As you may have noticed, Ash Wednesday was yesterday. If you grew up Catholic or in some liturgical church, you know that Ash Wednesday begins what many Christians call "Lent." Those of us, who grew up Protestant, don't know much about Lent, but we have seen the smudge-crosses on people's foreheads on Ash Wednesdays over the years.
The word "lent" comes from German word lenz, which means "springtime." From the time of the Early Church, the Christian Church has practiced a pre-Easter fast. Early Church fathers like Irenaeus (142-202 AD), Athanasius (296-373 AD), and Ambrose (338-397AD), strongly encouraged Christians to participate in a 40-day fast or at least a fast for the week just before Resurrection Day.
Fasting and prayer have always been part of Lent. Just as Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan, many fast from something during the 40 days of Lent. I never have fasted for 40 days but I have fasted for a day or two.
What is fasting? Fasting is a voluntary denial of a usually normal activity to do a concentrated spiritual activity. In the Bible, fasting was the denial of food for the purpose of prayer and seeking God. Throughout the Bible, fasting was one way that the people of God sought God, humbled themselves before God, and drew closer to God. It was always food in the Bible. When God's people were mired in sin, the prophet, Joel (1:14) called them back with a fast: "Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the Lord." And God told them to fast: 'Even now,' declares the Lord, 'return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly" (Joe 2:12, 16).
Why should a Christian consider fasting? Here are a few reasons:
First, fasting will draw you closer to God
. Many o
f the Biblical people who walked closely with God used fasting to draw nearer to God:
- Moses fasted twice. Exodus 34:28 tells how "Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water." In Deuteronomy 9:18 Moses says: "Then once again I fell prostrate before the Lord for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the Lord's sight and so provoking Him to anger."
- David fasted. In 2 Samuel 12:16 David pleaded with God to spare the child he and Bathsheba had so he fasted to show His contrition and humility before God. In Psalm 109:24: "My knees give way from fasting; my body is thin and gaunt."
- Daniel fasted. Daniel 9:3: "So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes."
- Ezra fasted. Nehemiah's helper and scribe, Ezra (8:23) as they built the wall said: "So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and He answered our prayer."
- Nehemiah fasted. Nehemiah 1:4 says: "When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven."
- Our Lord Jesus fasted. Matthew 4:2 says: "After fasting forty days and forty nights ..."
- Anna, the prophetess, fasted. She was the widow of Luke 2:37 who "...never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying."
- As the church at Antioch fasted, it was then that God called on people to plant churches. Act 13:2 says: "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'"
- The Apostle Paul and Barnabas fasted. Act 14:23 record that "Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust."
If such godly people of the Bible and many of the godly ones of church history fasted, perhaps we should consider it? It might be a practice that you and I might derive great spiritual benefit!
Second, fasting will allow you to hear God's voice
. My joke has been that I don't call it fasting, but "slowing" (because the time goes so slow.) But the truth is that fasting does make time go slow. And that is very good. Fasting will remove the distractions of your life. It will slow you down enough so you might really hear the voice of God. Turning off the television, unplugging yourself from email, Facebook, or Twitter, shutting off the phone, and other things in your life that crowd God out can help you hear God's voice. Since food is such a major focus of time for shopping, preparation, consumption, and clean up, fasting from food is the one that most people find most helpful. But in this age of gadgets, you might fast from that stuff too. Then use the new time you have to pray and mediate. By fasting, you will slow down and be able to hear the still small voice of God telling you about the next steps in your walk with Christ.
Third, fasting will teach you faith.
Fasting often reveals what is important to you. One of my pastor buddies went on a 40 day fast from food (Don't do this unless you have your doctor's approval and guidance!). About the third day into it, my friend was famished. The fruit juices and supplements were not enough to satisfy his hunger. He told me how the remaining days of the fast were so incredibly hard but were also exceedingly spiritually invigorating. His hunger pangs were a continual reminder of his total dependence on God. He relied on God greatly for his emotional and physical sustenance in that fast. My friend he says he will never be the same.
