These fasting posts are being prompted by the study of the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster. Right now there is a men’s Bible study at my church and we are working through this book. It seems well written with a balance between scriptural basis and pragmatic application concerning what are termed "The Spiritual Disciplines". The author admits that there has been much confusion over the subject of fasting which has led to a simple dismissal of the subject and subsequent ignorance of it.
The conversation we had this past Thursday reinforced the impression in my mind that this subject is neglected in churches and remains neglected in our church despite my attempts to revive a spiritual interest in studying and practicing it. There were a select few that seemed to have some insight regarding fasting, but the majority of the men in attendance seemed complacent about it. My prayer is that these men will be spiritually motivated to begin practicing the fast in their lives.
Now for some notes concerning my outline below.
The title for item I in the outline "What is FASTING (spiritually)?" is an attempt to understand fasting beyond the physical realm. Everybody knows what fasting is physically. It’s going without food. But what is this discipline spiritually? The three items I list show the scriptures’ explanation of what takes place in the spiritual realm when we fast. Fasting is humbling yourself. It’s taking yourself down a step. When we eat, we just assume we deserve to. Fasting takes us to the place where we humble ourselves before God. Fasting is turning to God. It’s turning from the physical to the spiritual. It’s taking your eyes off of your next meal and placing them on God and spiritual matters. Fasting is seeking God’s face. It’s hard to desribe, but the Christian’s life should be characterized by this attitude. We should be constantly seeking God’s face and fasting assists us in this. It is a matter of focus. It takes the focus off ourselves (feeding our faces) and puts the focus on God. These are the scriptural definitions of what happen in the spiritual realm when we fast unto the LORD.
Occasions for FASTING ~ When are times that the Bible prescribes as being occasions for fasting? At times when we confess our sins. This can be both private sin or public sin; therefore the fast can be either private or public. In the case of David (reference listed later), the sin was public, so the fast was public. Also, there can be times of individual confession of sin or corporate confession of sin. In the case of David, the sin was individual, so the fast was individual. But in the case of Israel and Ninevah, the sin was corporate, so the fast was corporate, even extending to the animals in Ninevah. What I hear from many folks is that God doesn’t want His people to fast corporately since a fast must be a private thing between yourself and God. I deal with the passage whereby they derive this from later, but it doesn’t speak of prohibition, only the matter of motivation. Prayer and giving are in the same context, Matthew 6:1-4 on giving, Matthew 6:5-8 on prayer, yet these are both practiced corporately in churches everywhere. I don’t see the reason for singling out fasting as being only acceptable in a private setting.
At times when our country needs us. The occasion was on the death of Saul and Jonathan. The nation of Israel had lost its leaders. Note that those who stood in battle with Saul and Jonathan fasted for a week, but David and his men fasted for a portion of one day. Here are two different groups of people being led to fast for different amounts of time on the same occasion. The Holy Spirit may lead one to fast for one time period and another to fast for another time period during the same circumstances and we can’t look down on one or the other.
During times of crisis. Specific examples of David and Paul are listed here. Then a general encouragement to fast as married couples is given in the last reference. I enjoy reading the story of Paul because when he was done fasting, he was just done fasting. There was no hesitation on his part to grab something to eat. He knew the fast was over.
At times of confirmation. Now I only termed it "confirmation" here because I have to be cool and have everything begin with the same letter in this section. If this weren’t the case, I would term it "dedication" or "ordination". The passages have to do with the selection of certain leaders for specific purposes. In the first scripture, it is the sending forth of Saul and Barnabas to preach the gospel. In the second, it is the selection of elders for newly established churches. Here we have scriptural precedent for fasting at the time that spiritual leaders are ordained into the ministry.
