Summary: Fasting develops our hunger for more of God
Being Hungry for God
August 26, 2007
It was January 1991 and I was taking one of the most challenging classes I took during college would have to be Studies in Contemporary Ministries. The class was not difficult because of papers or anything work related. It was a difficult class emotionally. Part of the class was to challenge our level of compassion and commitment to serving others. The other part of the class was practical application of what we learned in Washington DC.
We spent 14 days in Washington and visited a variety of ministries that had ministries ranging from the homeless to ministering to the members of congress. It was truly eye opening. One of the most unusual requirements of the class was being dropped in the city for the day with one dollar in our pockets. To make the situation more realistic we were told not to eat anything the night before. We were to experience hunger on a small scale. It was this required “fast” that changed my perspective on ministry. It was during this day that I learned something of what it meant to hunger for God.
This morning I want to explore this concept of hungering for God through the spiritual discipline of fasting. If you have your Bibles with you, please open them to Matthew 6:16-18
16 "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18
The Background and Importance of Fasting
Before I focus on this passage I want to give you some of the background on fasting and why it was such an important part of the Hebrew worship.
What is fasting?
To fast means to abstain and most references in the Bible refer to the abstaining from food.
Fasting is then the abstaining from some vital activity for a length of time to pursue drawing closer to God. The goal is to more deeply know Him and His will for your life.
Fasting held a crucial key in Hebrew spirituality. The Old testament gives a number of clear references about the need for fasting and clear examples of fasting in the lives of those who followed God.
Two Types of fasts
Public or group – There were times when the entire nation or segments of the Hebrew population would spend time fasting and praying.
Private – This was a voluntary act of spiritual discipline revealing a desire to know God more deeply.
Reasons for Fasting
i. David – news of Saul and Jonathan being killed
ii. Nehemiah – news of the walls of Jerusalem
iii. Darius – Night Daniel was cast into the Lion’s den
1.) Times of war
ii. Samuel called one during the Philistine wars
2.) Times of national crisis or concern
i. Before the return from captivity
ii. Esther and the Hebrews in Susa
iii. Ninevah fasted after hearing the message of Jonah
3.) Times of national grief
i. 7 day fast after the burial of Saul and Jonathan
ii. During the 70 year exile group fasts took place during the 5th and 7th months – This commemorated the siege and fall of Jerusalem
The New Testament is also filled with many examples of fasting.
• Jesus fasted before being tempted by Satan
• Anna the Prophetess regularly fasted
• The Apostles fasted following the death and resurrection of Jesus
• Cornelius was fasting and praying before Peter came to share the gospel with him
• Early Church Leaders fasted before they sent Paul and Barnabas out on their first missionary journey
• Paul made it a regular practice to fast
The Means of Fasting
This is the issue of surrender. Fasting must include some form of surrender to pursue more of God. Notice that Jesus uses the word when and not if. There is a clear expectation from Jesus to His followers that they fast. Why does this so concern Jesus?
1.) Fasting is a means of deeper spiritual growth
2.) Fasting is a means of genuine humility
3.) Fasting is a means of self sacrifice
It seems clear that Jesus makes fasting the central issue of this passage but there is a larger issue at hand. Look at Matthew 6:16 again. Jesus uses some extremely strong language calling some people hypocrites.
Jesus uses this word three different times in Matthew 6. The word hypocrite appears in verse 2, 5 and 16. Fasting was not the problem but rather a symptom. Jesus is dealing with the issue of spiritual pride in three different areas. These areas are giving to the needy, praying and finally fasting. The problem that Jesus is dealing with is one of manner and motive in private spiritual disciplines. The Pharisees were using private disciplines as a public display of piety. In other words, they were being spiritual and showing off. Private fasts were being declared publicly.