Summary: Sermon focused on fasting
BREAK FORTH LIKE THE DAWN
There was a man who went into see his doctor. He was overweight and the doctor wanted to see if fasting would produce any results for him. “I want you to eat regularly for 2 days, skip a day, and then repeat that for 2 weeks. Eat for 2 days, skip a day, and then repeat. The next time I see you, you should have lost about 5 pounds and gotten control of your appetite.
After 2 weeks, the man returned to his doctor and he had lost nearly 60 pounds! The doctor was utterly astonished. “That is amazing, did you follow my instructions?”
“I did,” the man said, “but I thought I was going to drop dead on that third day.”
“From the hunger you mean?” the doctor asked.
“No, all the skipping around!”
This morning we are going to dig into the subject of fasting. What is “fasting?” That might be a word that you have heard before, but really don’t know anything about it. You probably have fasted before getting blood drawn or having surgery, but when we speak about fasting in a spiritual context, it is the same, but a little bit different.
“Fasting” is when we “abstain in some significant way from food and possibly drink as well” (Willard pg. 166). More specifically, in the Bible, “fasting refers to abstaining from food for spiritual purposes” (Foster pg. 48). It is that last part, the purpose, which sets Christian fasting apart from hunger strikes, dieting, or not eating before surgery which could all be called fasts. There is a great spiritual purpose behind fasting for the believer in Christ and there are great benefits.
Before we get a little further, I want to mention what “fasting” is not. Fasting is not deciding to skip TV for awhile. Fasting is not deciding not to log into Facebook or Twitter or use the internet for an extended period of time. Fasting is not skipping shopping, listening to music, not being critical, or skipping hot showers. I am so sorry, but fasting is tied to the physical body and the spirit and is a discipline that connects those two parts of us. Removing TV or music or computers from our lives is not specifically the same thing.
In order to frame fasting for us, I want us to read from Isaiah 58 which has much to say about proper fasting before God. I selected this passage long ago and realized as I was digging deeper into it that Isaiah 58 is rich with so much meaning. Let’s read Isaiah 58 today in three sections and discover God’s truths for us about fasting.
I. UNDERSTANDING (verses 1-5)
READ ISAIAH 58:1-5
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. 2 For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. 3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’. “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. 4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?”
In this first section of Isaiah 58 we find Isaiah giving a message like a trumpet to the people of God. It is a message declared loudly to anyone who would listen.
The verses begin with phrases like “day after day they seek me out” and “they seem eager to know my ways” and “seem eager for God to come near” which give us, as we begin reading the passage, three purposes for fasting. I found it very helpful that three purposes for fasting were presented in this part of the passage. Each one of these is specifically mentioned in this passage and gives us good solid directions on when and why you and I should fast:
First, we fast so that we can seek God to know Him to follow His commands. God is not always easily understood. He is not easily understood because He is not like us and His ways are far above our understanding (Isaiah 55:8-9). One way that we can seek after understanding about what God has said, what He has done, or what He is doing is through fasting. Fasting, prayer, and reading His Word combined is a manner God has outlined to know Him and follow His commands.