2016-06-22 Fasting as a Spiritual Discipline

Fasting as a spiritual discipline for closer intimacy with God

Opening Prayer

Father in Heaven, we praise Your Holy Name. You have granted us the wonderful opportunity to come before you in Your throne room as Your children, and You delight in our presence. Father, please prepare our hearts for a great work that You desire to do in us. Once You have completed what You have planned to do in us, please help us to be more effective in honoring You through obedience to Your Word in every way. Strengthen us as the enemy seeks to steal, kill and destroy us, and help us to avoid the pits and snares that are placed in our path. Guard our hearts and minds, and unify them with Yours. This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Introduction

Some of the greatest feats in the Bible were done by people who prayed AND fasted:

  • David slew Goliath
  • Moses parted the Red Sea
  • Nehemiah rebuild the wall of Jerusalem in less than two months
  • Esther saves the Jews From Haman’s evil plans
  • Jesus walked on water, controlled the weather, turned water into wine, raised the dead, and healed many.

Fasting is a nearly lost discipline in the American church. We have been so blessed by God that there is enough food for us to become obese. If we go without food for even a short time, we truly miss our three square meals (and sometimes snacks in between) in just a single day. People in Biblical times knew the value of fasting, and its importance.

Fasting in the Bible

  • The Jews were to engage in the discipline of fasting on the day the atonement was to be made for sin – The 10th day of the seventh month of every year (around October – Leviticus 16:29-31). This is the day when the High Priest would enter into the Holy of Holies and offer the yearly sacrifice for the sin of the people.
  • When the Book of the Law was read by Ezra as recorded in Nehemiah, the people observed the Feast of Booths, and on the eighth day, they gathered together and fasted as a people. (Nehemiah 8:10-9:1).
  • When Esther was queen, and the people heard the proclamation that Haman the Agagite received permission from King Xerxes to destroy all of the Jews, the people wept and fasted (Esther 4:3). Later, when Esther was to go before King Xerxes uninvited to petition the king, she asked that Mordecai, her uncle, instruct her people in Shushan to do a complete fast (no food OR water) for three days while praying for Esther’s safety and success in her attempt (Esther 4:15-17).
  • David, on multiple occasions in the Psalms, afflicted and humbled himself with fasting (Psalm 35:13, 69:10, 109:24)
  • Jeremiah requested that Baruch son of Neriah, to go into the house of the Lord on a day of fasting (Jeremiah 36:4-8) to read a scroll of the impending evil which God purposed against the Jews so that they would turn from their evil ways
  • Daniel set his face to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplication, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes (Daniel 9:3).
  • Even King Darius of the Medes and Persians fasted when Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den (Daniel 6:18)

There are many more times in the Old Testament where fasting is mentioned. This doesn’t even cover the New Testament!

  • The prophetess Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, who had lived 91 years after she had been first married, worshipped day and night with fasting in prayer in the temple area. She gave thanks to God and talked of Jesus when Mary had brought him to the Temple for his dedication and her purification (Luke 2:36-38).
  • Jesus automatically assumed that the Jews would be fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). Notice how he says “When you fast”. Not “if you fast”, or “should you decide to fast…”.
  • Jesus also indicated that ridding people of certain demons required prayer and fasting (Mark 9:25-29). For the record, not all ancient texts have “and fasting” in them.
  • So, you may ask, is fasting mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament after Jesus was crucified? Yes – In Acts 13:2-3.

Intimacy with God

Prayer is our first go-to for intimacy with God (although some find it through praise worship). However, because of our sin nature, our flesh can cause us problems. The flesh is constantly crying out, “feed me”, “pamper me”, “I don’t want to”, and all other kinds of rebellion towards God. Paul said he beat his body into submission (1 Corinthians 9:27).

One of the easiest, or hardest – depending on your viewpoint – ways to bring your body back into submission is fasting. The flesh greatly dislikes being denied its pleasures – food, sexual gratification, comfort, etc. When we fast, the flesh initially protests. But after a while, it calms down, and we experience a type of peace that we don’t normally have when we eat. As our bodies are brought into submission, we are able to draw ever so much closer to God in prayer.