Now onto the reasons why we fast, but first, reasons for fasting, NOT. This is just my generation’s way of giving the opposite of something. We make a statement and then put a NOT at the end of it to say the opposite. So the following are the scriptures showing wrong motivations for fasting. We don’t fast for salvation. The Pharisee thought he impressed God and was righteous by his own works, one of which was fasting. Our LORD tells us that his frequent fasting didn’t bring him salvation. Next, we don’t fast for SELF. The Israelites in Zechariah’s day were confused as they returned from exile. They had their fasts to correspond with the months that marked the four stages of Jerusalem’s defeat. The fifth month was the one in question since it was the occasion of the burning of the temple to the ground by Nebuzar-adan, II Kings 25:8-10. Now the temple had been rebuilt. Do they continue to fast in remembrance of Solomon’s temple? Instead of answering their question, the LORD questions their motivation. "All those seventy years, did you fast unto ME?" asks the LORD. "When you did eat and drink, wasn’t it for yourSELVES?" The Israelites were motivated for Self, not God. They were fasting because they felt sorry for themselves that they didn’t have their temple any more. It had nothing to do with God, His glory, or His Name. And lastly, we don’t fast for show or sympathy. Don’t put on a show or attempt to get someone else’s sympathy when you fast. It should be unto the LORD. Again, the issue here is not that corporate fasting is against Jesus’ teaching, but only our motivation to fast is in question here.
Now onto reasons why we fast. We fast to remind us where our spiritual strength comes from. But it actually goes deeper than that. We actually receive spiritual strength when we fast. We live by the Word of God, not by bread alone. Most people claim the temptation for Christ here was to prove He was the Son of God by performing a miracle. Let me state an idea to the contrary. The real temptation here was for Christ to break His fast. He was in such close communion with His Father (as Pastor Shane put it) and that communion would be broken if He were to break His fast. The evidence for this view is revealed in Christ’s response to the devil. His response was "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word of God". In essence He was rebuking the devil by reminding him that His spiritual strength came from spiritual things, not physical things. While Jesus was physically at His weakest, He was spiritually at His strongest. The same will be true for us. When we humble ourselves, turn to God, and seek God’s face through fasting, we become physically weak, but our spiritual strength increases. More on this on point C. Hmmmmm…. maybe I should move those two items to be adjacent in my outline.
We fast to receive God’s revelation. Pastor Al didn’t like the way I worded this. He agreed completely with the point I was making. His point was that someone might take this to mean something charismatic, along the lines of a private revelation. The points I make here are the only applications I feel comfortable with in our current dispensation. But the point was true for Daniel. He received new revelation from God through fasting. We also can receive revelation for our lives through fasting. I’m not saying we will receive commandments from the LORD that will supersede scripture. I’m saying that we can receive understanding in the Word that God has already given, and receive direction for our lives through fasting. Pastor Al actually just wanted me to use a different word besides "revelation". I suppose I could change it to "understanding", but that sort of diminishes what the passage in Daniel conveys.
We fast to achieve victory over Satan. The outline of the scripture should be a familiar one. The disciples came across a case of demonic possession that they were powerless to overcome. Jesus comes down from the mountain and commands that the boy be brought to Him. He asks the father of the child what the cirumstances were. The father tells Jesus that the boy has been this way from childhood, or might I say, for an extended period of time. Jesus rebukes the spirit who tears the boy as he exits his body. Jesus then heals the boy. The disciples are genuinely curious as to why they were powerless over this situation. Jesus responded that this kind can come forth by nothing except prayer and fasting. My question for the longest time was, "What does Jesus mean by ‘this kind’?" I tried in vain to search for a hierarchy of demons within the scriptures. At last, I found the answer right in the text. Jesus had asked the father how long the boy had been this way. Jesus was not pointing out a certain kind of demon, but a certain kind of situation. When the devil has had a foothold for an extended period of time, victory is not possible except through prayer and fasting. Do you have a habit that you just can’t seem to kick? Are you trying to take the next step in your spiritual walk only to be tripped up? Do you sense the LORD calling you to minister in a way that you haven’t as yet, but you are afraid? Is there an area in your life where you just can’t seem to achieve victory over Satan? How about fasting? Have you tried giving the matter over to prayer and fasting? Just to get a little personal, I have had addictions whereby I had to drive the devil right out of my head. I honestly believe the only way I overcame some of these sins was by the power of God manifested through fasting.
We fast because we are not with Jesus. I was surprised that Foster picked up on this theme in his book. This was the point that he felt conclusively demonstrated that Christians are to practice fasting. Jesus told His disciples that the days would come when He would be taken from them and in those days they would fast. That’s the present time. We await for Jesus during a time of sadness since He is away. The passage in I Corinthians shows that if this life was all there was, then eat and drink. But since this life is not all there is, "eat and drink" is not our attitude. Yes, we do eat and drink, but we fast as well. No wonder the Apostle Paul termed his tribulations as being "in fastings often", II Corinthians 11:27; he wasn’t with Jesus yet.
Is fasting a part of your spiritual life? Why or why not?
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