Christian Fasting – What Does The Bible Say?
The Bible presents fasting as something that is good, profitable, and beneficial. The book of Acts records believers fasting before they made important decisions. In Acts 13:2 and 14:23, the Apostle Paul prayed and fasted with fellow believers. It was through this period of fasting that the Apostle Paul knew with certainty what the will of the Lord was concerning his call and where he was to go next to spread the gospel. In fact, in verse four of Acts 13, the Scripture was clear in saying, “so, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went …” They knew the certain will of God, in this circumstance, only through prayer and fasting, so much so that the Scripture didn’t say they went where they wanted. Rather, they were sent by the Holy Spirit.
In today’s age, we are often told that we cannot know the will of God, we cannot truly know what God says of things. This is absolutely false. While this is whole other subject matter, it goes without saying that fasting is one means by which the Bible is clear we can come to know exactly what the Lord’s will is for our call and direction.
Fasting and prayer are often linked together as found in Luke 2:37 and Luke 5:33. Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. While this is a component of the spiritual discipline of fasting, fasting looses its vital significance when we place it in the context of the following statement, “what are you giving up for Lent?”
Fasting, is not a spiritual discipline when one simple gives up something or a particular food if is not accompanied by a heart desire to want to draw near to God. Furthermore fasting must also be accompanied by intentional prayer and reading of the word of God during the time allotted for any fast. Throughout Scripture, in every context where fasting is mentioned, it is always followed up with deliberate mention of prayer or a visual description of the act of prayer the person or persons are engaged in. They didn’t just give something up for selfish reasons and went on a head with their daily routine without even given Christ a second thought throughout the day.
Brothers and Sisters, the purpose of fasting should be to take your eyes off the things of this world to focus completely on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God, and to ourselves, that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God. When taken together, the Scripture points to fasting as meaning, “to bring our flesh under the authority and discipline of God.”
Although fasting in Scripture is almost always a fasting from food, there are other ways to fast. Anything given up temporarily in order to focus all our attention on God can be considered a fast as found in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5. You may fast from the food or things which you feel are a hindrance to your intimacy with Christ. In other words, maybe you have been using television as a way to feel better, pass the time, or feel motivated. In this scenario, you are using television to do for you temporarily what God can do for you permanently when you bring your needs, thoughts, and desires under His authority through prayer. Fasting from television for a period of time will help you shift your dependency on television to dependency on Jesus Christ.
Fasting from something doesn’t necessarily mean that that thing is bad, this is not the case at all. Rather, fasting from something, food or otherwise, is to develop spiritual disciplines that will deepen our relationship with Christ, God said, “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Fasting from food, helps us to draw closer to God and be reminded that the true sustenance for our souls isn’t from earthly food but heavenly food, the word of God. This passage also reminds us that fasting from food or things or activities isn’t the Biblical understanding of fasting if we don’t spend quality time in prayer and the study of the Word which comes forth from the mouth of God.
Also, it is important to know that whether in the Bible or in a secular dictionary, fasting isn’t choosing to do more “good deeds,” or “doing charitable work,” or “taking on something extra.” No matter how wonderful and well meaning a gesture, extra good deeds will not achieve the same spiritual goals, discipline, and intimacy with God. Fasting is requires the refraining from, or giving up the pleasure of, a food or thing.
In summation, fasting should be limited to a set time, especially when fasting from food. Extended periods of time without eating can be harmful to the body. Fasting is not intended to punish the flesh, but to redirect attention to God. Fasting should not be considered a “dieting method” either. The purpose of a Biblical fast is not to lose weight, but rather to gain deeper fellowship with God. Anyone can fast, but some may not be able to fast from food (diabetics, for example). Everyone can temporarily give up something in order to draw closer to God.
By taking our eyes off the things of this world, we can more successfully turn our attention to Christ. Fasting is not a way to get God to do what we want. Fasting changes us, not God. Fasting is not a way to appear more spiritual than others. Fasting is to be done in a spirit of humility and a joyful attitude.
Matthew 6:16-18 declares, “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.”
Journeying With Jesus Into the Wilderness
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)
The Gospel accounts according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke all contain some form of the verse above that describes a period of Jesus life just before He began His public ministry when He spent a time in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Jesus went through this time alone, and so unlike other parts of the Gospels which could have been recorded via first hand observation by the disciples, the only way for the Gospel writers to have known about Jesus’ experience in the wilderness was for Jesus to have told them about it. The fact that three of the four Gospels all include this story means it must have made an impact on the writers of these Gospels, and I imagine the experience also left an impact on Jesus, the one telling the story.
