Summary: Message based on Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.
Fasting for Spiritual Growth
June 5, 2005
About a year and a half ago, I began preaching through the gospel of Matthew. And except for some occasions when I felt God was leading me to preach about some other things as kind of a "pause" on our walk through Matthew, that’s what I’ve done.
One of the reasons I’m preaching through Matthew is that it’s simply a wonderful account of the life and teachings of Jesus.
Another reason is that as we go through each passage of the book, we are forced to look at things that maybe we wouldn’t necessarily like to deal with. But since Jesus deals with it, we need to deal with it.
A third reason is that I am forced to really look at the book, maybe as never before, to not only find what it’s saying, but how to make it real for you and me.
And every once in a while I come across a passage where I end up preaching to myself as much, and maybe even more than you all. Today’s message is one of those.
My guess is that fasting is probably not in the top 10 of everyone’s to do list today or even this year. Am I right?
I know some of you fast on occasion, and maybe some of you even do so regularly.
I’ll be frank with you - I don’t do it nearly enough, and I believe that God wants me to make it more a part of my life, just as he wants to be more a part of your life.
A lot of what I’m going to be sharing with you today is from two resources. One is the book, Celebration of Discipline, by Richard J. Foster. The other is 7 Basic Steps to Successful Fasting and Prayer, by the late Bill Bright, found of Campus Crusade for Christ.
As I was researching the material for this message, these books were referenced a number of times. So I figured, "hey - why not listen to the wisdom of some great men of God and share some of the lessons they gleaned?"
I’m not merely quoting from their books, by the way, and quite honestly, we’re only going to scratch the surface of everything there is to know about this very important topic.
But what I’m sharing will be a bit of a compilation, as well as my own thoughts as I read and prayed about this.
But let’s start by looking at the passage that forms the basis of our message today. It’s Matthew 6:16-18, and it’s printed in your note-taking guide. Please follow along as I read it.
"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."
Note: Jesus expects us to fast as part of our on-going relationship with him.
As with giving to the needy, back in the first part of chapter 6, Jesus says, "when" you fast, not "if" you fast.
I’ll stop short of saying it’s a command, because quite frankly, there is no command in Scripture to fast. Just as Jesus didn’t say, "if you fast," neither did he say, "You must fast."
Fasting is mentioned throughout all of Scripture. Many of God’s people fasted at various times, and of course, we have the example of Jesus himself fasting for 40 days as he was beginning his public ministry.
But just what do we mean by fasting? Let me give you one of the best definitions I’ve seen -
Fasting means to lay aside any pleasurable and/or vital activity for a period of time in order to intensely pursue God and know His mind with the intent of obeying His revealed will. (SermonCentral.com - From "Fasting Made Simple" by Dan Borchert)
The focus of all this, by the way is God, not you!
Anyone remember the opening sentence of chapter one of The Purpose Driven Life? "It’s not about you." The same goes for fasting.
As with giving to the needy, the right thing can be done for the wrong reason. Fasting isn’t done primarily for your benefit, but to prepare you to be used by God. Remember our definition of fasting?
It’s one of those things we call "spiritual disciplines," or those activities we can do to open ourselves up to God.
In the Wesleyan Church we also call these things, "means of grace." This doesn’t mean that you earn God’s favor by doing them. It simply means that you open yourself up to the grace of God more as you take part in activities like prayer, devotions, worship, fellowship, and fasting.