Does Fasting Still Apply to Us?

On Sunday in church we watched a video called the Skinny on Fasting by the Skit Guys. It is a funny video that shows a bunch of ways that people could look at fasting. I would have asked which person people identified with most, but spiritual fasting is almost unheard of these days. Here are two question that I posed to the church… “How many of you have done a fast for God? If so, when was the last time you used fasting to deal with an issue (spiritual or otherwise), gain wisdom from God regarding a decision you need to make, or to draw closer to God?

And in that, it could be a food fast, or a digital fast… not because you needed a break, or to lose weight, but for God?

The beginning of Foster’s chapter on fasting says the following:

“In a culture where the landscape is dotted with shrines to the Golden Arches and an assortment of Pizza Temples, fasting seems out of place, out of step with the times. In fact, fasting has been in general disrepute both in and outside the Church for many years. For example, in my research I could not find a single book published on the subject of Christian fasting from 1861-1954, a period of nearly one hundred years.”

Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Disciplines, The Path to Spiritual Growth, Harper Collins Publishers; 1978, 1988, 1998; (New York, NY) p. 47

But spiritual fasting has been a part of the church throughout its history! It is seen throughout the OT and NT. The Didache was a book by the early church fathers believed to have been written in the 2nd century. It dealt with discipleship issues, and stated that there were to be 2 fasts a week – Wednesday and Friday.

Many spiritual greats have benefited from fasting, such as Billy Graham, Jonathan Edwards, the Pilgrims, President Lincoln, and many others. It has been used by God to impact His people and bring about transformations and revivals.

Since God has used it in such a mighty way in the past, why aren’t we (Christians) involved in fasting today? In light of the pandemic, did anyone spend time fasting (while they were praying) throughout 2020 and 2021?

I don’t say this to shame or admonish anyone, just to point out that people throughout history have used fasting as a way to draw closer to God and to petition Him with serious requests, but we seem to have lost that today.

There are many passages that deal with biblical fasting, but let’s look at Matt. 4:1-4.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matt 4:1–4 NIV

Before Jesus started His ministry, and right after His baptism, He went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted 40 day and 40 nights.

My longest fast has been a few days, so I can’t imagine what 40 days must be like, but I would imagine you would be quite hungry. In fact, this is getting close to starvation at 40 days.

There are 4 points that Richard Foster makes about fasting.

I. Fasting must be centered on God! Jesus didn’t choose to fast so that He could lose a few pounds before the devil came to tempt Him. He didn’t fast because He didn’t like the food options, or to get away from dairy or carbs, He did it to be obedient to God the Father, and to spend time with Him.

Unfortunately, fasting for other reasons was a problem. (Read Zech 7:4-6). The people fasted, but God was not the center, and He wasn’t pleased with it. In Matt. 6:16, if we are fasting so that people will be impressed with us, then we do it for the wrong reasons and we have received our reward.

Key: Spiritual fasting must be focused on God!

II. Fasting reveals that which controls us… Jesus was hungry, but did He allow His hunger to drive Him? Did it control Him? No! What is inside us will come out when we are fasting. It helps us to better know who we are, and then hand the things that are ungodly over to the One who can free us!

III. Fasting reminds us that we are sustained first and foremost by the Word of God. It is God’s word, and doing His will, that sustains us. In John chapter 4, while the disciples went into town to get food, Jesus spoke to the woman at the well. Listen to what Jesus says when they urge Him to eat (read John 4:31-34). In Matt 4:4, Jesus makes it clear where His ultimate sustenance comes from.

“Man (or people) does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Matt. 4:4 NIV

IV. Fasting helps us keep our balance in life (for more information on this, I recommend reading Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Disciplines, and read page 56). We would think of food as an essential item, but how is it compared to being in the Word of God for the Christian? Jesus isn’t driven by His hunger for food, but He is driven with a spiritual hunger that can be hard to understand if we don’t fast. Yet fasting is a great way for us to understand what our priorities are (or what they should be).

So what does this mean for us today?

Are you willing to try biblical fasting? And the only thing I would add is that we should look at fasting as a way to draw closer to God, and this means having technology take a backseat. The hope around fasting is to focus on God, and this means removing as many distractions as possible.

Whether you have known God your whole life, or are not sure what you think about Jesus, I would like to challenge you to give fasting a try, at least during Lent (which is the time between now and Holy Week).

If you have health issues, please check with your doctor before starting a fast, or choose a partial fast or technology fast.

Both books have recommendations to add fasting in your life, or what they call the practical application.

Their recommendations are the following…

I. Start week one with a partial fast for about 24 hours – lunch to lunch or dinner to dinner. Drink natural juices and water, but try to avoid food.

II. The next week, or two weeks later, try a normal fast for about 24 hours.

III. Then, after trying that for a few weeks (missing 2 meals), maybe give a 36 hour fast a try (3 meals).

As we get ready to grow spiritually, as we get ready to seek God for the future of the body of Christ here on Elm Street, this is a great way to begin. To sacrifice for the cause of Christ. With all of the sacrifices that Ukrainian Christians are going through, are you willing to sacrifice a few meals to petition God for them (and for us)?

And as we feel hunger, may we remember that we should desire to crave His word just as we crave food (or technology) that we are fasting from.

Lord, it is hard to think about sacrifice in today’s instant gratification culture. In many ways we have come to worship food, and have food available to us at all times. Help us to be willing to sacrifice, and to suffer, a little bit for You, knowing that You suffered greatly for us. As we petition You for wisdom regarding our future, and for our brothers and sisters in Christ over in Ukraine, may You answer in accordance to Your good and perfect will. We ask in Jesus’ Mighty name…

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