, because they never talk about it if they do. But unlike prayer, or Bible reading, the two socially acceptable Christian disciplines, fasting goes against the grain of both our culture, and our fleshly appetites. Being reminded about fasting reminds us how wealthy excessive and undisciplined we really are. It may even make us feel guilty to hear someone talk about it.
We need to talk about Fasting
There are several reasons why we must buck the trend and bring fasting out of the shadows.
1. Jesus did it (Matt 4:2). He also made it clear that he expected his followers too (Matt 6:16, Mark 2:20). That alone should tell us that fasting has value.
2. Christians throughout the ages have found great spiritual benefit in fasting. They also weren't afraid to talk about it. Read the writings of many great Christians through the ages - Tertullian, Augustine, Ignatius of Loyola, Francis de Sales, John Wesley, Andrew Murray - and see how often fasting comes up. It has only become obscure in recent history. Why?
3. Fasting, as we discover in the Bible, was often a communal event( Leviticus 23:27, Acts 13:2-3). It was usually meant to be a spiritual exercise for the community, bringing the community together. It's also a lot easier to make it through a fast knowing others are going through the same thing with you.
4. Fasting is more complicated than just not eating for a while. We need to be taught why and how. We need mature disciples to mentor the newer ones on the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, Bible study, and fasting.
5. Our culture is plagued by excess and self-gratification. The followers of Jesus are often just as caught up in it as the rest of society. We are seriously ill. Fasting is not the cure, Fasting helps clear away the clutter so we can find the Cure.