12 Even now— this is the Lord’s declaration— turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. 13 Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the Lord your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and He relents from sending disaster. 14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him, so you can offer grain and wine to the Lord your God. 15 Blow the horn in Zion! Announce a sacred fast; proclaim an assembly. 16 Gather the people; sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even those nursing at the breast. Let the groom leave his bedroom, and the bride her honeymoon chamber. 17 Let the priests, the Lord’s ministers, weep between the portico and the altar. Let them say: “Have pity on Your people, Lord, and do not make Your inheritance a disgrace, an object of scorn among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
This passage in Joel begins with the indication that God wants us to fast as a means of turning from sin and turning back to Him. The subsequent verses seem to instruct that this purpose for fasting should be accompanied by a measure of weeping and mourning. It supports the idea that fasting can and should be an integral part of an expression of sorrow for our sins.
In this, we’re not doing “penance” for our sins, that is, paying for our sins. Our sins were forgiven once and for all by Christ’s work on the cross. Our faith in Him has paid the price for our sin. Yet fasting as an occasion for repentance is one of the many reasons given in Scripture for us to practice it.
We may also fast as part of praying and seeking God’s will in the repentance of others, or of our nation. This is often done as a “corporate” fast rather than an individual one. God often disciplined Israel for her sins by allowing some measure of defeat by her enemies.
Perhaps “national sin” is no more uncommon today than it was for ancient Israel. But even though we may not be participating in that sin personally, we need to fast and pray for national protection and deliverance from the oppression that can come from it.
When fasting as an occasion for repentance, we must be careful not to forsake actual repentance for an expression of it. We may be tempted to engage in a spiritual discipline in an attempt to “balance out” a pet sin we have no intention of forsaking. This would be a misuse and a perversion of the discipline. We must be prepared to confess and forsake all sin when entering such an engaging discipline as fasting.
Again, we must enter this and all spiritual disciplines from a position of humility, remembering that fasting itself is not humility, but an expression of it. We don’t make ourselves godlier through the spiritual disciplines.
As author David Smith writes in Fasting: a Neglected Discipline, “If we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, mortify the deeds of the body (through fasting), we shall grow in grace, but the glory of such change will be God’s alone.”
When contemplating fasting as a means for repentance, consider the following:
- Have you recently been delivered from a stronghold of sin for which fasting could punctuate your gratitude to God for deliverance?
- Would fasting help you to more fully embrace and accept the forgiveness and grace of God that has delivered you from darkness and brought you into the light of Christ’s love?
- Is there someone you know who is caught in sin for which your fasting and prayer could be directed?