Summary: Fasting can make us hungry for more of God
Tilling the Soil of the Soul February 19, 2006
Last week I spoke from the story of the transfiguration in Mark 9. When Jesus and the three disciples come down from the mountain, there is a crowd waiting for them. There is a little boy who has been terrorized by a demon. The demon keeps him from talking and often throws him into fits that often endanger his life. Jesus casts the demon out and frees the boy to life the life of God. The 9 disciples that were waiting at the base of the mountain had already tried to cast the demon out. Afterwards they ask Jesus, “why couldn’t we drive it out?” Jesus answers, “this kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.” Since Jesus cast the demon out immediately, he must have been talking about the regular practice of prayer and fasting rather than a concerted effort of prayer and fasting for this particular boy. Which brings us to the question, “What is Fasting, and how do we do it?”
What is Fasting?
Simply put, fasting is the voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. It is important to note that fasts have a spiritual purpose – it is not just missing lunch because you are too busy .A fast can last anywhere from one meal to 40 days without food. There are different types of fasts – the most typical is to go without any food, some people will fast from food and water – although you can only do this for a short time. There are limited fasts, when people will allow themselves juice or other liquid sustenance during their fast. There are partial fasts, where you will give up certain types of food for a period of time. Many people do this during lent when they will give up sweets, or meat, or something else for the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter.
While we are going to concentrate on fasting from food, people will also fast from T.V. and other media, from talking, from computers or computer games, shopping, couples can fast from sexual intimacy… You can fast from anything that habitual in your life. It is good to fast from the things that you obsess about – it reminds you that you can get by without them. I have a friend who hates holidays – work is so important to him that a holiday is like a fast from work rather than a rest.
Is Fasting Christian?
The simple answer is yes. Everyone of importance in the Bible practiced fasting: Moses, David, Elijah, Esther, Daniel, Anna, Paul, Jesus, just to name a few. When Jesus taught on fasting, he would say “when you fast,” not “if you fast.” He assumed that we would fast. It is not just the great people of the Bible that practiced fasting, but also the great saints of the church down through the ages that practiced fasting as part of their regular spiritual discipline.
Fasting can increase our hunger for God
John Piper writes in his book, A Hunger for God,
If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast ‘This much, O God, I want you’” (Pg 23)
In 2001, Pam, Chris, & Mary went down to Colorado Springs to a conference on prayer. Ted Haggard, who is now the president of the American equivalent of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, gave a talk on fasting where he talked about his love of food, and that fasting reminded him that he loves God more.
Fasting reminds us that we can get by without most things in our lives for a time, but we cannot get by without God. The first and main pupose of Fasting is to draw closer to God.
Fasting can train our passions
We are so used to giving ourselves what ever we want, we say “I feel like a donut,” so we go get a donut. Richard Foster says that our stomach is like a spoiled child, and spoiled children do not need indulgence, they need discipline.
Even Oh Henry commercials speak to the control that our stomachs have over our lives. We are not to be controlled by our stomachs, but controlled by the Spirit of God. Fasting is spiritual training in self-control.