Aug 122016
 

FastingAnd when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

We come this week to a subject that really doesn’t make sense to the natural mind. Why would anyone want to ‘not eat’? Surely God has provided food for us to enjoy and satisfy our hunger, not to punish our bodies?

In our minds we can probably imagine religious fanatics following a strict ascetic lifestyle. These people can have rather unhealthy masochistic tendencies. Definitely not normal.

It’s certainly true that fasting is not commanded in the bible, but in these verses today, Jesus undoubtedly makes the assumption that we will fast. Twice He says “When you fast”

It’s important firstly to see what fasting is not.

It is surely not ‘hunger striking.’ We are not trying to twist God’s arm. We are not fasting to feel pain and it’s not an extension of health dieting either.

So why do we fast?

Actually, fasting is not suppressing our desire for something but rather our intense pursuit of something else. Let me explain. We are placing our desire for God above our desire for food, we are saying our spiritual hunger is greater than our physical hunger. In Matthew 9, John’s disciples question Jesus as to why His disciples were not fasting. Jesus responded:

And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. (Matthew 9:15)

Fasting has a strong link to sadness and mourning, it suggests something that is longed for. Jesus’ disciples didn’t need to feel sad while He was with them, but as soon as He left them and until His second coming there is a longing for His return amongst all His followers. You can hear the longing in Revelation 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

There is a fascinating link between fasting and the Lord’s supper. With the Lord’s supper we are eating and drinking to remember the past. With fasting we are not eating to look forward to the future.

Let’s look at a few more examples from the bible about fasting;

(1) Fasting was done by God’s people after they had displeased Him

So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the Lord and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah. (1 Samuel 7:6) See also; Joel 2:12, Jonah 3:5-8, Judges 20:26

(2) Fasting was done to prepare hearts and seek God’s help in preparation for battle

Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; (Joel 2:15)

See also 2 Chronicles 20:1-4

(3) Fasting was a sign of sincere and humble repentance from sin

Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. (Daniel 9:3)

See also Nehemiah 9:1-2 and Joel 2:12-13

(4) Fasting teaches us self-control and sometimes reveals what controls us

More than any other spiritual discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. Things like; anger, bitterness, jealousy and fear will all rise to the surface as soon as we start fasting.

Our belly is not to be our God. Describing the enemies of God, The apostle Paul says;

Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:19)

See also Romans 16:18. Paul also talked about Self-discipline when he explained his attitude in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:25-27)

(5) Fasting is a powerful weapon in spiritual warfare

Fasting is humbling and reveals our complete dependence upon God and forces us to draw on him and his power, and to believe fully in his strength. This is what Jesus did when He fasted for 40 days and nights at the beginning of His ministry (See Matthew 4:1-11)

When Jesus heals a boy with an unclean spirit in Mark 9:14-29 Jesus says at the end “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29) Many manuscripts have “and fasting” at the end.

(6) Fasting helps us to discern God’s voice

Fasting helps us tune into the Holy Spirit’s leading and guiding and we are able to discern His will much more easily. In Acts 13:2-3 it mentions fasting in preparation and then the commissioning of Barnabus and Saul.

While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

These are just a few aspects of the huge subject of fasting. If you’re spiritual life is a bit static and you find yourself not getting breakthrough in certain areas, why not try fasting?

The beauty in the context of Jesus’ teaching on the ‘sermon on the mount’ is that this spiritual discipline is done in secret. It’s just between us and God. We do it to please Him and Him alone and what a promise goes with it – He will reward us!

 August 12, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount 1 Response »
Jul 042013
 

God is very patientLast week we looked at God’s amazing grace towards Elijah as He gently restored him after Elijah wanted to take his own life. This week I want to explore more of God’s amazing grace and patience as we look at the life of Elijah’s enemy, King Ahab.

Ahab was a very evil man.

In the generations following King Solomon, the kingdom of Israel descended into total anarchy before God as each king was described as worse than his predecessor. The most wicked of all was King Ahab who arrives on the scene in 1 Kings 16:29 and sets about a destructive course of breaking every commandment he possibly can, aided and abetted by his wife Jezebel (whose name has become a byword for feminine evil, prostitution and all kinds of wickedness).

Together they established the worship of Baal in Israel, an evil Canaanite practice involving, among other things, child sacrifice. At the same time they undertook to massacre and silence all of God’s prophets in the land. In a spectacular display of God’s power and glory Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, and even though Ahab refused to acknowledge the one true God by repenting of this evil, God still protected Ahab against the enemies of Israel. (1 Kings 20:13).

The last straw comes when Ahab and Jezebel arrange for an innocent man (Naboth) to be killed and his property stolen (1 kings 21:1-16). Elijah pronounces God’s judgement on Ahab in 1 Kings 21:17-22. After all this evil, God’s great mercy causes Ahab to repent, pray and fast (1 Kings 21:27). The most amazing thing then happens – God forgives him!

