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What Classic Spiritual Discipline Needs the Most Renewal Among American Christians?
Illustration by Amanda Duffy
What Classic Spiritual Discipline Needs the Most Renewal Among American Christians?

Fasting

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a pastor, cofounder of the Rutba House, and author of The Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice a Common Faith.

In learning the spiritual disciplines practiced by ancient leaders of the faith, we also learn discernment. We need different disciplines at different times. Like apprentices in the master's workshop, we must learn what work is most needed and what tool can best do the job. One tool particularly useful to us today is the discipline of fasting.

Christians in America often express two deep desires. We long for a community where we know we belong. Stretched by fast-paced work, a high-tech social life, and a constant flood of information, Americans feel fragmented and alone. We ache for home.

At the same time, our hearts also cry out for justice. We who have experienced God's love know that this same love connects us to child soldiers in Africa, sex slaves in Asia, and the stranger on our block. More than any time since the late 1800s, justice has become a rallying cry, especially among young evangelicals.

But even as we long for our true home and the justice that makes for peace, we struggle to act each moment on our truest desires. We are often consumed by anxiety about image, fear about the future, and desires for cheap comfort and instant gratification. A thousand forces conspire to distract us from our truest desires every day.

For this reason, I'm convinced that fasting is the spiritual discipline we most need to renew today. In his most famous sermon, Jesus talks about fasting immediately after his introduction of the Lord's Prayer, suggesting that the former should be as common as the latter. Before Jesus began his public ministry, the Gospels ...

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