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What does the UMC say about fasting?

Fasting by limiting food and drink, accompanied by prayer and devotional reading, is an important spiritual practice to draw closer to God. Photo by congerdesign, courtesy of Pixabay.
Fasting by limiting food and drink, accompanied by prayer and devotional reading, is an important spiritual practice to draw closer to God. Photo by congerdesign, courtesy of Pixabay.

The Bible has much to say about fasting. Fasting is a sign of penitence practiced by individuals or whole people in the Old Testament. Jesus, as part of his spiritual preparation, went into the wilderness and fasted 40 days and 40 nights. He also commended fasting  as an ongoing practice for his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. 

While fasting is often associated with Lent, Methodists have never limited fasting to Lent. The General Rules commend "fasting or abstinence" as part of the ordinances of God upon which all Methodists are called to attend as they are able. Fasting usually means eating no food for a period of time. Abstinence means refraining from particular kinds of food, such as meat. 

John Wesley fasted weekly, from Thursday at sundown until receiving communion on Sunday, as the Church of England expected its clergy to do. To Wesley, fasting or abstinence were ways to express sorrow for sin and penitence for overindulgence in eating and drinking. He commended fasting to all Methodists to allow more time for prayer, and he noted that fasting or abstinence was more meaningful when combined with giving to the poor. At the same time, he advised caution against extreme fasting and urged those in fragile health not to fast from food.

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The United Methodist Church does not have official guidance on how individuals should observe fasting or abstinence. Many choose to fast from food, but fasting or abstinence 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. Be sure to check with your physician before attempting a total fast (no food, water only) for more than 24 hours.

Whenever or however we fast, United Methodists do so to reorient ourselves away from the compulsions and distractions of our lives to make more room in our lives for the love of God overflowing in love to every neighbor. 


This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.