Well, you don't have to do 40 days (most people should not fast that long for medical reasons anyway). But try it for a day. Then you might try two. When you go on a fast, you are proclaiming your faith to the Lord and saying: "You are my daily bread." And folks, my experience has been that God blesses that kind of faith.
Third, fasting will teach you to pray
. Throughout the Bible, fasting is connected with prayer.
Fasting can transform your prayer life into a richer and more personal experience. When media or food or other things are removed from your life, you will find time you never knew you had. This new time will give you more time to pray and seek God's face. Through God's Holy Spirit, He will speak to you about your sin, your needs, the needs of others, and so much more as a result of your fasting.
Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, used fasting as a major tool in his walk with the Lord. He said: "Fasting and prayer are the only disciplines that fulfill the requirements of 2 Chronicles 7:14: "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
Fourth, fasting will teach you humility
Psalm 35:13, David said, "I humble myself through fasting." When the pangs of hunger are intense, God will show you in very profound terms how utterly dependent on God you are really are. In our modern era in the United States, most of us have never known real hunger. We think we are self-sufficient because we can go to the grocery store or a restaurant and fill our stomach any time of the day. Well, fasting will remind you in a tangible way that God is your "portion" (Psalm 73:26) and your only source of strength. Fasting will be very humbling as you realize how needy you are on the provision of God. And that is a good thing to know and live!
Fifth, fasting will rejuvenate your walk with Christ.
Last year, we studied the church at Ephesus. Remember how they lost their "first love" (Revelation 2:4)? Perhaps one of the best ways to return to walk with Christ you once had might be through fasting? When you fast, the Holy Spirit can show you your real spiritual condition. The accompanying results from your fast could be profound with things like contrition, repentance, and more of a Spirit-filled life. The Holy Spirit might use the Word of God to speak to you about sins in a multiplicity of ways. Fasting can result in a personal revival that will change your life forever. Fasting might reveal to you how God wants you to serve Him as it did for the Early Church in Acts 13:2-3.
Sixth, fasting will help you acomplish greater things for God.
Remember the story in Matthew's Gospel (17:1-21) where Jesus's disciples had just come down from the Transfiguration? They had a mountain-top experience where Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, and God the Father endorsed Jesus as His Son. When they came down the mountain, the disciples were asked to cast out a demon that possessed a little boy. They should have had the power to exorcise this demon, but they couldn't! So, Jesus had to cast out the demon.
Later, the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him why they were unable to
drive the demon out. In verse 20, Jesus told them why: "Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you." And then Jesus added another reason in verse 21. Although some Bible manuscripts omit verse 21, I still think it belongs in the Canon. It says: "But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting." I think Jesus was saying that faith in God gets mountains moved but for the bigger stuff, it will take prayer and fasting.
Friend, are you facing some big things? Are there some mountains that need to be moved? Faith in God's power and providence will be your first step. But for the things that are really huge, Jesus says that prayer and fasting heighten the work of God! I
f you are not ready to put fasting in your spiritual arsenal yet, would you at least think about and pray about it? It might be the next step in your walk with the Lord Jesus.
When the prophet Jeremiah (36:6) encouraged God's people in repentance and revival, God inspired Jeremiah to say this to them: "So you go to the house of the LORD on a day of fasting and read to the people from the scroll the words of the LORD that you wrote as I dictated. Read them to all the people of Judah who come in from their towns."
As we move through our pastoral transition at East Hills, will you join me in intermittent fasting? Whether you fast for a half-day, full-day, or a few days, I believe that God will use it to draw us closer to Him and to a clearer understand of His will for our church.
Oh, one more thing about fasting. Be careful about your attitude and your behavior when you fast. Our Lord Jesus told us: "When you fast, do not look somber 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). If you are fasting, put a smile on your face and remember that the "the joy of the LORD is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10)
Well, that ends my epistle for this week. I hope to se
e you for worship this Sunday at East Hills Church!
Bring a Bible, a smile, your friends, family, neighbors, and work contacts. Remember, we have: