What Is The Significance Of Prayer And Fasting In The Christian Religion
Since time immemorial, prayer and fasting have been used by Christians to get closer to God. Fasting is the voluntary act of going without food to focus on prayer and building a deeper relationship with God while Praying is a way that Christians speak of God (Rugh, 2016). The latter involves abstinence from a certain comfort be it food, drinks or luxury. It is a self-inflicted suffering for the purpose of learning oneself and growing spiritually. They use this for personal requests or Thanksgiving. Both prayer and fasting are important aspects of Christian life and have been carried on from generation to generation. Therefore, this paper will look at how fasting and prayer have changed through the times in the Middle East religions and their significance.
The Middle East religions include Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. It should be noted that apart from Christianity, the other two other religions also practice prayer and fasting. Therefore, it is correct to say that all faiths belief in the power of prayer and fasting from either the teachings of their religious books or beliefs which have been held for centuries. These religions both claim to have their roots in the Middle East, especially in the city of Jerusalem where various historical sites prove that they existed.
For instance, in the Muslim religion, prayer is a central element of their faith. It is the second among the five pillars of Islam as dictated by its founder, Prophet Muhammad. Additionally, praying forms the framework for each day of a Muslim’s life as signified in their mandatory dawn and night prayers. According to the Muslim faith, prayer is an obligation to show that one has faith in the religion.
Difference between Muslims religion and Christian religion
Subsequently, the Muslims hold various fasts during specific times of the year. Ramadan is the most widely practiced fast by the faith. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslims’ calendar which requires the faithful to fast during the day. Various reasons account as to why this period is significant. First, this is the time when the gates of heaven are open hence God can be merciful to those who fast and repent their sins. Secondly, the Holy Quran was revealed to Muhammad during this month. Thirdly, the devil cannot come to tempt the faithful on earth since the gates of hell are closed.
Islam requires its followers to fast, therefore; it is a sin for anyone not to do so. The Quran states that whoever who witnesses the month of Ramadan, and then he or she is obligated to fast. This is different from the Christian religion which does not demand its faithful to fast; rather one has to have a reason for doing so. The purpose of fasting is to create a shield which protects an individual from being lustful and committing sin. Also, the practice produces some resemblance of freedom from want (quality of Samadiyyah) in human beings. By fasting, a Muslim releases the spirit of desire and instead allows for the use of moderation and common sense.
The Muslims also have to deviate from certain foods and practices when fasting just like their Christian counterparts. Such restrictions include: Not eating or smoking voluntarily as well as taking non-nourishing substances through the mouth; sexual intercourse resulting to ejaculation in men or orgasms in the women and deliberately vomiting. If one begins her menstrual periods or post-birth bleeding, then the fasting day is rendered as invalid due to impurity. Specifically, sex is forbidden for the thirty days or else the offenders should make time to fast or fast for sixty more days after the end of Ramadan.
Christianity is the largest religion in the world
Although fasting and prayer go hand in hand, this is not always the case for the religions. Thus one can pray and not fast and vice versa. Christians do not engage in fasting for any particular reason. Rather, the whole reason for fasting is to gain a deeper knowledge of God at the same time connects with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Fasting is not a test to determine the commitment of Christianity; rather, it is a longing, a hunger for godliness and the desire to seek God with the heart, soul, and mind. Judaism can be compared more to Christianity than Islam given the fact that the two were initially one before separating.
Christianity is the largest religion in the world. About 33% of the world’s population are considered to be followers of Christ (Kautsky, 2014). Hence, the religion is based on the belief that Jesus is the son of God and savior of humanity. Nonetheless, there are discrepancies in the way the Christians practice fasting and prayer. The variations are as a result of the different denominations of Christianity. We have the Catholics, Jews, and Protestants who both exhibit different practices for the same concept. For example, Catholics tend to take a more conservative approach when conducting prayers. They follow the same protocol during mass (service) in all churches worldwide. However, the Protestants do not necessarily follow a particular procedure. Instead, each service day is carried out in a unique manner.
In the old testament of the bible, the law specifically required prayer and fasting on the Day of Atonement. As a result, this custom came to be known as the day of fasting. This act was also done during times of distress among the Israelites. For example, King Jehoshaphat requested all the people of Israel to fast when they were about to be attacked by the Ammonites and Moabites (2nd chronicles 20:3). Further, David went on a fast after learning of the deaths of Jonathan and Saul (2nd Samuel 1:2). Consequently, in the New Testament, John the Baptist taught his disciples how to fast (Mark 2:18) among many more examples. As such, there is a lot of significance associated with the practice in regards to Christianity.
Christians prayer books
In ancient times, Christianity was united and strict. It was established under the Roman rule which set guidelines on how prayer was to be conducted (Hall, 2016). Prayers were written and memorized for perfect worship. However, the Christians of today have prayer books which they use during mass thus preventing them from knowing them by heart. A visit to two churches recently enabled me to observe how the followers have freedom to write and recite their prayers. Moreover, singing was not allowed but was rather restricted to hymns composed by the clergy. Today, prayer and song take the shape of the community in question. For example, African incorporate their traditional hymns in prayer while Americans stick to old hymns and prayers most of which were composed in the colonial era (Vine, 2015).
