Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Fast facts, not mystery



What is fasting? Why are all United Methodists being urged to practice it as the denomination’s Commission on a Way Forward examines the Book of Discipline paragraphs about human sexuality?

The experience of fasting "reorients you in some important ways," said Elaine Robinson. "We know by our experience that it draws us nearer to God."

She is a professor at Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University.

Fasting, or abstaining from food, appears in both the Old and New Testaments. It was taught by John Wesley, the father of Methodism, said Rev. Dr. Robinson.

She said that Wesley viewed fasting, along with prayer, reading the scriptures, and worship as means of receiving God’s grace in our lives.

Some ways to fast are:

  • Abstain from food from morning until evening.
  • Observe "half-fasts" on Wednesdays and Fridays until 3 p.m., then have a light meal such as potatoes or rice. Wesley practiced this during his life, Robinson said.

Another way to follow this practice is to continue eating, but consume only "the plainest of foods," she said. "That could be a form of fasting because there’s an intentionality to it. If you do it and you brag about it, that will actually dishonor God."

A person who is fasting should "significantly curtail what you’re eating," Robinson said.

"If it costs you nothing, it wouldn’t glorify God."

Abstaining from water is not suggested. "I don’t think even Wesley would recommend that."

Fasting may seem exotic these days because of the consumer society we live in, she said.

References in the Bible to fasting include Matthew 4:1-11, the time Jesus was tested in the wilderness; Matthew 6:16-17; and Acts 13:3, when Saul is converted to Paul.

What is the purpose of fasting?

  • To glorify God
  • To express our regret over sin
  • To receive God’s grace
  • To focus our attention upon God
  • To deepen our prayer

Fasting is frequently practiced by seminary students. "They do want to deepen their spiritual life," Robinson said.

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