After creating the world in six days, God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2). Fasting is symbolic of this day of rest.
In early Christian teachings, believers are told to “fast for those who persecute you” (Didache 1:3). Traditionally, the early church fasted every Wednesday (to remember Christ’s betrayal) and Friday (to remember his crucifixion). Of course, after fasting the church members ate the Lord’s Supper together on Sunday morning to celebrate Christ’s resurrection!
Tertullian in his book On Fasting which was written during a time when Christians were being persecuted said, “…an over-fed Christian will be more [pleasing] to bears and lions, perchance, than to God…”
St. Augustine wrote, “When a man imposes on himself the burden of fasting, he shows that he really wants what he is asking for.”
Martin Luther fasted frequently. Much of his translation of the Bible into German was completed during his times of fasting.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement refused to ordain anyone who did not fast at least two days each week. He believed no one is worthy to rule the body of Christ if he cannot rule his own belly.
The first settlers in America often declared days of fasting to pray for their crops and animals. In the summer of 1623, the Pilgrim’s crop was failing. They “set apart a solemn day of humiliation to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer…And he was pleased to give a gracious and speedy answer, both to their own and the Indian’s admiration.”
Jonathan Edwards whose preaching sparked the “Great Awakening” is often depicted holding onto his pulpit while preaching his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of Angry God” because his body was weak from much fasting.
When England declared an embargo on the port of Boston, the Assembly of Virginia passed a resolution calling for a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer on June 1, 1774. According to his diary, George Washington joined in the fast.
John Adams, the second president of the United States, declared May 9, 1798 a day of fasting for the nation when the country was in danger of going to war with France. He said, “As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depends on the protection and the blessing of Almighty God…and as the United States of America are at present, placed in a hazardous and afflictive situation…under these considerations it has appeared to me that the duty of imploring the mercy and benediction of Heaven on our country, demands, at this time, a special attention from its inhabitants”
Under the fourth president of the United States, James Madison, the United States was in a war with Great Britain. The Senate and the House of Representatives passed a joint resolution declaring a day of fasting on January 12, 1815.
Abraham Lincoln declared three days of fasting during the time of the Civil War. He wrote, “…We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God…we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own…It behooves us, then to humble ourselves before the Offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
Charles Spurgeon writes, “Our seasons of fasting and prayer at the Tabernacle have been high days indeed; never has Heaven’s gate stood wider; never have our hearts been nearer the central Glory.”