By Larry White
(Originally delivered in Boise, ID. June 20, 1999)
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?”
And he said to them, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days.”
My lesson today is on Fasting. It is a much neglected subject which many Christians read about in the scriptures but have no idea if such a thing should be practiced today.
I have a simple outline - What? - When? - How? - Why?
I ) What is Fasting?
The word nhstiV (nastis) simply meant to abstain from food. When we go to to bed we "fast", not eating or drinking anything for the next 8-10 hours. Then we rise and we break-our-fast. Or we have breakfast.
Some people water this word down by saying that fasting meant to go without a lot of things or anything that would hinder our communion with God. We can practice all sorts of self-denial and abstinence, but the fact remains that "to fast" means primarily "not to eat".
There are three types of fasts found in the scriptures.
1. The Normal Fast
This is just what I call it. it is not called this in the scriptures.
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward he was hungry.
This was going without food, solid or liquid, but not however without water. After the fast he was hungry. Which from my research meant that his body was telling him that the fast was over and that he had better eat something soon or he would start losing muscle tissue. After the fast, notice that Satan tempted him with bread not with drink.
2. The Absolute Fast
And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
This was abstaining from eating and drinking. Usually, this fast was for a period of not more than three days. Ezra spent the night fasting and mourning over the sins of his people. (Ezra 10:6) Queen Esther told Mordecai to "hold a fast on my behalf - neither eat or drink for three days." (Est. 4:16)
These were desperate circumstances, so they fasted absolutely.
Then there were miraculous fasts that were absolute. Moses spent two periods of 40 days before Jehovah in the mount neither eating or drinking. (Deut. 9:9-18; Ex. 34:28) Elijah was told to eat and drink twice of what the angel provided and he went in the strength of that food 40 days and nights.
Absolute fasts are for exceptional situations requiring exceptional measures.
3. The Partial Fast
This is a restriction of the diet rather than a complete abstinence. An example is Daniel mourning for the sins of Israel waiting for a vision.
I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.
II ) When to Fast (not if)
Mt. 6:2; 5; 16-18
2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
16 “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 you, 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.
All these things, giving, praying and fasting, were to be done in view of God, not men. There was not a question of if, but when.
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.
The Lord was with the disciples and so it was a time of feasting and rejoicing. The Pharisees called Jesus a glutton and a wine bibber. The day was beginning to break, the harbinger of the dawn had arrived and the kingdom was near. The bridegroom would be taken away from them, and then the disciples would fast. But not, as the old order, with its carnal rites and mourning for sins. They would be fasting for different reasons and according to the spirit of holiness and sanctification. Like Jesus says here - the new wine of the Spirit must be put into new wineskins. The old wineskins with their clinging fermentation would be ruined with the new wine.
The whole economy of God - the heavens and the earth, were going to be transformed and new. That new heaven and earth did come and we still enjoy it today. So the time is now - we are the ones who, absent from the bridegroom, fast and pray and come near.
In the Old Covenant there was just one fast commanded by God - on the day of Atonement. (Lev. 23:27) All other references are to occasional fasts called by a leader, like in Joel 2:15. "Sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly", or they are personal fasts for the sake of the worshipper as occasion may arise. Which brings in the next question.
III ) Why Fast?
As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
Prayer and fastings to the Lord, not to or for ourselves, but our focus is on God, to come near to him, to seek his face. It is not about your empty belly but about your empty heart and getting it filled. Fasting is not self-centered but God-centered.
1 "Cry aloud, spare not;
Lift up your voice like a trumpet;
Tell my people their transgression,
And the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet they seek me daily,
And delight to know my ways,
As a nation that did righteousness,
And did not forsake the ordinance of their God.
They ask of me the ordinances of justice;
They take delight in approaching God.
3 "Why have we fasted,' they say, "and you have not seen?
Why have we afflicted our souls, and you take no notice?'
"In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure,
And exploit all your laborers.
