Summary: Using Nehemiah as an example, this is a message on the purpose of fasting and appropriate times to use this very special tool.
It happened when I was rummaging through my dad’s tool box. Let me back up a moment to explain. As a child I would often “borrow” my dad’s tools without permission. And it wasn’t usually to use them for their intended purpose.
You see, I had a very active imagination as a child and my dad’s tools would become props in whatever fantasy world I had made up. Socket wrenches would turn into laser pistols. Levels would become light sabers. Electric saws would become robots.
So as I rummaged through my dad’s tool chest, I knew I shouldn’t borrow something that looked expensive or important. After a short search, I found a tool I had never seen before. It didn’t look expensive. More importantly I had never seen my dad use it. I figured I’d be safe borrowing it.
If you are curious what it was, let me explain what it looked like. It had a red handle with an aluminum ring. It kind of looked like a tiny frying pan with no bottom on it. When I grabbed the handle and pulled it, the ring would tighten.
Anyway, a few weeks later Dad was working on his truck. He was doing a routine oil change. He also wanted to change the oil filter. The problem was that the filter would not turn by hand. So he dug in his toolbox for his oil filter wrench.
How many of you know what an oil filter wrench looks like? It has a handle on it with an aluminum ring that sinches tight when you pull the handle. It kind of looks like a small frying pan without a bottom in it. Guess what. My dad didn’t find it.
Now I don’t remember what I used it for. And I don’t remember if dad went and bought another wrench or if he just didn’t change the oil filter that time. I do remember that he was not real happy about not being able to find his wrench.
Now an oil filter wrench has one job. It is a specialty tool.
As we continue our series of messages on Spiritual disciplines: The Tools in our toolbox, I want to share with you a specialty tool for spiritual growth. The tool I want to talk about today is “Fasting.”
Often when we hear the word fasting, all we think about is skipping a few meals. We are not talking about skipping meals for the sake of skipping meals. We are going deeper than that. We are talking about skipping the consumption of one thing to see the benefits of another thing of far greater value.
The other thing I realize is that fasting is such a specialty discipline that if many of see it the tool box, we might not know how to use it. What is fasting for? And if I use it, how can it help us grow in our walk with Christ?
As we explore what fasting is for and how we can use it to grow, I hope to persuade you to try fasting in your own spiritual walk. So turn with me to Nehemiah 1 as we study together one example of how fasting is used in Scripture.
1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa,
We talked around Christmas time about how the Jews in Judah had been taken in to captivity after their war with Babylon in the year 587 B.C. Babylon’s world dominance did not last very long. In fact, in less that a Century, Babylon was defeated by the Persian Empire. Many of the Jews who were transplanted into Babylon were kept in Persia. Nehemiah is one of those Jews who lives in the capital City of Susa in Persia.
Now don’t make the mistake of reading this as some detached narrative. Nehemiah is a real person. Put yourself in his shoes. Nehemiah lives hundreds of miles away from his homeland. I think he dreams of going back. But he has little to no hope of ever returning home.
Maybe think in terms of the elderly man or woman who is forced to leave his or her home because of health to live in a nursing home and he or she wants to go home. I think that might help us to picture his anxiety and pain.
That’s when the text tells us in verse 2 that one of Nehemiah’s brothers comes from Judah to visit him in Persia. And naturally Nehemiah asks about how things are going at home. And the news he receives is terrible.
3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”