This absolutely amazes me. God says to Elijah; “have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself, I will not bring disaster in his day”. (1 Kings 21:29).

If you ever begin to question how patient God is towards wicked sinners, read these few chapters again and see how consistently Ahab rebelled, but how slowly God judged him, giving him chance after chance to repent.

If you think you have gone too far from God and the possibility of his forgiveness, consider Ahab. As long as you still have breath you can turn to God whatever your condition.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

 July 4, 2013  Posted by at 8:00 pm Fasting, Grace, Repentance No Responses »
Sep 302012
 

Fasting & prayerPraying together with fasting is a forgotten discipline in modern times.

“I wonder whether we have ever fasted? I wonder whether it has ever occurred to us that we ought to be considering the question of fasting? The fact is, is it not, that this whole subject seems to have dropped right out of our lives and right out of our whole Christian thinking”. (D Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

People fasted throughout the whole bible from the Old Testament to the New. It carried on through church history and was practiced by many pioneers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards. Jesus expected that his followers would fast. “Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying ‘why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them ‘can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them and then they will fast’”. (Matthew 9:14-15)

…And after giving instructions on The Lord’s Prayer Jesus says “…when you fast…”, (Matthew 6:16). Notice he didn’t say “if”, but “when”. It was part of His instruction on prayer.

Examples from the Bible

You may have many questions about fasting, such as ‘how should I fast?’, ‘what should I fast from?’, ‘and for what purpose?’. These questions can be answered as we look through specific examples in the bible. I won’t look at all of them but here below are just a few.

Being in and enjoying God’s presence

Exodus 34:28. (However I would not recommend you go for 40 days without food or water, or you really will be in God’s presence!!!). Luke 2:37

During a personal crisis

1 Samuel 1:7. Hannah was desperate for a child and she prayed and fasted for years until God answered her prayer.

Fasting when you are mourning

1 Samuel 31:13

When praying for healing

2 Samuel 12:16. This is a sobering passage which demonstrates that fasting does not guarantee success. God is sovereign and He will not always change His judgements.

Fasting for protection

Ezra 8:21-23. Ezra and the people of Israel prayed and fasted before embarking on a dangerous journey.

Fasting when going into dangerous situations

Esther 4:16. Esther was about to take her life into her hands by approaching the king without being summoned, so she called for her people the Jews to fast and pray that she would gain his favour.

Fasting as part of repentance

Daniel 9:3. Daniel fasted and repented on behalf of the people. Many times in the Old Testament the Israelites returned to God in repentance and fasting demonstrated the seriousness of their repentance eg. Joel 1:14. God even has compassion on a godless city like Nineveh as they all turned to God in repentance and fasting. (Jonah 3:7).

Direction for ministry (guidance)

Acts 13:1-3. While the church were worshipping and fasting the Holy Spirit led them to send out Paul and Barnabas.

Fasting helps us take control over our bodies (the flesh)

1 Corinthians 9:27. When we fast we are saying to our bodies that we will not be mastered by the flesh and it’s desires.

Different types of fasting

As we have seen, there are many different reasons for fasting. In the same way there are many different ways to fast:

· A total fast where you drink only water.

· A liquid fast where you limit yourself to drinking a variety of liquids and soups but abstain from solid food.

· A fast from rich food such as the fast carried out by Daniel and his friends in Daniel chapter 1, eating only vegetables.

· A fast from watching the television. This fast of course is not mentioned in the bible, but can be considered a fast as long as the time saved by abstaining from watching the TV is given over to prayer and seeking God.

You can be creative by fasting from other things personal to you that take up your time and attention.

Fasting can also be for different lengths of time:

· 1 Day (Leviticus 23:27);

· 10 days (Daniel 1:12);

· 21 days (Daniel 10:2);

· 40 days (Matthew 4:2).

If you have never fasted before I would suggest fasting for just one meal to begin with, and building up from there. However it is very important that you consult your doctor before undertaking any kind of fast if you have any medical conditions.

Some practical guidelines for fasting

· Always drink plenty of water when fasting.

· Be aware that during the first few days of a fast your body will start to detoxify and you will suffer with bad breath. Use mouthwash!

· Take time to get alone with God as often as possible without any distractions. Read your bible. Have a pen and notebook to hand to record whatever God may say to you.

· When you break your fast, don’t eat a great big meal all at once but rather gradually build up your food intake slowly.

· Remember you are under grace. If you slip up, repent, receive forgiveness and carry on. Whatever fast you decide on is between you and God-He is not demanding!

Conclusion

To fast means to put God first. Fasting is an attitude of our hearts as we interrupt our normal life in order to pray and seek God for His will in our lives, to effectively move obstacles and burdens that we may encounter, and to simply tell God that He is the most important one in our lives. It is a discipline that quickly turns into a delight as God rewards our devotion with His presence.

“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.” (John Piper “A hunger for God”)

 September 30, 2012  Posted by at 7:16 am Fasting, Prayer 1 Response »