Ask the UMC: What does The United Methodist Church say about fasting?

There is a strong biblical base for fasting, particularly during the 40 days of Lent leading to the celebration of Easter. Jesus, as part of his spiritual preparation, went into the wilderness and fasted 40 days and 40 nights, according to the Gospels.

Fasting has been a part of Methodism from its early beginnings. John Wesley considered fasting an important part of a Christian's life and he fasted weekly. To Wesley, fasting was an important way to express sorrow for sin and penitence for overindulgence in eating and drinking. He believed it allowed more time for prayer and was more meaningful if combined with giving to the poor. Wesley did advise caution against extreme fasting and against fasting for those in fragile health.

Although fasting usually refers to any practice of restricting food, there is a distinction between fasting (limiting consumption of food and drink) and abstinence (abstaining from eating meat.) Abstinence from meat one day a week is a universal act of penitence. It is important that you check with your physician before attempting a total fast (no food, water only) for more than 24 hours.

Lent is a very personal time of self-reflection, so The United Methodist Church does not have official guidelines on how individuals should observe Lent. Some choose to give up a certain food, however a spirit of fasting can include restriction of activities such as television watching, shopping or social networking. Some choose to give away clothing or possessions, give time by volunteering or increase time spent in prayer. We fast to reorient ourselves away from the distraction of those things and back toward God.

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