THE DISCIPLINE OF FASTING
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I remember as a new Christian, walking down the street, saying, "Lord, I don't know anything about fasting. No one has every taught me anything about it. How do I learn what to do?" I crossed the street and went into a Christian bookstore. I asked for the section on fasting, but there wasn't one. There was only one book on fasting and it was very thin. Ever notice that the books on fasting are never fat? I was so disappointed. I left the store and prayed, "Jesus, there's no books to teach me, but I am you’re disciple, please teach me to fast."
What He began to show me caused me to get very excited about fasting. I just wanted to practice doing it all the time, I just wanted to learn. I wanted to see the benefits of it. He would teach me how to fast for short times and long times. But then something changed. I don't know how or when, but something changed and I lost the excitement of getting to fast, and began to feel like I must fast. It became a commandment. I became afraid that if I didn't fast, that something bad would happen to me. That God would punish me if I didn’t fast. It took me a long time to recover that. Now I'm in a different place today. He taught me how to fast again, in a way that I really enjoy doing it, because I love the reward, and I love doing things in the secret place to please my Father in heaven.
I like the rewards of fasting. I'll say to the Lord, "I would like this and I am going to fast towards it." It's never something selfish. I don't fast to get more money for myself, I fast for spiritual things. "Lord, I have a brother who is hurting... I will fast for him." The reward is, he gets a spiritual breakthrough and I get very excited as I anticipate it coming. Then the brother says, "I don't understand this, I've had such a breakthrough with God." I say, "Well, praise the Lord, God is good." But inside, I'm thinking, "HALLELUJAH! I missed a meal or two and my brother gets more freedom.” It's so satisfying. So, I fast with a reward in mind and it makes it easier.
I want to be a disciple. Don't you? It's exciting. I'm not a disciple of the church; I'm not a disciple in some program. I'm a disciple of Jesus Christ! I want to know Him. I want to walk with Him. I want to do what He did to become what He is.
NOT BY COMMANDMENT
There is no commandment to fast in the New Testament. Fasting must also come out of discipline and desire, not a commandment. Jesus assumed that we will do what He did, in the manner in which He did it:
"Moreover, when you fast… do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
Verse 17, 18: "But when you fast… anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."
John the Baptist fasted often. So did the Pharisees, at least twice a week. And both of their disciples fasted also. They needed to do the disciplines their masters (teachers) did in order to become like their masters:
"Then they said to Him, "Why do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?" (Luke 5:33)
"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)
"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.’I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'
`I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’" (Luke 18:11-14)
If we also approach fasting as a commandment we will become self-righteous or legalistic about it. It is a slippery slope. This is why it is important that fasting remains within the frame-work of grace, where we don’t have to do it, but we get to.
THERE ARE REWARDS FOR FASTING
There are rewards for fasting. These rewards are what stimulate our desire to do any of the disciplines Jesus did.
Jesus illustrated this by pointing out that some people fasted so that they would appear spiritual to others. That was the reward they got for missing so many meals. They did this because they could see the acclaim others had gotten for fasting so much. This "apparent spirituality” became the fuel behind their discipline. The fact is, Jesus and John the Baptist both fasted extensively and had deep spirituality. But this motivation can become perverted, so that we fast to gain the approval of others. Be careful that your fasting does not become a way to get others to like you, or for you to like yourself. Some conclude that God to like us more when we fast and gets angry with us when we don’t. One way to test this motive is to see how you think God reacts when you break a fast.
“'Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that you do not appear unto men to fast, but unto your Father, which is done in secret: and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:16, 17)
When we fast in secret, God will reward us openly. What are these rewards? Is alright to use the rewards that God gives to stimulate our desire to fast? Here are some rewards worth fasting for:
- So that we and our family can come into what God has for us.
- So that we become more sensitive in the Spirit, which helps us to more effectively minister to others.
- So that we break a bondages or habits in our lives or in the lives of others.
- So that we build our lives around eternal priorities, rather than the dictates of our flesh.
- So that we have better health in order to serve the Lord longer.
It would be best if you started a fast with a predetermined goal in mind. Then when you are tempted to eat something, compare it to the result you are seeking. When tempted to break a fast, I often tell myself, “I can eat that anytime, but I want this thing that I desire of God more.”
INCITING A DESIRE TO FAST
Based upon Isaiah 58, if we fast for the right reasons, we can expect the following rewards:
- Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
- Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
- And your righteousness shall go before you;
- The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
- When you call, the LORD will answer; when you shall cry out, and He will say, 'Here I am.'"
- Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday.
- The LORD will guide you continually,
- And satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones;
- You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
- Those from among you shall build the old waste places;
- You shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
- And you shall be called the “Repairer of the Breach”,
- And “The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In”.