Summary: Fasting. What is it? We used to hear about it a lot years ago, why not now? How should it be done, with what attitude and what can we expect from this spiritual discipline?
Have you ever heard this phrase?
“What’s your problem???”
We all have problems! Some of us have personality problems such as selfishness, unforgiveness, anger, lust, greed, laziness, gluttony, drunkenness, body odor, wastefulness of God’s great provisions, spiritual pride, no concern for the lost, no hunger for God and His Word and the list goes on and on.
We may think we doing just fine without a care in the world and that certainly is a sign of problems, so, “What’s your problem??”
Well, if we have problems and we all do there is one spiritual discipline that we used to hear about a lot when I was a kid but we don’t hear about it so much any more and that is.
Fasting. What is it?
Nehemiah and the Israelites fasted
King David fasted
Queen Esther, Mordecai and the Jewish captives fasted
Jeremiah called the nation of Israel to fast
The prophet Joel called the nation to fast
Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher who blessed
The disciples fasted
These all fasted and many more found in Scripture but as with all things where people are involved, there is a holy way to fast and an evil way to fast.
We see fasting by the people of Israel in Isaiah 58 which draws a rebuke from the Lord.
Isaiah 58:1-9 (NIV)
“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.
“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. ‘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. 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. 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?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
“Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
“Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: ‘Here am I.’”
Wow! What an example of fasting in vain!
What is the Lord telling these people!
They were fasting because they needed something; good crops, protection from enemies, riches, power.
They were treating God like He was a master and they were His pet puppies. If they rolled over He’d give them a treat. If they jumped through a hoop He’d give them another treat. If they fasted, wore sackcloth and rolled around in ashes He’d give them what they wanted.
The only thing is, if that was the way it worked, it would make them the master and God the provider with no choice but to bless because they had performed properly.
The only problem is that God sees the heart and God sees the actions of the rest of their lives apart from the act of fasting.
They were cheating their employees.
They were contentious and getting into fist fights with each other.
They were enslaving each other.
They were allowing the starving to go hungry.
They were leaving the naked without clothing.
They were even turning their backs on their own family members.
It’s not just going through the motions, it’s the heart and the heart overflows into all aspects of life.
God calls them to righteousness first and then to fast for their needs.
Now, if there is a proper “way” to fast it must be somewhere in the Bible!
What did Jesus say about fasting?
Matthew 6:16-18 (NLT)
“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get.