More than 200 students at the University of Texas are 7 days into a 21-day fast. Why are we doing this?  It’s not because we thought it would be neat.  It’s not because we were looking for something else to do together.

Its because several college pastors recognized sin and distraction in their ministries  (including themselves) and wanted to repent by calling their students to more intentionally seek God through fasting and prayer.  This is a Biblical response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Joel recognized sin and distraction in his day and called the people of God to fast too.

Fasting and Repentance

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Joel 2:12

Fasting is a part of genuine repentance.  You do not have to fast to be authentically repentant, but fasting helps repentance, as does weeping and mourning.  You see it in the Old Testament when Josiah repents (II Chronicles 34), when Rehoboam repents (I Kings 21), when the Ninevites repent (Jonah 3), and dozens of other times.

This is not just an Old Testament idea either.  The New Testament describes physical responses that accompany repentance too. James says, “Grieve, mourn, wail.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom (James 4:9).”  Paul writes about the sorrowful repentance as being genuine repentance (II Corinthians 7).

Fasting assists us in our repentance.  Stripping common distractions from our lives such as food an entertainment give us a better opportunity to reflect on the true state of our souls.

Call to a Corporate Fast

Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, declare a sacred assembly. Joel 2:15

It’s Biblical for leaders to call a “holy fast” whenever they recognize the need to do so. “Blowing the trumpet” was a sign in that day to gather the people for war.  It meant, “we’re under attack!”  Joel goes on to describe who should be gathered together in this urgent time: the elders, the children, the priest, and even those just engage (literally those in their honeymoon suite!).  Everyone should be a part of this fast.

It may surprise you to know that the bulk of fasting described in scripture is corporate in nature, not individual.  Even when you see an individual fasting in the Bible, they then often call their whole community to fast with them afterward.  Jesus’s command to not “fast before men” in Matthew 6 is more about the motives to which people participated in their corporate fast than it is an instruction to fast individually without people knowing.   The Biblical pattern is actually to fast together as a community.

Justin Christopher is the director of Campus Renewal Ministries at the University of Texas and author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.