Fasting and prayer once served as cornerstones of the practice of various reliegions, and though it has taken a back seat in modern culture, one local church has chosen to join those who have kept the custom.
Pastor Randy Knight led his congregation at Journey Church in Columbia Falls in a week of fasting and prayer from Jan. 7-13, their way of kicking off each New Year.
According to Knight, though many Christians see fasting as an ancient custom of Biblical times, it still has value in today’s modern church.
“Its purpose is really to quiet our souls, get rid of the distractions of this world and really listen to the quiet, gentle whisper of God,” Knight said.
Fasting, according to Knight, has become less popular over time, namely because “it’s just plain not fun.”
“Who wants to go without eating?” he said.
Historically, some people also took fasting to unhealthy extremes, starving themselves to skin and bone to appear more spiritual.
This, Knight contends, was not God’s intent.
Though fasting traditionally meant giving up food and water for a designated period of time, Knight said the terms of fasting are flexible.
“It’s not a rule because it’s not required,” he said. “It’s a discipline and there are benefits from it.”
Knight chose to stick to a diet of liquids, including fruit juices and protein shakes, for the seven-day period. Others in his congregation limited themselves to one meal a day for the week, while some chose to fast for one or two full days.
Knight said the fast does not have to involve food at all and can mean giving up other distractions such as television or social media, anything that requires an exercise in self-control.
THROUGHOUT HISTORY, people of all faiths and backgrounds took to fasting in times of confusion, fear, sorrow and preparation.
Many Christian denominations take part in Lent, a six-week period between Ash Wednesday and Easter when people partake in either a traditional fast or give up certain “luxaries” in preparation for the coming of Christ.
In the Old Testament, Exodus 34:28 talks about Moses’s time with God on Mount Sinai where he received the Ten Commandments. The story claims that during his 40 days on the mountain, he neither ate nor drank.
Muhatma Gandhi partook in multiple fasts, using them in non-violent protest during India’s freedom movement in the early 1900s.
Benjamin Franklin, an American Founding Father, believed fasting and rest to be “the best of all medicine.”
“There’s something that takes place spiritually when we are desperate enough to deny ourselves in pursuit of God,” Knight said. “Not twisting his arm to get what we want, but aligning our hearts to what he wants.”
Knight and his wife moved to the area over seven years ago to start Journey Church, and he has since determined to make fasting a regular part of his and his congregation’s lives, though he never forces the practice on anyone.
He said he has had his own spiritual experiences through fasting.
Though Knight said he wished he could stay in the place of peace and nearness he experiences while fasting, he was also excited to eat again and had already begun planning his breakfast menu.
Physical limitations and health factors should always be taken into account when deciding the length and type of fast to undergo, according to Linda Fredenberg, a clinical dietician at Kalispell Regional Health Center.
“When we fast, our body goes into starvation mode, which can decrease your metabolism and create problems with energy level and ability to exercise safely,” Fredenburg said.
Fredenberg advised those with diabetes, pregnant or breast-feeding women, the young and the elderly against dietary fasting due to the impact a drop in caloric intake can have on blood sugar and other health factors.
She suggested that even fit and healthy individuals make sure they stay hydrated should they chose to fast for any length of time to avoid symptoms including fatigue, dizziness, constipation and other side effects related to dehydration.
Some of the side effects Knight said he has experienced while fasting included fatigue, hiccups, irritation, difficulty concentrating and depleted physical stamina.
Both Knight and Fredenberg said that certain types of fasting could also have positive effects, not just spiritually but physically.
Fredenberg cited an article by Dr. Joy Dubost titled “Intermittent Fasting: A Good Approach?”.
The article references some animal and preliminary human studies that indicate intermittent fasting, or “a diet approach that restricts food and calorie-containing beverages, typically for at least 16 hours,” could possibly help reduce risks of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
However, the article also states that additional human studies are needed before determining any health benefits.
Knight agreed that food fasting may not benefit everyone, and God’s own intention for it was not to torture or deprive the body.
Fredenberg also warned high-risk groups, including those who historically or currently struggle with an eating disorder, against food fasting, as the practice may serve a counteractive purpose, reinforcing negative behaviors that could lead to serious health problems.
Before taking part in a fast of any kind for any reason, consult a physician as to the short and long-term effects it could have.
To read the full article by Joy Dubost, visit http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/weight-loss/your-health-and-your-weight/intermittent-fasting.
For more information about Journey Church or to contact Pastor Knight, visit http://www.journeychurchcf.com/.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.