“The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness.” Not many of us walk willingly into a difficult situation in life. We don’t willingly ask God to make us struggle financially, or to take away our comforts, or to take away our friends. For some reason, however, the Spirit propelled Jesus into this experience of being alone, of not having all those things. We might wonder why.
As Jesus spent at least 40 days in this barren place, the devil assaulted Him with temptations. Realizing Jesus was hungry, the devil tempted Jesus to give up His reliance on God and provide food for Himself. But Jesus countered: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone’” (Luke 4:4). Even if Jesus were to make food for Himself, that wouldn’t be enough. Jesus knew He needed God.
Then the devil tempts Jesus with the rewards of this world, perhaps as a way to shortcut the path of suffering the Lord was planning for Him. But again, Jesus counters by leaning on God’s command that says we are to serve God only. The devil says in a sense, “Why suffer?” But Jesus’ determination is to hold true to God by believing, “Because God said so, and so I’m going to obey Him.”
Last, the devil tempts Jesus to doubt the care of God. “If you are really the Son of God, then throw yourself down from here” (Luke 4:9). By asking the question, the devil is really begging another question: “If you do this, do you really think that God will catch you?” But Jesus didn’t give in to doubting God. He didn’t feel a need to test God in order to see if God’s promises to provide would come true. Jesus instead trusted God at His word.
Why did the Spirit propel Jesus into the wilderness? We can’t be sure; only God truly knows. But we can observe that this experience provided a means for Jesus to grow closer to His Father in the way He might not have otherwise if Jesus were left to His own. Taking everything away gave the devil the tools he needed — hunger, desire, longing — but it also gave God the opportunity to satisfy each of those needs as well. Each time the devil tempted Jesus, Jesus was given a choice: to choose God or to choose the devil. And each time Jesus chose God, God was given the chance to build on His relationship with His Son and to show Himself faithful. In the end of it all, we read that Jesus wasn’t left alone to continue hungering and thirsting, but that he was tended to by angels (Matthew 4:11). God didn’t leave Jesus alone, but gave Him everything He needed.
Sometimes it is through the hard times that we learn to develop a real relationship with the Lord, that we learn how to trust Him, that we learn to talk to Him, and we learn to love and lean on Him as we would a real person in our lives.
If you are in the wilderness right now, we encourage you to press in closer to the Lord and not give up. God may not be the reason you are going through your experience, but He sure won’t waste the experience. As we seek Him, the Lord will see to it that we lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10).
Join us Wednesday nights this Lent season as we further explore the theme of the “Wilderness Experience” during our midweek Lenten worship series at Schoeneck (dinner at 6:00 p.m., worship at 7:00 p.m.)
God bless you,
Pastors Garritt and Sanette
A Month of Love
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary:
‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)
The aim of our renewed lives in Jesus should be to live as Jesus lived. When people see us and observe us, they should see God in us. We should resemble our Father: “Just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Peter 1:15).
Just what does living like God look like? Well, being that it is February, it is appropriate to talk about the way that God lives out what we call “love.” To understand God’s particular expression of love, it is important to distinguish it from the different forms of love we see evidenced in our world today. Just like the Yupik and Inuit people have multiple words for “snow,” the Greek language has multiple words to describe the different dimension of “love.” God doesn’t look down on any of these forms of love, but He certainly holds one above the rest, and that one is “agape” love. Let’s explore love in all it’s forms:
First, there is “eros,” which describes how we feel when we “fall in love.” It’s romantic, ambitious, and passionate. It’s the sitting by the phone for hours waiting on eros love to call. We don’t have to summon it into action. It summons us!
Then there is “storge.” This word usually connotes family love that occurs between parents, children, and among siblings. It’s what wakes up parents at 3:00 in the morning after lying down for only an hour to care for their precious baby.
Next there is “philia,” which means “brotherly love.” It’s where we get the name “Philadelphia” from, the city of “brotherly love.” Philia is a love between people who are unrelated but have come to treat one another like family. It must be taught and learned.
And last there is “agape.” This is the kind of love is the favor given to someone who has no reason or position to deserve or merit it. This is the love that God shows us and commands all of us to show each other. As one Christian writer puts it, “it is the kind of love that goes on when the road is rough and the going gets tough. It goes on when the edges are frayed and the heart is dismayed.” Agape love shows kindness and favor when it is most unnatural for us to do so — when we’ve been hurt by another. It’s the kind of love Jesus is talking about when Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” He says, “Do good to them, and lend to them without expecting anything back” (Luke 6:35).
Agape love is the kind of love that Jesus modeled in His ministry when He called Judas “friend” even though He knew Judas was about to betray Him (Matthew 26:50). He still desired good for Judas even though Judas meant evil to Jesus.
