A View on New Year Prayers and Fasting
By: Deji Yesufu
It is very common to find many Nigerian Christians engage in a series of prayers and fasting at the turn of a new year or even at the beginning of a month. The idea is to besought God to bless the year and to ask his favour on various endeavours. Usually, families ask God to keep everyone in health, to prosper the work of every member of the family and to protect everyone from evil. What we should beware of is the tendency to turn a veritable Christian practice into paganism.
Following widespread opinions that come in the practice of the Christian religion on earth, we would usually have whatever we do as Christians compared with the Bible. One thing that a cursory look through scriptures will show anyone is that no one did “prayer and fasting” at a start of a new month or a new year in the Bible. Not one person did. So one is at a loss as to where these practices come from.
The picture that we get from the Bible is that while prayer was a regular exercise between people and God, as they communed with their creator in supplication, fasting was a discipline that was reserved for extreme praying. When people were at their wits and they felt they need for God’s special intervention, they fasted and they prayed. It was a kind of special prayers that they drew on in times of need. Godly people in scriptures did not fast because they enjoyed doing it. They fasted as a last resort or in preparation for a special calling or duty.
The first mention of something of a fast in the Bible had to do with Moses, when he went up to God to collect the tablets of stones on which the ten commandments were written, in the book of Exodus. Scriptures records that Moses was with God, high up on Mount Sinai, for forty days, without water or food. That was an enforced and miraculous fast, because he was literally sustained by God up on those mountains. By the time he returned to the ground, his face was glowing. The point is that Moses did not declare “fasting and prayer”; it was imposed on him by God.
Other instances in which people fasted in the Bible are in the stories of Ezra and Esther. In the book of Ezra, the scribe Ezra had been instructed by the Babylonian king to take the some Jewish captives back to Jerusalem. This was following the captivity. Ezra had enjoyed the favor of the king on many accounts but he could not return to the king to ask for protection, as they travelled through the dangerous terrains from Babylon to Jerusalem. Ezra then called on all the Jews with him and they fasted and prayed, and besought the Lord to keep them safe on the journey (Ezra 8:21-23) . And God kept them though the journey.
In the book of Esther, Esther the Queen finds herself having to face a king, who might order her death for coming to see him when he did not demand her to come. But the situation required she see the king urgently. Therefore, she called on Mordecai her Uncle to fast and pray, and she and her maids also did the same. She would later enter the king’s presence and enjoyed his favor (Esther 4:15-17).
Lastly, and probably most importantly, Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights before embarking on his ministry.
Many people who read the Bible on a surface think that fasting is a sort of magic wand; a means of arm-twisting God on our requests. But they forget that even though Christ fasted, he did it in private. Jesus followed his own admonition in Matthew 6:16-18, when he said when we fast we should never let anyone know about it. It is not a status symbol but a deeply spiritual exercise that should be between us and God only.
Second, while Christ fasted in private, the Jews regarded him as a winebibber and a drunkard in public, because, apparently, he did not follow in the Jews’ practice of showing off their fasting.
This is my sincere thoughts on fasting: fast only on extreme situations and need. Reserve a fast for a special time of separation to God, in pursuit of a special work for God or in calling upon God to meet a great need. And it must be a great need indeed. Do not make fasting a regular thing or it soon loose its significance and simply become a religious exercise, like the Jews did in the days of Christ.
The fact is that the human body is deeply adaptable. If, in the guise of being seen as spiritual or in seeking some spiritual powers, we are used to exacting our bodies in fasting, then fasting would no longer be a sacrifice for us. This is why many people, to attain that special status of having reached a sacrificial fast, would continue to raise the bar on the number of days they fast until, in many cases, they kill themselves.
The other aspect of fasting which Christians must be deeply wary of is carrying out fasting like the pagans do. This idea of getting “anointing” from fasting is not Christian; it is actually pagan and cultic. Many cults involve fasting to attain heights in the spiritual realm that God has not called any of us to seek. In the process, many of them see spirits, they hear voices and they come back and attribute such experiences to the Holy Spirit. It is actually blasphemy!
God has given us food and drink for our enjoyment. It is here on earth that we would enjoy food and drink; we would not be eating and drinking in heaven (I doubt it; since we shall not have fleshly bodies to tend). In fact, the days will come, if we live long enough, and we are old, we would not be able to enjoy the taste of food and drink anymore. It is now that we should enjoy food and drink.
Thus, at the beginning of a new year and a new month, our duties as Christians, is simply to pray the Lord’s blessing on each of them. Indeed, the prayer that a sincere Christian offers to God at the beginning of each day is sufficient to take care of all the needs for that day and that month and subsequently that year.
If in the midst of the year, we encounter a great need or feel a great burden to embark on a new project or ministry, and we need God’s favour, counsel and guidance, we can very well fast and pray over such issues.
Christians can look on fasting as deeper praying. A sort of praying exercise that is reserved for special times. If we have abused it, when a great need does come, fasting and praying will not seem sufficient to solve it.
To conclude, let me make the point that one thing most people need in churches is not a period of fasting and praying for blessings or protection. What most church-goers need is to know the God who they go to church to serve. Many church people are not Christians. They see God as a means of meeting their needs only. They have replaced the fetish gods of their fathers with the Christian God of the Bible, and they are hereby using God to meet their lusts.
They are not Christians but pagans, using a cherished Christian practice to fulfil their lusts. And many of them cannot be blamed. Those to be blamed are those who have turned the Christian God to a God that provides us bread and butter; rather than a God that has provided us redemption from our sins through Jesus Christ.
So, in the same way tithing, offering, church going and a host of other practices in the Bible have been turned on their heads by church people, mostly to meet the lust of their hearts, fasting and prayers has also been made into means-to-get matter in Christendom.
Christians should know their God. Enjoy whatever he has given you as far as food and drink is concerned. Fast only at special times and as God leads you. Fast privately, never with the crowd and trust God to meet your need. And the God of heaven will bless our various endeavours.
© Deji Yesufu. First published in January 2018 but yet relevant today.