Practice Makes Perfect

Just like everything else, it takes practice to get good at fasting. If you aren’t used to regular fasting, the flesh let’s you know it’s not happy. You may experience great hunger, and feel like you are dying. When I hear people talk about fasting who do it only occasionally, they talk about how it made them irritable, uncomfortable, and described it generally as unpleasant. They said that the smell of food nearby was a great distraction, and they thought about food frequently. This is normal. The reason that it is hard at first is because the body is in full-out rebellion to the will.

However, after fasting regularly, the body comes into submission quicker and quicker, until it doesn’t complain at all (well, barely at all). When this happens, there is a feeling of freedom and peace that overcomes you, and you begin to look forward to it, as the presence of the Lord is experienced stronger and stronger.

Learn from the master

Jesus knew this spiritual discipline, and it is implied that He practiced it often.

  • When the Holy Spirit let Him out into the desert to be tempted (tested) by the devil, He was fasting (Matthew 4:1-2).
  • He was fasting the day that he drove out the spirit from the boy who was brought to Him(Mark 9:29).

Jesus is our role model. We should walk as He walked. And He fasted, and fasted often.

False Fasting

  • Even the Pharisees fasted, and often, but to outwardly show their piety, rather than draw close to God (Luke 18:10-12).
  • Isaiah reproved the people for fasting without the right heart attitude (Isaiah 58:4-5).

Types of fasting

No Food Fast

This is the typical fast that people think of when they hear the word fasting. An example of this would be Jesus fasting in the desert where he was tested (Matthew 4:1-2).

No Food or Water Fast

This is the most difficult type of fasting. After 3 days, the body starts to have an issue of dehydration. The longest recorded fast of this type in the Bible was two – forty day back-to-back fasts (Deuteronomy 9:9,18). When Moses went to receive the Ten Commandments, he fasted forty days and nights, and then after coming down from the mountain and breaking the stone tables, he fasted for another forty days and nights. This is a God-appointed, God-directed, God-enabled type of fasting. Any normal person who did this would die.

David fasted for this way for seven days when he was petitioning God to spare his firstborn son to Bathsheba.

Simple Food Fast

An example of this was Daniel. When seeking an answer to a vision he had seen, he fasted by only eating simple food to mourn and draw close to God (Daniel 10:2-3). Some people who have medical conditions that require them to regularly eat food use this type of fast to draw close to God. Instead of eating food, they may drink juice, water, take vitamins and supplements, and whatever medication that requires food to honor God in fasting.

Activity Separation Fast

Sometimes, rather than food, an activity may have a strong draw on our life. For some, it is sports. An example of this is when you debate with yourself on whether you can skip the morning service so that you can watch the football/baseball game. Any activity can have a strong pull on you. The way you can tell if this is the case is to just stop doing the activity for a month. If after a short period of time you constantly are thinking about that activity and desire to do it, it probably has an unhealthy pull on your life. Temporarily stopping the activity, or fasting from it, is a good way to break its hold over you.

I used to play video games. They had a great pull in my life. I gave them up for years, then started to play them again after I felt they had their proper place. But I soon realized that the pull was just too strong, and had to give them up, this time permanently. This isn’t necessary for everyone, hence fasting from it. But sometimes, it is necessary to get rid of those things that are lawful but not profitable.

Fasting For More Powerful Prayer Time

James says that we should humble ourselves before the Lord, and He will lift us up (James 4:10). When we humble ourselves, God can do great and mighty things through us and for us. Fasting is a very effective way of humbling ourselves before Almighty God (Ezra 8:21).

Are you seeking to draw closer to God, but seem to have hit a brick wall? Do you require answers in order to move on? Do you seek a more intimate relationship with God? Be obedient to God’s word, and fast. Tell God in prayer that it is the desire of your heart to draw close to Him; and when you fast, He will meet with you in a mighty way.

Let’s pray:

Father in Heaven, it is our desire to draw very close to You. Help us to overcome our flesh, and be obedient to Your word. Help us to set aside time to fast, that we may experience Your presence and power in a more intimate, satisfying, and joyful way. Help us to bring our flesh into submission through fasting. Grant Your servants success that it might bring glory to Your name. This we humbly pray in the name of Your Most Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.