Summary: Although unusual by todays standards, fasting unleashes the power of God in our prayer life.
During the summer weï¿½ve been going through the book of Acts. Do yourself a favor and read the book of Acts this summer to remind yourself about the power and work of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit moves, things never remain the same, people are never the same, churches are never the same. The Spirit hasnï¿½t changed but often our reliance upon the Spirit, and following the Spirit into uncharted territory does. We need to raise our vision for what God can do in the life of the church. That the Spirit would use us and work in our lives to save the lost, heal the broken, free the captive. Last week we focused on how, when the early Christians prayed together, the power of the Holy Spirit was evident, things changed because Godï¿½s people prayed together. Yet, there is another aspect of prayer, a partner to prayer, which we often overlook because it doesnï¿½t sound very funï¿½fasting.
If youï¿½re like I was, you read right past passages on fasting without even giving it a second thought. I used to argue, ï¿½Fasting just doesnï¿½t make any sense. Why would God want us to starve ourselves? Isnï¿½t food a gift from God that should be appreciated and enjoyed? Isnï¿½t it unhealthy to fast? Donï¿½t we hear of how bad these starvation diets are for our bodies?ï¿½ Yet even with all my arguments I couldnï¿½t get around the fact that Jesus prayed AND fasted, his disciples prayed AND fasted, the early Christians prayed AND fasted. In fact in our passage this morning it is mentioned twice, the Christians in Antioch were worshipping AND fasting when the Holy Spirit spoke, and they continued to pray AND fast before sending off Barnabas and Saul to the mission work the Spirit called them to do. We read later while Barnabas and Saul were on their mission trip they likewise prayed and fasted when they were selecting the leadership in the churches they started. Even with all my arguments, like ï¿½it was just some sort of old fashioned practice,ï¿½ or ï¿½It may have been good for people in the Bible but not for me.ï¿½ Yet, I couldnï¿½t get around the results of fasting and praying either. And I wondered, by ignoring fasting along with my praying am I limiting the work of Godï¿½s Spirit in my life and the church?
Then I came to find out that John Wesley, the founder of the Methodists, urged Methodists to fast and pray every Wednesday and Friday (the traditional days for fasting even in Jesusï¿½ day), and he wouldnï¿½t ordain a Methodist pastor unless he agreed to fast and pray on these days. During his life time the Methodist movement helped bring revival to Great Britain and then to America. Again I canï¿½t help but wondering if we are missing something when we ignore fasting as a spiritual discipline. Even recently I have been hearing from pastors at Cornerstone UMC in Grand Rapids and Gary Step at Indian River who have been sharing their rediscovery of the spiritual practice of fasting, and how God has been blessing them as a result.
Fasting is a voluntary reducing or eliminating your intake of food for a specific amount of time. Perhaps you are wondering like I did, why would God want us to starve ourselves? Itï¿½s not that God wants you to starve, and quite honestly I doubt youï¿½ll be worse for the wear if you do fast (if you know what I mean, that is unless you have some medical condition like diabetes). But fasting has long been a spiritual practice first by Jews then by many Christians because it forces us to forgo the physical so we can focus on the spiritual. By fasting we are passing on a physical nourishment to rely on spiritual nourishment from God and not on the things of this world. When we fast we are humbling ourselves before him and we are depending upon God for our strength. If you think this sounds crazy, consider Jesusï¿½ words to the devil when the devil tempted him with food after he had fasted in the desert/wilderness for 40 days, Jesus replied to the devil, ï¿½man does not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.ï¿½ On another occasion Jesus hadnï¿½t eaten anything for quite a while and his disciples tried to get him to eat, but Jesusï¿½ response was, ï¿½I have food to eat that you know nothing about.ï¿½ ï¿½My foodï¿½ is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work (John 4:32, 34).ï¿½
Fasting does not have to just be abstaining from food though. It could be abstaining from anything worldly, things of this earth, so we can focus on the things of the Spirit. It could be abstaining from watching television, eating certain kinds of food (i.e. comfort foods like snacks, desserts, ice cream or chocolate or chips), or withdrawing from certain actions like gossip, complaining, being cynical, . The spiritual benefits are directly related to the type of fast. Whatever kind of fast God might call us to do we should use the time we would have spent doing that activity with God. Just because you arenï¿½t eating doesnï¿½t make it any more spiritual. For example, you might fast from food when you go in for surgery but that doesnï¿½t make it a means of grace, when we spend that time focusing on God in prayer or reading Scripture is when it is spiritual and God multiplies his grace.