Summary: Fasting has been misused by mystics and sometimes remained a mystery to many committed Christians. Although opinions are mixed on the issue, I believe we can carve out a Biblical position that, while perhaps incomplete, will lay a good foundation.
(Matthew 9: 14-15)
1. This is perhaps the most awful pun you will hear.
2. Mahatma Gandhi went around barefoot quite often, and eventually his soles turned very tough and thick. Of course he also was a devout Hindu.
Later in life he also fasted a lot, becoming thin and frail-looking, and fasting tends to give a person horrible-smelling breath.
Gandhi was a super-calloused-fragile-mystic-hexed-by-halitosis.
3. Fasting, like prayer, is a spiritual activity done by adherent of many religions, and is perhaps part of our instinctive knowledge.
4. Still some people know so little about fasting, they think it means eating fast food.
Sort of sounds right, doesn’t it?
5. Some of you may know more about the subject than me, but all of us need to understand it, at least at an elemental level.
Main Idea: Fasting has been misused by mystics and sometimes remained a mystery to many committed Christians. Although opinions are mixed on the issue, I believe we can carve out a Biblical position that, while perhaps incomplete, will lay a good foundation.
I. FASTING Brings With It Some Temptations
Degrading Christianity from heartfelt convictions and devotion to mechanical acts that keep God at bay is the norm throughout history. This is what happens when churches are led by people who are not born-again and do not have a vital relationship with God.
A. DISPLACE a heart for God with rituals (Isaiah 58:5-6)
“Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
B. Gain spiritual STATUS (Matthew 6:16)
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
C. Help guard the WAISTLINE or for health reasons
D. Attempting to CONTROL God
E. A false belief that DENYING the body strengthens the soul (Colossians 2:20-23)
“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
II. What is a FAST?
A. A time in which we abstain from all food for SPIRITUAL purposes.
B. Different periods, usually from SUNRISE to sunset.
C. Avoiding a certain food is NOT fasting.
D. Always includes additional time to PRAY and relate to God
E. Only day God commanded a regular fast, Day of ATONEMENT (Leviticus 16:29ff)
III. REASONS for Fasting
A. A personal CRISIS (2 Samuel 12:16-18, David and child)
B. Looming DISASTER (Esther 4:3, 16)
C. Repentance (returning to God) or HUMBLING oneself (Jonah 3:6-10)
Don Green writes: “Notice the common thread from those examples, which could be multiplied from other Old Testament passages. Those who were fasting were faced with extreme circumstances of impending death or God’s imminent judgment. Greatly distressed and conscious of their utter helplessness, they suspended their normal eating habits in an urgent, extraordinary seeking of God who alone could deliver them from their distress.
In other words, their fasting naturally flowed from profound spiritual urgency. It was not the product of routine spiritual ritual. It expressed deep dependence on God in times of uncommon anguish. In Joel 2:12-13we read:
“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil.”
D. To FOCUS prayer (prayer AND fasting) — adds a certain intensity
Charles Spurgeon said this, “There is a treatise by an old Puritan, called, ‘The soul-fattening institution of fasting,’ and he gives us his own experience that during a fast he has felt more intense eagerness of soul in prayer than he had ever done at any other time. Some of you, dear friends, may get to the boiling-point in prayer, without fasting. I do think that others cannot...”
E. To seek God’s GUIDANCE (Acts 13:2-3)
Jesus fasting in the wilderness to prepare for ministry, but also probably seeking the Father’s guidance. Elijah fasted 40 days before he heard that still small voice…