Summary: This message examines the 40 times fasting is found in the Bible and discovers that fasting is not for the super spiritual, but for the super-sorrowful, most often because they realize they are super-sinners.
Fasting Is Not for Super-Saints
One day, Kathy Cash’s husband, of Dallas, Texas, announced to the family that he was going to fast and pray. Ginny, their 5-year-old, had recently learned that fasting meant not eating.
“No!” she shouted. “You can’t fast! You’ll die!”
Her dad carefully explained that many men and women fasted in Bible times.
Ginny paused a moment. Then, with a flash of insight, she blurted out, “And they all died.” (Kathy Cash, Dallas, TX, Today’s Christian Woman, “Heart to Heart”)
Little Ginny didn’t really understand what fasting was all about, and the whole idea scared her. Quite frankly, I think that’s where many of us are at. We don’t really understand what fasting is all about, and the idea scares some of us, doesn’t it? It sounds like something only monks and nuns do in monasteries, something too weird for us “regular folks.”
Recently, I’ve had an opportunity to study all the passages in the Bible that reference fasting in one way or another – 35 in all. Actually the word itself is used about 40 times in the Bible. And I was quite surprised at what I found.
I used to think of fasting as a religious exercise (or spiritual discipline) reserved only for the super-spiritual. I thought only the super-saints did this, and those who were really super-spiritual fasted for 40 days and 40 nights!
Just the opposite is true. It is NOT the super-saints who fast in the Bible. It is NOT the super-spiritual. It is the super-sorrowful who fast, and often because they are super-sinners.
FASTING IS FOR THE DESPONDENT.
A brief look at the following biblical passages on fasting clearly demonstrate this to be the case.
In Judges 20:26 we have the first reference to fasting in all the Bible. It is in a book that talks about a constant cycle of sin, judgment and rescue, sin, judgment and rescue. And on the down-side of one of these cycles, it says, “They sat weeping before the Lord. They fasted that day until evening…” (NIV)
1 Samuel 7:2-6 Israel mourned and sought after the Lord… On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” (NIV)
2 Samuel 1:11-12 They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan…because they had fallen by the sword. (NIV)
2 Samuel 12:15-25 David “fasted and wept” over a sick child.
1 Kings 21:27-29 Ahab, a wicked king, “put on sackcloth (a sign of extreme grief) and fasted.” Why? Because God had pronounced judgment on his wickedness.
In Nehemiah 1:4, when Nehemiah heard about the broken-down condition of Jerusalem’s walls, he says, “I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (NIV)
Nehemiah 9:1 The Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads (NIV) – again, a sign of extreme grief.
Esther 4:1-3 There was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes. (NIV)
Psalm 35:13-14, David says, “I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting… I went about mourning… I bowed my head in grief as though weeping for my mother.” (NIV)
In Psalm 69:10, David talks about a time, “When I weep and fast.” (NIV)
In Psalm 109:22-24, David says, “My heart is wounded… My knees give way from fasting.” (NIV)
In Daniel 9:3, Daniel says, “I…pleaded with [God] in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes” (NIV) – remember, a sign of extreme grief.
Joel 1:13-14 says, “Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn… Declare a holy fast,” (NIV) because judgment is about to come.
Jonah 3:5 says that when the Ninevites heard Jonah’s message of judgment, “They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.” (NIV)
Zechariah 7 talks about “mourning and fasting” and “fasting and mourning.” (NIV)
In Matthew 9:14-15, Jesus is asked, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (NIV) I.e., then they will mourn.
Fasting is inextricably linked to mourning in the Bible. It’s an expression of extreme sadness – not of extreme spirituality. In fact, it is inappropriate to fast when you’re glad. It is inappropriate to fast when you’re happy and content, or when things are going really well in your life.
Jesus makes this very clear in Matthew 9:14-15. You don’t fast at a wedding reception! It is not appropriate. You don’t fast when Jesus, the Bridegroom, is right there with you. But there is coming a day when Jesus will die on a cross and rise again. There is coming a day when Jesus will ascend back into heaven. There is coming a day when Jesus will no longer physically be on this earth. Then, his disciples will miss Him. Then they will mourn. Then they will fast. And then it will be appropriate, as an expression of their sorrow.