Agape love is the kind of love that Jesus showed to the ten men He healed from leprosy, knowing that only one would come back and say thank you to Him (Luke 17:11-19). He showed kindness to others without expecting those He helped to repay Him.
Agape love is the kind of love that Jesus showed when He went to the cross to pay for the sins of humanity. We had no merit to earn forgiveness. Our sins grieved God, but “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He suffered so that we as sinners could be free.
To live like Jesus means that we too give agape love to those in our lives who have hurt us. It means we treat our enemies with compassion. This, as you probably have experienced, can be a difficult task.
There are a couple of strategies that can help us. Jesus refers to a woman early in his ministry who comes to Him to pour perfume on Him saying, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). This woman was able to love — with agape love — because of how greatly she recognized the forgiving love Jesus had shown her in her life. “How has God forgiven me?” is a question we can ask when we find ourselves struggling to be kind to our enemies. Surely, God has been merciful to us when we didn’t deserve it; in response, can’t we show mercy to someone who doesn’t deserve it? Jesus says again: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Another strategy for showing agape love is to understand that we don’t have to bury the hurt in order to love. We just have to be able to let go of what we feel to be our right to hurt the person back. David, before he became Israel’s acting king, found his life in danger at the hands of King Saul who, in his jealousy and fear over David’s fame and success, desired him dead. Yet no matter how many times David was pursued by Saul and almost killed, David refused to fight back. He said, “Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” (1 Samuel 26:9) He knew that if he fought back, he’d be in danger of punishment from the Lord. David was able to refrain from retaliation by resting in the knowledge that if he did what was right, the Lord would defend him. David said of Saul, “As surely as the Lord lives, the Lord Himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Samuel 26:10-11). It wasn’t David’s job to fight back, but he could also rest knowing that the Lord doesn’t overlook evil.
And yet, while agape love may find comfort in the justice of God, it doesn’t rest there forever. David, while hurt by Saul, still mourned when he learned of Saul’s death (2 Samuel 1:17). Jesus didn’t just show kindness to those He encountered, but He longed for them to come to repentance, as He desires the same for each of us: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings and you were not willing (Matthew 23:37). Agape love prays for those who persecute us. We pray that people wouldn’t have to suffer the punishment for their sins, but that they would come to repentance.
As we embark into this month known for “love,” let us all endeavor through the strength of the Holy Spirit to love as Jesus loved, not just loving those people we like, but also those who have hurt us. And let us also remember how much we have been loved and forgiven by God. Amen.
Resolved to Have God in Control
New Year’s Resolutions are good and well intentioned. Eat better, go to the gym, reach out to family and friends we’ve lost touch with, spend more time with the kids, watch less TV, spend less time on the smartphone. We all have ideas of how to improve our lives from where they ended the year before.
But what if, as we start this year, we resolve to offer ourselves up to God to be molded and shaped by Him? Yes, we may have already identified the problems in our lives and prescribed the solutions, but this is different. This is us lifting up our hands in surrender to God and saying, “Show me the way.” This is us saying, “Mold me and make me, God, for thou art the potter and I am the clay.” This is us saying to God. “Wherever you tell me to go, I’ll go; whatever you tell me to do, I’ll do.” This is us declaring that we no longer belong to ourselves; we belong to God (Ephesians 4:22-23). Again, we are not the ones in control anymore; God is: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Jesus becomes the one directing our ship, as we say to Him, just as He said to God, “Not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).
We say with a deep breath, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
We wake up each day and say, “Jesus, take control of my life today.”
Jesus promises that when we open our will to His, the Holy Spirit “will guide us into all the truth” (John 16:13). He will show us the way. Jesus will “guide us into the path of peace” (Luke 1:79). But we need to make sure Jesus remains in control. The flesh may strike. Anger may come; jealousy or envy may rise. But we need to resolve to keep listening to God, to keep in step with His Spirit (Galatians 6:25). We have to keep on giving ourselves up to God again and again.
In anger and frustration, we resolve to pray, “Show me thy way.”
In fear and worry, “Show me thy way.”
In moments of stress and busyness, “Show me thy way.”
When we want to strike back, “Show me thy way.”
When we realize that we haven’t given back out of all that God’s given us, “Show me thy way.”
When we hear Jesus say, “Feed my sheep,” and we realize that we haven’t really been serving Him, “Show me thy way.”
We can be sure that as we find Christ, we will find our lives: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25). Our New Year’s resolutions may have the intent of improving our lives, but only through Jesus can we truly find life.
This new year, resolve to give Jesus control. Surrender to Him, truly lay your life into His hands and allow Him to direct your path. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)
Love and Blessings,
Pastors Garritt and Sanette