Fasting – Showing God We Care
“In general we must hold that whenever any religious controversy arises, which either a council or ecclesiastical tribunal behooves to decide; whenever a minister is to be chosen; whenever, in short any matter of difficulty and great importance is under consideration: on the other hand, when manifestations of the divine anger appear, as pestilence, war, and famine, the sacred and salutary custom of all ages has been for pastors to exhort the people to public fasting and extraordinary prayer.” (John Calvin, Institutes, IV, 12, 14)
What is fasting?
Fasting is deliberately abstaining from food for religious purposes. It is NOT merely dieting. A ‘normal’ fast involves not eating foods, but continuing to drink water. An ‘absolute’ fast means neither eating nor drinking, but this is very rare in the Bible.
For some Christians fasting means replacing normal meals with lighter foods or much smaller portions. For others it means missing meals altogether. Many spend the time which would have been used for preparing and eating the meal in prayer instead. Others continue with their usual activities and take the pangs of hunger as prompts to prayer. Unless medical conditions (e.g. diabetes) prevent such abstinence, doctors generally agree that missing occasional meals can actually be beneficial to health.
Because our Lord Jesus Christ did! So also did Moses, David, Elijah, Esther, Daniel, Anna, Paul and many more. Committed Jews in Jesus’ time fasted twice a week and at the end of the First Century this was the common pattern in the Church too.
Fasting has always been a part of Roman Catholic spirituality. Among great Protestants Luther and Calvin fasted. Wesley urged Methodists to fast every Wednesday and Friday, and wouldn’t ordain anyone to Ministry who didn’t fast twice a week!
Fasting has also played a part in national spirituality. On February 6th 1756 the King proclaimed a day of solemn prayer and fasting for the whole nation! In USA on April 30, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation for a National Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer:
“We have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self- sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to God that made us! It behooves us, then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.” – a National Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer:
Many Christians in many denominations today testify to the great value of fasting. It has special value in helping us to hear God’s voice and discover His will, in the area of spiritual warfare, and as an element of intercessory prayer.
Fasting in the Old Testament
Fasting was primarily a spontaneous rather than an organised expression of strong feeling and emotion. It was a way of saying to God, ‘I really care about this; I really mean business about this,’ in various situations. Some examples include,
fasting in preparation to meet with God or to consult God:
Judges 20:26 Then the Israelites, all the people, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the LORD. 27 And the Israelites enquired of the LORD.
fasting to show sincere repentance:
1 Sam 7:5 Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah and I will intercede with the LORD for you.” 6 When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the LORD. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the LORD.”
Jonah 3:6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. …. 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
fasting as a mark of humility:
fasting on the Day of Atonement – some Christians still fast before taking Communion.
Fasting accompanying prayer, especially intercession:
Nehemiah 1:4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
2 Sam 12:15 After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. 16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them. (But when the child died David stopped fasting and ) 21 His servants asked him, “Why are you acting in this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!” 22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, `Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’
Fasting in preparation to meet with God or to consult God, fasting to show sincere repentance,
fasting as a mark of humility, fasting accompanying prayer, especially intercession. In all of these the practice of fasting is a Biblical way of saying to God “I really mean business about this.” It is a simple act of sacrifice which shows God we really do care.
Fasting in the New Testament
Some people wrongly suggest that fasting is a part of Old Testament Law which does not apply to us as Christian. Quite the reverse. In the New Testament it was simply assumed that both Jews and Christians would fast. Jesus Himself fasted in the desert. One of the temptations was to break His fast.
In the Sermon on the Mount after the section on the Lord’s prayer and on giving to the poor, Jesus teaches about fasting in parallel. Jesus clearly implies that all three will be a regular part of the life of a disciple: prayer, giving, fasting. Note that Jesus says ‘WHEN you fast’, not ‘IF you fast’!
When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)
Jesus’s disciples did not fast while He was with them, but Jesus specifically taught them that one day, when He is not with them (i.e. NOW) his followers WILL fast
Matthew 9:14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
The early church often did fast, especially when they were praying about important matters.
Acts 13:1 ¶ In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 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.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
Seeking guidance AND commissioning – we see the same again for example in Acts 14:23
The benefits of fasting
Fasting in the Bible is not a commandment required for salvation by all Christians. However, it seems to be assumed that all disciples WILL fast from time to time as a helpful spiritual practice. Jesus teaches us that fasting will always be directed towards God and not to impress other people. Richard Foster comments in Celebration of Discipline:
“Fasting must forever center on God. It must be God-initiated and God-ordained…Fasting reminds us that we are sustained by ‘every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4) … Therefore, in experiences of fasting we are not so much abstaining from food as we are feasting on the word of God. Fasting is feasting!”
Fasting, like praying and giving, is a legitimate spiritual discipline to be practiced in private between a Christian and the Lord. How often we practice it is not prescribed, because that too is between the believer and Christ. When we desire to seek God’s face more than we want dinner, that will be the proper time to fast. Spending time in Prayer and Fasting will be a sacrificial physical and bodily expression of our commitment to worshipping and witnessing together. It will focus our thinking and praying, as well as offering an opportunity for those who do not already practise fasting to discover the value of this helpful spiritual discipline.
Normally fasting involves not eating but still drinking water. It is not helpful to have a large meal as the last meal before the fast, or to over-eat to make up afterwards. For those unaccustomed to hunger, frequently sipping water or fruit juice can be very helpful. As part of our Days of Prayer and Fasting you may care to join in one of the following:
From breakfast to tea-time, missing out lunch and snacks during that day and only drinking water.
A 24 hour fast
From tea-time to tea-time, missing or reducing the size of breakfast and lunch on that day .
A 36 hour fast
from tea-time to breakfast, missing or reducing the size of all meals on one day.
Jim Packer wrote, “In Scripture we see several purposes for fasting. It’s a way of sharing that we depend on God alone and draw all our strength and resources from him; it’s a way of focusing totally on him when seeking his guidance and help, and of showing that you really are in earnest in your quest; it’s also, at times, an expression of sorrow and deep repentance, something that a person or community will do in order to acknowledge failure before God and seek his mercy.
We tend to think of fasting as going without food. But we can fast from anything. If we love music and decide to miss a concert in order to spend time with God, that is fasting. It is helpful to think of the parallel of human friendship. When friends need to be together, they will cancel all other activities in order to make that possible. There’s nothing magical about fasting. It’s just one way of telling God that your priority at that moment is to be alone with him, sorting out whatever is necessary, and you have canceled the meal, party, concert, or whatever else you had planned to do in order to fulfill that priority.”
TEN DAYS OF PRAYER AND FASTING
We invite everyone to join with us in Days of Prayer and Fasting from 4th to 13th of January. After praying individually during the day you are invited to gather for prayer as follows.
Monday 4th Prayer at church from 6 pm to 7 pm
Tuesday 5th Draw Near to God prayer meeting from 8 pm to 9 pm at church
Wednesday 6th Prayer at church from 7 pm to 8 pm
Thursday 7th Pray at home or in 2s and 3s
Friday 8th Prayer at church from 6 pm to 7 pm
Saturday 9th Pray at home or in 2s and 3s
Sunday 10th Prayer after the morning service from 12.15 pm
Monday 11th Pray at home remembering the Deacons’ Meeting this evening
Tuesday 12th Draw Near to God prayer meeting from 8 pm to 9 pm at church
Wednesday 13th Pray at church from 6 pm to 7 pm.
We will be praying for our church activities and especially our outreach and evangelism.
We will be praying for our town and for our world in all its different needs.
We will be praying asking God to speak to us, to guide and encourage and inspire us all.
God will meet with us, as we seek Him with all our heart!