Contrary to common belief, fasting in the olden days was express one’s commitment to faith openly. According to the Bible, The Jews believed that by fasting, any wicked deed or wrongdoing against Yahweh would be forgiven. Similarly, religious and political leaders would engage themselves in prayer and fast to pray for redemption on behalf of the commoners. So, fasting has a significant role in their relations with God. During this period, they had a specific way of presenting themselves at the mercy of God, and it involved wearing sackcloth and smearing ash on the face. They would complement this by either singing; mourning and putting on disheveled appearances. Nevertheless, things have changed in the modern world. Fasting is a rather private affair, so long as one does it within the given specifications and has a motivation for doing so.
The fact that it can be done privately has made many Christians view the whole practice in a positive manner. Christians today fast in private and in a less intense way where one gets to choose when and what to abstain from (Jenkins, 2014). In my various interactions with the Christians, I gathered different views on their motivations and what they would wish to refrain from. For instance, a Catholic believer expressed her desire to skip meals and give the money saved to the needy in the community as their way of abstinence for spiritual growth. A Jew also pledged to stop eating meat for two months and use the money to assist a particular needy child.
The Bible and Jesus
Despite other differences, the Christians agree that they see meaning in holding fasts and prayer for various reasons. To start with, Christ required that his believers often pray as well as fast to nourish their spiritual growth. It is said that there is power in prayer and most Christians can be witnesses to this fact due to various things that have happened to them as a result of praying or fasting. Even from the Old Testament, some individuals believed in the power of praying to help them from challenging situations. For example, Job prayed and fasted until God rescued him from misery. On the same, Daniel prayed to God after being thrown into the lions’ den and came out alive.
Christians also use fasting to identify with Jesus Christ whom they believe to be their savior. The Bible states that Jesus fasted and prayed for forty days and nights without food or water. Still, he engaged in more prayer sessions on to plead on behalf of the human beings who were sinners. His death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven is a symbol of what prayer and fasting can achieve. Therefore, to show their appreciation for his actions, the Catholic have a fasting period in their calendar to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This period is known as Lent, and they do this by not eating meat.
Subsequently, fasting symbolizes humility in the presence of God. Christian’s belief that God is mighty hence nothing can be done to attain His level of greatness. Praying and fasting signify their commitment and loyalty to the almighty. Additionally, this act gives them a sense of belonging and strengthens their faith in the care, love, and protection of God. Also, during times of distress such as war, hunger, and other disasters, Christians hold special prayers as well as fasts. The main reason for doing so is to plead to God to protect them from any evil because all the bad things are said to be caused by Satan.
The identification of church leaders
Another significance of prayers and fasting can be attributed to the identification of church leaders. For instance, Catholics rely on fervent praying and fasting to get a new Pope. After the death of a Pope, priests who have attained the cardinal level congregate in the Vatican where they conduct prayers as well as fast until a new pope is identified.moreover, fasting is significant to Christianity as it helps them develop spiritual strength. Having a firm religious belief is necessary for ensuring that one does not easily let go of his or her Godly values due to temptation. Temptation occurs in many for example blasphemy, therefore, the Christians belief that a strong spirituality can overcome all these material and earthly desires.
In conclusion, fasting and prayer have been diversified resulting in a more involved audience. The Christians, Jews and Muslims all have different meanings and purpose for doing both. For example, church participation has increased to the extent that mass is held on a daily basis with no restriction of where they are held or how long they take. Technology has played a significant role in how mass is conducted as Christians can participate passively in prayer meetings that could be happening thousands of miles away by watching on television or listening on through the radio. Prayer has now decentralized from the clergy, and members can play a role in mass regardless of age, gender or race. Subsequently, fasting has now been allocated a particular period in a year commonly referred to as Lent which is a personal dedication to one’s relationship with God. However, some issues arose from this research such as how religion and prayer will evolve with time and what impact will technology have on them.
Rugh, A. B. (2016). Introduction: Study Questions and the History of Christianity in Egypt. In Christians in Egypt (pp. 1-12). Palgrave Macmillan US.
Jenkins, J. P. (2014). The lost history of Christianity. HarperCollins e-books. Vine, C. (2015). Prayer and Fasting: A Response to Crisis in Mission. Journal of Adventist Mission Studies, 11(1), 001-008.
Hall, F. (2016). The Fasting Prayer. Ravenio Books. Kautsky, K. (2014). Foundations of Christianity (Routledge Revivals): A Study in Christian Origins. Routledge.
Kautsky, K. (2014). Foundations of Christianity (Routledge Revivals): A Study in Christian Origins. Routledge.
Vine, C. (2015). Prayer and Fasting: A Response to Crisis in Mission. Journal of Adventist Mission Studies, 11(1), 001-008.
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