Fasting and prayer go together. Often in Scripture the two are placed in tandem. Rarely is fasting addressed without prayer being mentioned. Yet, while we may have a sense of how to pray and what it is for, we are muddled when it comes to fasting. We assume that it is some exercise for the super spiritual or it is an outdated religious activity that legalistic people who dont understand Gods grace use to show Him how sorry they are for their sin. But, fasting is in fact a timeless, spiritual discipline practiced in the Old Testament, by the early Christians and still employed today by many who understand its purpose. Today we will look at a definition of fasting, reasons to fast and finish with the common forms of fasting.
Why am I preaching about fasting? Fasting is about what we are hungry for. We set aside the things and activities of our typical daily life in order to focus on our hunger for God, His Kingdom and His ways. By setting aside those normal activities, we focus ourselves on things that are bigger than us. We give attention to Gods purposes and the season we are in now. I believe the Star Lake Campus, us, to be on a mission. God has called us to preach the Word, worship Him, pray for the sick, deliver the oppressed and make disciples in North Federal Way. Our assignment came by prophetic word. So, as we transition from a start up ministry to an ongoing work we need His voice to guide us in this next season.
Daniel (Da 9:2-4, 16-19)
God responds to Daniels fast in an amazing way! (v20-25) Daniel receives an angelic messenger, Gabriel, who says essentially, Daniel, you are praying in line with Gods word to Jeremiah. Jerusalem will be rebuilt and I will also tell you a great deal about the Messiah and the whole lay out of human history.
Three points from Daniel
1) In response to Daniel lining up with Gods purposes and season, God gives Daniel mind-boggling direction and revelation.
2) Daniel reveals that fasting is a form of mourning (a longing for someone/thing that has been taken) sackcloth and ashes are Jewish signs of grief. We might wear black and weep. They put on sackcloth, burlap, for clothing and put ashes on their head.
3) Daniel also shows us that fasting can take different forms. In Daniel 10:2, he fasts from tasty food, meat and wine for three weeks. Again, God responds with an angelic messenger.
Zechariah (Zec 7:2-11)
Spiritual fasting is defined as much by what it is not as much as it is by what it is or how it is done. In the Scriptures, particularly in the prophets, Israel is repeatedly corrected for fasting in a wrong way.
As we fast it is important to focus on the who not the what. If we have Jesus, we have everythinggrace, buildings, resourceswhatever we need to advance His purpose. But what we fast for is to draw close to Him, to long for Him, to seek Him out and long for His plans to be realized. This is why prayer and fasting go together.
Fasting is almost a kind of pantomime. We act out a metaphysical activity. We get physically hungry to recognize our spiritual hunger for God. But people often get off track and use it for other reasons. So, lets clearly define
What fasting is not!
A spiritual fast is not a hunger strike: a way in which we attempt to manipulate God. Some people, Mahatma Ghandi in particular, have used this to great political effect, but the purpose was political not spiritual. While fasting does seem to draw Gods attention, it is not a means of spiritual arm twisting. Trust me, many have tried and it doesnt work.
A spiritual fast is not a show of outward religiosity. A true fast is not about showing other people how pious you are.
A spiritual fast is not for health reasons. I know one woman who fasts regularly for her health. She has been very successful at purging toxins from her system and it has been a blessing, in fact God showed her that she needed to do it for her health. But it was not a spiritual fast.
A spiritual fast is not a diet. If you decide to go on a diet thats all fine and good, but dont confuse it with a spiritual fast. They are not the same thing. In many cases a diet is exactly the opposite. Instead of being hungry for God we are hungry for attention or the attainment of some goal. These can be very powerful motivations and must not be confused with the spiritual goals of fasting. That kind of dieting can actually be service of a kind to an idol, the idol of beauty or glamour or popularity.
Finally, fasting is not the same as forsaking. The Bible calls on us to forsake evil. It never suggests that we go back to it after a period of time. Well you have done well fasting from hatred these two weeks, now go right back to it. No! We forsake evil.
Definition: True spiritual fasting on the other hand is the voluntary giving up of some normal, healthy, godly behavior for a set period of time in order to become hungry for God.
It is a spiritual endeavor. It may have positive physical side benefits or not, but it is specifically aimed at a spiritual goal. Fasting is an expression of neediness and emptiness. It is an exercise which calls us to remember how dependent we really are and to make space for Him.
Why should I fast?
Esther 4:15-16. Judah is in danger of genocidal annihilation. In response to this threat, Esther and her uncle call a fast to seek Gods intervention. God does intervene and an entire people is saved. Are you hungry for Gods intervention in your life? Fast and pray.
Isaiah 58:7, 8 shows us another facet of fasting. God longs for us to love with a heart of sacrifice. The early church often fasted with a practical goal in mind. If I stop eating for a little while, I can give my food to the poor. Are you hungry for Gods justice for the poor and the oppressed? Fast and pray
Mark 2:18-20 Jesus and His disciples were accused of being irreligious. Why do you and your disciples not fast like the Pharisees? And Jesus said, How can the attendants of the bridegroom mourn when He is with them? But, a day will come when they will fast. (My paraphrase). Are you hungry for Jesus presence? Fast and pray.
Luke 4:3, 4 Jesus said, Man shall not live by bread alone. What are you really hungry for? Do you long for Gods peace? Fast and pray. Is your life oppressed by addiction? Fast and pray. Is your life purposeless and wandering? Fast and pray. Jesus said, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God! If you want to hear from God, if you want to draw close to God, if you want to have life from God, then fast and pray.
How do I fast?
There are several ways to fast, ways you can draw close to God and pray with great effect.
A total fasteat and drink nothingthis is a fast for extreme crisis and a short time frame.
A water-only fast.
A juice-only fast so you can continue to work.
A very simple diet fast. Daniel fasted from all choice food. In response God dispatched an angel! Nine or ten years ago the Lord called me to a fast. I sensed that He wanted me to fast for an extended period. So, I fasted for the 40 days of Lent (the 40 days prior to Easter). I ate only bread and juice for the whole 40 days. No, I did not have an angelic visitation. But, I did have a breakthrough in understanding. I learned at a whole new level how to say no to my flesh. God released me to a whole new level of freedomfree to obey the Spirit.
A food fast from fast food in order to free up money for the poor.
A fast from something other than food. Fast from TV or the internet or the radio and give that time to God.
I once went on a coffee fast. I had slipped into a habit of using coffee medicinally. I had been pushing my body to maintain a schedule that was actually keeping me from God. I had been hungry for Gods restso I took Gods advice: fasting and praying.
How about you? Are you hungry for God? Do you want to draw closer to Him? Are you willing to look beyond yourself and consider His call on us as a group? We, Star Lake, are at a Y in the road. We are fairly established. We could settle into a comfortable weekly routine. Or, we could use our established base as a means to reach the people God has sent us to. We need Gods voice to guide us in that work. So, I invite you to a fast. You choose what kind, based on your physical needs and experience with fasting.
I would also ask you to journal your experience. We are fasting for the purpose of gaining insight and direction from God. When it comes, and it will, lets write it down and share it. (By the way, we are going to eat potluck still. You dont have to start this moment.) We will gather one evening in March, more on that later, for a time of reflection and to share what God showed us.