4 Indeed you fast for strife and debate,
And to strike with the fist of wickedness.
You will not fast as you do this day,
To make your voice heard on high.
5 Is it a fast that I have chosen,
A day for a man to afflict his soul?
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush,
And to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Would you call this a fast,
And an acceptable day to Jehovah?
6 "Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 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 Jehovah shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and Jehovah will answer;
You shall cry, and he will say, "Here I am.'
"If you take away the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday.
11 Jehovah 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.
12 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,
The restorer of streets to dwell in.
13 "If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on my holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of Jehovah honorable,
And shall honor him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
14 Then you shall delight yourself in Jehovah;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of Jehovah has spoken."
So we must let our searching for God direct our praying and our humbling ourselves in fasting. Not doing our own thing for our own pleasure or pride.
"Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: "When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for me--for me? When you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves?
There are a number of reasons to fast.
1. For Sanctification
We fast to cleanse our way to God, to humble ourselves before God, that he might lift us up. "I humbled my soul with fasting." (Psa.69:10) This is a Biblical practice just as is prayer - not asceticism, but coming near to God.
Pride and a full belly go together.
Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions.
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.
God wants to move us beyond mourning for sins, he wants to lift us up. And that is one reason to fast, to consecrate yourself to God.
2. To be Heard by God
Remember Isa.58:9, "Then you shall call and the Lord will answer". Fasting focuses us only on God. (Jer.9:13-14) "When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you." This kind of discipline of worship and prayer is the earnest heart that heaven listens to and answers.
The fast says, nothing is more important, not even my life here on this earth. Fasting in humility makes our hearts fit to lay hold of God and his blessings.
3. To Change God's Mind
"Now, therefore," says Jehovah,
"Turn to me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning."
So rend your heart, and not your garments;
Return to Jehovah your God,
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and of great kindness;
And He relents from doing harm.
Jonah 3:5, 10
So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that he had said he would bring upon them, and he did not do it.
When we abandon ourselves in humility before the throne of God - our voice will be heard on high and God just may change an otherwise hopeless situation. We can pray and fast for the church and for his help in leading us. We can fast and pray for our nation and for God to give us righteous leaders that love the truth.
4. To Intercede for Another
2Sam. 12:16, 22
David therefore pleaded with God for the child, and David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground.
And he said, "While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, "Who can tell whether Jehovah will be gracious to me, that the child may live?'
When we really want to step between a friend and God and lift their name and cause up to him, having a consecrated heart of devotion to God, a clear purpose without any add mixture of motive, but seeking his will in his mercy and grace, it is prayer and fasting that will get us there.
IV ) How Does One Fast?
Stop eating. :-)
Do not start off with a 40 day fast! Start with maybe a one day fast. I started with a one day fast of sipping only orange juice when I was thirsty.
Before you start, kick the caffeine habit, the sugar habit and the chocolate habit, otherwise you will most likely suffer from withdrawal headaches.
This is a spiritual endeavor so the emphasis is not on your belly but on your heart and how you are communicating to God and how you are being quiet and humble and submitting to him, and how you are listening to him and walking in the spirit.
Are my motives right? Are there any hidden desires to impress or feel proud? (the opposite of fasting) Why am I doing this? God is going to be participating with you and fasting with you. What do you want?
To draw near to God in the spirit?
Be ready for possible conflicts. Satan does not want you to be doing this. He can bring all sorts of things up to prevent prayer and fasting or to hinder it. Stay the course.
Set a block of time when you will not be busy, when you will be in solitude. Do not do any thing strenuous.
I used to take a long drive into the mountains or along the coast.
How to break the fast.
This advice is for longer fasts (over 2 weeks)
Get the digestive machine working again slowly. Eat very little and rejoice for what God has given with thanksgiving. Start with hot liquids like chicken noodle soup and crackers.
Do not talk about your eating or not eating with anyone. That is a trap. Stay humble to God and just slowly eat more at every meal.
~ Invitation ~