Theme: Fasting for spiritual results.
Text: Matthew 6:16-18
“Moreover, when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.”
In this lesson we will look at some various aspects of fasting and attempt to clear-up some mis-conceptions that some Christians have about it. The question is often asked, “What is the place of fasting in the Christians’ life?” The purpose of this study is to answer this question and to bring understanding as to what Biblical fasting is about.
I Fasting Has A History To It.
To this day, fasting has been an essential part of the religious life of the Mid-eastern culture.
In the Mohammedan religion, fasting is so important they claim it to be one of the four pillars of the Mohammedan faith. The Mohammedan strictly keep the feast of Ramadan, which falls in the 9th month of the Mohammedan year and which commemorates the first revelation which came to Mohammad. The fast last from dawn to sunset Many followers take a 30 day fast every year.
The Jewish fasting custom was similar. It lasted from dawn till sunset. Outside that time normal meals could be eaten. For the Jew, there was only one compulsory fast; the fast on the Day of Atonement. On that day, from morning to evening all men had to “afflict themselves” (fast) Lev. 16:31. Later, owing to certain national emergencies, the people themselves appointed certain additional fasts. There was a fast connected with mourning. Between the time of death and the burial, mourners must abstain from all flesh and wine. There were many cases of fasting as an act of national penitence. Judges 20:26, the whole nation fasted after the disaster of the Civil War with Benjamin.I Sam. 7:6, Samuel made the people fast because they had strayed away after Baal. Neh. 9:1, Nehemiah made the people fast and confess their sins. Again and again the nation fasted as a sign of National penitence before God. Sometimes fasting was a preparation for revelation.
Moses, on the mountain, fasted for 40 days and 40 nights (Ex. 24:15). Daniel fasted as he awaited God’s answer to his prayer (Dan. 9:3). Sometimes fasting was an appeal to God. For instance, the rains failed and the harvest was in jeopardy, a national fast would be called as an appeal to God. In Jewish fasting, there were really three main ideas in the minds of those fasting.
- Number one fasting was a deliberate attempt to draw the attention of God to the people who were fasting.
- Secondly, fasting was a deliberate attempt to prove that penitence was real. Fasting was the person’s guarantee of the sincerity of their words and prayers.
- Thirdly, a great deal of fasting was vicarious. It was not designed to save a man’s soul so much as to move God to liberate a nation from its distresses. In the time period between Malachi and Jesus there arose a religious group called the Pharisees. They became the self appointed keepers of the law of God and even added a few small addendums to it. The Pharisees practiced fasting. They made it a point to fast twice a week although they were never commanded to do so by God. But they did fast and made it a vital part of their religion every Monday and Thursday. Many Pharisees flaunted their fasting wanting people to admire their piety. The actions of the Pharisees motivated Jesus to speak Matthew 6: 16-18.
II. New Testament Fasting
What is biblical fasting? Biblically thinking, fasting is abstaining from solid food for religious and spiritual purposes and must be separated from the purely physical aspect of fasting. In its simplest form, fasting means being so consumed with a matter that it becomes more important than food. Therefore, the person deliberately sets food aside for a time in order to concentrate on seeking God about the matter. Biblical fasting means much more than just abstaining from food. It means to abstain from food in order to prayfully concentrate upon God and His response to a particular need. To be a biblical fast producing spiritual results it must be accompanied with time in the Word of God and intensive prayer. Some people, when fasting, fail to receive all its benefits because they do not press their way into the prayer closet enough while fasting. When fasting, prayer is very very important. Pray as much as possible, as long as possible, as fervently as possible. Prayer makes fasting easier and enjoyable. Fasting makes prayer more powerful and purposeful. What about water in a fast? Is water food? Webster defines food as follows: [Food] – nutrient – nourishment in solid form.
Food and water are two different things. To do without water is not fasting, but thirsting. Thirsting means “a great desire to drink.” It is a medical fact that for health reasons it is very important that large quantities of fluid be consumed into the body while fasting. Doctors maintain that some food particles remain in the intestinal tract for up to a month. These unassimilated particles require a great deal of water to break them down and soften them so they can be eliminated from the body. Water works at flushing out your kidneys and cleansing out the toxins of the body. Without water, when fasting, the body system would choke up and a person would get into bad shape. There are four essentials necessary to exist in life.
I list them in the order of importance:
- 1. air
- 3. sleep
- 4. food
III. Why Should I Fast There are certain benefits to fasting and God wants His people to reap these benefits. Fasting brings the believer in the presence of God. One is fasting in order to seek God’s presence for a very special purpose. The person remains in God’s presence until they feel God has or is surely going to meet that need. Fasting humbles the believer’s soul before God. It is saying that God is the most important person in the entire world. Fasting teaches the believer their dependency upon God. They are seeking God and in so doing they are demonstrating their convictions that only God can supply what is needed. Fasting is good for self-discipline. It is easy to become almost completely self-indulgent. It is easy to come to a stage when we deny ourselves nothing when it is in our power to have it. We should be the master of our desires and wishes and not vice-versa. Fasting helps the believer to not become the slaves of habit. There are not a few who indulge in certain habits because they find it impossible to stop them. They have become so essential they cannot break them. Fasting breaks the chains and helps one master the habit. Fasting is good for the believer’s health. It helps a person stay physically fit by bringing them to the place where they eat to live and not live to eat.
