Matthew 6:16 - “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full."
Richard Foster reminds us, “In a culture where the landscape is dotted with shrines to the Golden Arches and an assortment of Pizza Temples, fasting seems out of place, out of step with the times." We are told that we need to have three meals a day in order to be whole. So this craze for fast food, fast lives, and a disregard for self-discipline lead to lives in disrepair. Most of us, whether we have grown up in the church or are new to the church, do not understand fasting or even know that it is something that the Bible talks about. It is because we live in a get it now, and get as much as you can kind of culture that fasting doesn’t fit in our value system as Americans.
How many sermons have we heard about fasting?. I hear plenty about prayer and even more about giving, but fasting?
The reason is obvious. We live in a culture that teaches that if we want something we can have something. Our economy depends on the fact that people will indulge themselves and Christians, because of our denial of the call of Christ to not conform, but to be transformed, have joined in. We are just like the Israelites in the time of the prophet Amos 6:1-7. We are that nation. We have forsaken our dependence upon God for dependence on our money. It is the root of all kinds of evil and the American church and Christians are fat and complacent and it is time for a change.
Why? We practice the outward disciplines of giving. In our culture that is fairly easy. A tithe here or there makes us feel good about ourselves. We practice the upward discipline of prayer. Mostly we try and convince God to give us what we want or to get out of our way so we can have it. But we would not even conceive of practicing the inward discipline of self-denial or fasting.
When our nation was in a time of crisis our Christian President comes on national television and urges Americans to support their country by going to the stores and spending money. Contrast that with the king of Britain calling for a national day of prayer and fasting because of a threatened invasion by the French in 1756. We have pledged our allegiance to the god of materialism and we worship with our songs of consumerism and our instruments are our cash and credit cards.
Jesus says, “When you fast…” Just like prayer and giving, the assumption is made that fasting will be an intimate practice in the life of the disciple. Jesus is not suggesting that we do it, he is instructing us on how to do it when we do it. Most of us have never made fasting a regular part of your pursuit of holiness.
Fasting is our opportunity to deny the world’s prompting for more and to embrace a life of simplicity and contentment with God. It is a doorway into a life of joy and peace that most Christians have only read about. Yet it is God’s desire for all of His children to see and experience this same depth of connection, but a relationship that few of us ever find.
What is fasting? Practically speaking, fasting is the self-denial of food for a time of focus with God. It is a time of self-denial and an opportunity to build self-control and self-discipline. The Pharisees fasted twice a week, usually on Tuesday and Thursday, but the manner in which they fasted was neither self-denying nor for building self-control. What it really amounted to was self-inflicted agony. They wanted people to see them and to revel in their holiness. They would fast on the days that people were going to market and they would not wash or comb their hair so as to show the depth of their affliction all the while wanted people to notice them.
In the OT, the Israelites were commanded to fast once a year. It was on the Day of Atonement. The day that they were to corporately repent of their sins before God. Leviticus 23:26-32. Deny yourself. The Bible in both the OT and NT is full of examples of fasting.
Moses – Fasted on Mt. Sinai after God renewed his covenant with Israel.
Nehemiah – assembled the people with fasting to confess their sins.
Nineveh – The people fasted and confessed after the message of Jonah.
Daniel, Esther, Ezra, Paul, the church at Antioch in Acts, and Jesus himself all fasted.
Fasting was practiced during times of repentance of sin and during times of special need. It was done corporately and individually and it is so clear in Scripture, that it is hard to believe why anyone would not fast. Yet we find ourselves in that category.
The Purpose – Fasting is the opportunity to have a much more intense focus in our prayers. It is a time when we fix our eyes on God, and recognize our dependence on Him and worship Him by denying ourselves the most basic need that we have. By denying ourselves something so necessary, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to rely on the sustenance of heaven. For any other reason, fasting is useless. People fast for a variety of reasons, but if it is not primarily focused on being attentive to and worshipping God, it is vain religious garbage. In all of the disciplines, intimacy/relationship/ fellowship with God is the goal.
The Occasion – We are invited to fast regularly. It should be an intimate part of our lives, just like our prayers and our giving. We should have time in our lives where we fast and pray and deny ourselves of food in order to be sustained by God.
How to Fast – Some practical steps:
1. Examine your motivation. Don’t fast because everyone else is, or because you need something from God, or because you want to loose weight. Make sure that your motives are pure, to see God.
2. Set some time aside. Just do it.
3. Start small and then build. Don’t start with a 40 day fast, start with one meal. Then, as you see the benefits and the fruit, extend the fast. When going beyond a day or two, prayerfully consider your motivation for extended fasts. Why am doing this? Is it to say that I am super Christian, or because God is leading me to this level of obedience.
4. Drink plenty of water. Some people fast with juice. There are only a handful of occasions of absolute fasting in the Scriptures so don’t go there unless you are clearly led to by God.
5. Don’t load up before the fast and binge immediately following the fast. If your fast is extended, break your fast with fruit and juice, not steak. Don’t use extremes either before or after.
6. During your fast, pray. In Scripture, the two go hand in hand. It is a time to examine ourselves and allow God to examine us as well. If it your fast is for one meal, try and find a quiet spot where you can be with God.
7. Listen. God will speak to you in your self-denial.
8. Sparingly tell anyone you are fasting, don’t announce that you won’t be joining them for lunch just keep it between you and God.
The Fruits of the Fast – What should we expect from a fast? Interestingly, at first you will probably be angry and easily frustrated. You do not know how much your stomach controls you until you do not run to the cupboard or the drive through every time it barks. Because we feed ourselves each and every time we are hungry, our bodies are not used to existing, even for a short amount of time without being fed. It will effect every part of you. Your spirit will be uneasy, your attitude will probably be bad and you will most likely feel bad, this is good.
You are being made aware of the false dependencies you have. Many of your thought that last weeks message didn’t apply to you. You believe you are content. Yet when you go for a day or even a meal without food, you realize just how discontent you are. If you are aggravated, irritated, angered with others when you deny yourself, you see how truly discontent you are.
Anytime we deny ourselves, we are made aware of other parts of our lives where we are selfish. We see that in just denying ourselves one meal, that there are brothers and sisters all over this world and even in our city who also go without food, but not because they want to, because they have to. Self-denial is a vehicle to opening our eyes to how many real folks live.
We shouldn’t stop there. We must recognize the injustices that are everywhere and as God’s chosen people, to seek and participate in restoring heavenly justice in our earthly realm.
The fruits of our fast will go directly to help those who are in need. No one will know who we are or where it came from. If 500 took our $3 and each week shared that with our brothers and sisters who were hungry, naked, and without a home, that would be close to $72,000 this time next year.
Who is ready to walk the talk?
Coastal Community Church P.O. Box 1701 - Portland, Maine 04104 | 207.885.5820 | firstname.lastname@example.org :: following Jesus together ::