Summary: It's one of the most ancient of spiritual disciplines but the most neglected today. This sermon seeks to answer why we should fast and how to do it
Fasting: A Means of Grace
Carl Lundquist was President of Bethel College for almost 30 years. In the latter part of his life, he began to study the Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian faith and build them into his life, especially those he had not practiced, including the discipline of fasting. His interest in fasting began in earnest with an interview with Dr. June Gong Kim in South Korea. Dr. Kim planned an evangelism crusade in 1980 which was expected to bring 1 million people to Yo Ido Plaza. But six months before the crusade, the police told him they were revoking his permit. Korea at that time was in political turmoil and Seoul was under martial law. The police thought they could not take the risk in having so many people together in one place. As a result, Dr. Kim and some associates went to a prayer mountain and fasted and prayed or 40 days before the Lord. When they returned and made their way to the police station, they walked in and the police chief told Dr. Kim they had changed their mind and could have the crusade. And Carl writes, “As I went back to the hotel, I reflected that I had never fasted like that. Perhaps I had never desired a work of God with the same intensity…And I haven’t see the miracles Dr. Kim has.”
Fasting is the most powerful spiritual discipline of all the Christian disciplines. And yet, fasting is one of the most neglected. It is almost a lost practice in the church today. John Wesley, who fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays, called all Methodists to fast once a week because it was a Means of Grace. In both the Old Testament and the New, to fast means to abstain from food. Fasting is more a matter of obedience than it is the actual act of going without food. It’s an outward sign of an inward commitment to refuse to surrender to the will of the flesh and allow the rise within us of the desires of God. There is a constant battle between flesh and spirit. Richard Foster writes, “More than any other single discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface.” Fasting on a regular basis draws us closer to God and strengthens our faith and resolve to do God’s will. Fasting, like going to the gym, builds the muscle of your faith. Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. Instead, the purpose of fasting should be to take your eyes off the things of this world to focus completely on God. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God.
But why fast? What is the purpose of fasting? First is to seek deliverance. King Jehoshaphat prayed and fasted for God to deliver him from opposing armies (II Chronicles 20:3-4) Esther prayed, fasted and asked others to fast on her behalf for the deliverance of her people from annihilation. Saul fasted when he and his army was under attack from the Philistines asking that God would deliver the Jews in battle. (1 Samuel 28) In Acts 27, when Paul was in the midst of a storm and had no hope to survive, he and his fellow passengers fasted for 14 days.
Second is to express grief. Three of the first four references to fasting in the Bible connect it with mourning. 2 Samuel 1:11 Ezra 10:6 Third is repentance. When a person was convicted of their sin, they begin to fast as an act of repentance. Fasting as repentance was often accompanied by the wearing of sackcloth and placing of ashes on the head.
A fourth reason is to draw closer to God in prayer. Prayer in the Bible is often times accompanied by fasting to show the earnest desire for God’s answer. Fasting doesn’t change God’s hearing as much as it changes our praying. Fasting with prayer is kind of like the difference between a lamp and a laser. A lamp is diffused and unfocused light while a laser is focused and concentrated. When prayer and fasting are done together, our prayers are focused and our hearts and minds are desirous of God’s answer while our ears are attuned to His voice.
Fifth is to discern God’s will. Daniel fasted 21 days for God’s guidance in understanding. When Jesus fasted in the wilderness, it was so he could discern God’s will for his life and his ministry. The apostles joined in fasting and prayer when they desired the blessing of God before any great endeavor. Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted for God’s guidance with the appointment of elders (Acts 14:23) Fasting makes us more receptive to God’s guidance.