IV. Should All Christians Fast?
If there are no medical reasons prohibiting it – the answer is yes. Jesus never taught fasting directly, but He certainly taught it indirectly. In Matthew 9 Jesus was asked the question specifically about fasting. “Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?” Jesus answer does not knock or discredit fasting. It sounded like He was an advocate of fasting. In Matthew 6: 1-18 Jesus gave instructions to His disciples on three related duties.
It appears He assumed that the disciples would practice all three of these duties. Notice that not once did Jesus say if but always when. Alms giving, prayer and fasting is presented in these verses as something right and good for His disciples to do.
Jesus endorsed fasting not only by His teaching but also by His example. Jesus Himself practiced fasting (Matthew 4:2). Jesus joined Moses and Elijah in fasting for 40 days and nights. Notice that the Scripture states that Jesus did not eat at all, but it does not state that He didn’t drink water.
The book of Acts record that fasting was practiced regularly by the early church.
1. Setting apart of Paul and Barnabas for missionary ministry (Acts 13:2).
2. Ordaining elders in the churches that were established (Acts 14:23).
3. Paul fasted – “in labors, in watchings, and fastings” (2 Cor. 6:5).
4. The early church fasted collectively and privately.
V. When Should I Fast?
There are at least five times when the believer should fast. 1. There are times when the believer feels a special pull, an urge, and a call within his heart to get alone with God. This is God’s Spirit moving within his heart. When this happens, nothing – not food – not responsibility should keep the believer from getting alone with God. One should go into a fast as soon as possible. 2. There are times when special needs arise. The needs may concern the believer’s own life or the life of loved ones or friends or some ministry, even the community around them. Again, nothing should keep the believer from spending a very special time in God’s presence when facing such pressing needs. 3. There are times when the believer needs to humble his soul before God. At such times, one will learn not only humility, but also dependence upon God. 4. There are times when the believer needs a very special power from God. The Lord promised such power if the believer prayed and fasted (Matthew 17:21). 5. There are times when a believer needs to definitely know the will of God and receive direction for their life.
VI. What Do I Do In Preparation For a Fast?
Make sure you have the right motive in fasting. There are four basic reasons that can motivate a believer to fast and all but one is the wrong motive.
1. To gain a sense of God’s approval or man’s admiration for our spirituality
2. To fulfill a religious act, fasting merely for the sake of doing it because it is expected of us.
3. To gain religious recognition, thinking it makes us appear super spiritual to others.
4. To genuinely meet God for some special purpose. Of course, number four is the correct motive. Fasting is something we do because we want to reach a higher realm of prayer to God or a deeper meditation or intense intercession.
We need to have the right mental attitude toward God and fasting when we enter into a fast. It should be an attitude of positive faith, having a mindset that says, “It is God’s will that I fast and He will bless me as I do it.” In fasting, just as in prayer, we approach God on the basis of faith in who He is and what He has promised. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Our fasting is to be done without wanting to openly advertise it to others. We are fasting before God – not men. We should not deliberately change our appearance or behavior to indicate to others that we are fasting. Meeting God and receiving from Him is the object of the fast. Why should we consider it necessary that any one know we are fasting? Jesus said, “fast unto thy Father in secret…and He shall reward thee openly.”
VII. How Long Do I Fast?
It all depends upon what kind of fast you are on. The length of time you fast will be determined by the reason you are fasting and your experience in fasting. There are three different kinds of fasting.
1. Partial fast – In this fast a certain meal each day is omitted and the quantity of food and drink consumed is restricted. Daniel 10:3, “I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered by mouth.”
2. Complete fast – In this fast a person does not eat or drink liquid of any kind. This kind of fast is not to exceed three days. Acts 9:9, “And he was without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.” Esther 4:16, “Go gather together all the Jews… and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days: I also and my handmaidens will fast likewise.”
3. Regular fast – During a regular fast we abstain from all foods and drink, except water. Water is necessary to flush out the toxins. Matthew 4:2, “And when he had fasted forty days and nights he was afterward hungered.” Nothing is stated about being thirsty so we assume that Jesus drank water.
VIII. How Should I Break a Fast?
Break a fast carefully. The longer the fast the more gradually you must break it. This is where real self-control comes into effect. When you start to eat again your hunger comes back. This is when you really must curb your appetite. Always begin with a light meal even if you have fasted only a short time. Don’t begin with anything cooked, greasy, fat or heavy. It is best to begin with a salad, fruit and juice. As a result of fasting, even if it’s only a couple of days, your stomach will have contracted. It is not wise to expand it again as it was before the fast. Most people in Western Civilization have over expanded stomachs. You will find that as you start eating after a fast, you will begin to feel full sooner than you would have before you fasted. Habit will cause you to want to go on eating the rest of the meal, wisdom says, “Why not stop her? You’ve had enough.”
IX. Biblical Examples of Fasting and Prayer That Brought Deliverance and Victory.
1. Jehoshaphat – 2 Chronicles 20: 1-30
2. Ezra’s safe conduct – Ezra 8: 21-23
3. Esther – Israel saved – Esther 4
4. Nineveh spared – Jonah 3: 4-10
X.What Fasting Does Not Do.
1. Fasting does not inspire or provoke God to love us.
2. Fasting doesn’t make God enjoy us more. In Zeph. 3:17 God says that He exalts over us with shouts of joy.
3. Fasting does not give more of God to us, but more of us to God.
4. We don’t fast so that God will forgive us. Repentance brings forgiveness.
5. Fasting is not a substitute for obedience.
6. Fasting is not meritorious