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Discipleship - Fasting

Sunday, 18th November, 2007

 This morning we are considering fasting. In our obese society we think of fasting as an extreme diet. But it has been the practice of Godly people to fast for spiritual growth throughout the centuries. It is become more public in recent years as we have become more conscious of Islamic fasting – Ramadan  and other religions expressions of fasting. The Roman Catholic church has fast days but they are not generally held and even the Established Church – the church of England does not make a big issue of fasting. So it is good for us to look at the Bible, which last week we understood to be, under the guiding of the Holy Spirit,  the reliable Word of God, and see what it has to say to us, today, about what we should do in this respect.


 We start with two apparently conflicting sound bits from Jesus. He both said that his disciples would fast and they wouldn’t! And that we will find is general about the scripture view. Fasting is both encouraged and condemned. And we need to know why so we practice what is to do with righteousness, that is, what God wants us to do, and avoid, religion which is doing what we think might impress God. There is nothing we can do to impress God. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less, except reject him. Your salvation depends not on what you do but on what Jesus has done. You will be judged by God for whether you received salvation as a gift by faith and then go on to live by faith.


 So lets start with answering the question what are we talking about when we say fasting. Some Christians give up some luxury food item for Lent and call it a fast. But fasting generally is more serious than that. In some examples it means giving up food and drink for a period of time. On other occasions just food. I am not reading all the references but they are there to provide examples of what the Bible tells us. If you were at Razzmatazz you may remember we talked of Shadrack, Meshack, Abednego and Daniel giving up Royal food and eating vegetables and water only. But also we read of the king fasting by not sleeping. Jesus fasted for40 days in the desert and deptrived himself of company. So it is not ever specified that we should follow a religious set of rules as in Islam or elsewhere.

Neither is the duration set out. Under the Old covenant there were ‘Fast days’ when the people were not to eat. A one day food fast does not normally affect your health except as a disturbance to your habits. In special circumstances a longer fast was declared. Esther’s 3 days was because of extreme danger. The 7 day fast was a mark of respect for the death of King Saul. For healthy people these would medically do little more than force the body to use its fat reserves, It involves some discomfort as your tongue feels furry and usually you feel a bit weak. The are very specific references to three 40 day fasts. Each for a very unusual circumstance. In these cases the person would have significantly affected their health, as indigestive processes were suspended for a long time and the body would lose a lot if not all its fat and start on converting muscle tissue for maintaining vital processes. Which brings me to the next point


 Fasting can damage your health. Two things need to be said here. First, do not fast while taking medication with out consulting your doctor. Secondly start by fasting for short periods and build up so that you are aware of the effect on your body. Never go for a long period without food unless you have a specific word from God and others agree with you.

I have limited my comments here to food fasting because the other forms of fasting like sleep deprivation are have reasonably well known  effects.


The key to this whole issue is simple.  Fasting is between you and God. It is a spiritual discipline and is to do with worship and obedience.So when Jesus speaks of fasting READ MATTHEW 6:16-18

It is not for the rest of us to know about. So if you are fasting and no one else knows as long as you are not smug about it thinking you are therefore more spiritual than the rest of us. Great. But you wouldn’t hear us talking about our fast. Occasionally we have fasted together and obviously to do that it can’t be a secret. However we would not put it on the notice board or get a mention in the local paper. That would be wrong.


 Secondly fasting is not an end in itself. READ MATTHEW 9 14-15. The problem here is that the disciples of John thought that the fast was the thing. Jesus had to point out that as he was there, celebrating was more significant than fasting. Now we could argue that Jesus is here now, so we should celebrate and not fast. However, we will see that there is clear purpose for fasting that is consistent with jesus being here with us now.


 Fasting has to be consistent with righteousness. READ ISAIAH 58: 3-6. The most severe censure of God against man is for inconsistency. He is very upset if you go to church and then live like an atheist. If you speak of love and grace and rule your home mercilessly or drive your employees uncaringly.  What marked out people like William Wilberforce was that they broke the hypocrisy of the age where the wealthy paid lip services to being Christian and yet oppressed the poor and turned the industrial revolution into a version of slavery itself. We have to constantly examine our politics and work ethics and family value to see if we are behaving in righteousness, that is as God wants, rather that what we want. If we do not do these things, then fasting is a religious exercise, devoid of real spirituality.

 Fasting , to be of value is about seeking God. READ 2CHRONICLES 20:3-4. The fasting was a means to an end not the end itself. Depriving ourselves of food or sleep or company or just chocolates so that we can better seek God is a valid spiritual exercise. I will come back to the NB in a moment.

 Fasting does not score points with God.  READ LUKE 18:9-14. Notice how the Pharisee is using a spiritual exercise as if there is some calculator for God’s approval. There is not. Go done that path and the Bible says all your righteousness is as filthy rags. The best we can do in religious activity is always far short of what God requires. That is why Jesus came, to change the basis of salvation from scoring points to receiving the gift of salvation by faith. Each of us who are Christians, must, at some point of time, chosen to accept and receive rather than ‘do and satisfy’. That is why the Pharisee is turned down and the taxman accepted. The taxman is looking to receive unmerited grace and mercy. The Pharisee was looking for a return on his investment. That is why Samuel does not mention the fasting in his prayer. The fast was to be humble before God, not to earn the right of a hearing.

 Fasting is intended to be a humbling experience. READ LUKE 18:16. EZRA 8:21. We have much to learn about humility before Almighty God. We hang on to our pride and our achievements and our acceptability because that is primarily how we were born. Our sinful nature is naturally selfish and proud and greedy. And God has a work in progress to transform us to be like Jesus. And true fasting is when you stop to engage with God, open to his examination, listening to his evaluation, looking fo r his glory rather than your own.


 Why fast? Because you want to seek God. In the past people fasted when in distress.

They fasted because they were penitent and humbled by the knowledge of their own sinfulness and God’s holiness.

 They fasted because they were seeking God’s intervention. In this case David fasted as he prayed for the life of his son and stopped when God said “No”.

 They fasted when seeking guidance. READ ACTS 13:1-3. While it is not clear what triggered their fast, the outcome was clear guidance from God.

 To be humbled. Not to get the answer we want, to be a hero but to seek God and know his heartbeat.


 Fasting sounds a very sober subject but Zechariah says that it has a joyful outcome. That has to do with loving truth and peace. If the purpose of fating is to seek God, then the outcome will be being found by him. That is the place of true joy and peace.


Why do we fast?

 Jesus fasted. And we want to be his followers, so we do what he did. He fasted so we fast, he was baptised, so we are baptise, he prayed so we prayed, he was righteous so we receive his salvation and live by the power of the Holy Spirit to live holy good lives, he kept the Sabbath so we keep the Sabbath( we will talk about that next week) he spoke the Good news so we speak the good News. He loved sacrificially so we love sacrificially, he cared exhaustively so we do not give up on caring even when it wears us out, he gave his life so we receive the salvation his death brought to us. Disciples Follow Jesus.




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