Tuesday, March 8, 2011
The Skinny on Fasting
This past Fall our church did a series called P90 Christian where we focused on spiritual disciplines for seven weeks. One of those sermon topics covered the spiritual discipline of fasting. I have included a portion of that message here to help guide you and inspire you to fast through this Lenten season. Here is a link to the entire message if you would like to listen instead.
What is fasting? What is it all about?
FASTING: THE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE OF DENYING OUR APPETITE TO FOCUS ON GOD.
Fasting is one of the most forgotten of all spiritual disciplines. Richard Foster in his classic book on spiritual discipline, “Celebration of Disciplines”, states that from 1861 to 1954, almost 100 years, there were no books published on fasting. Since that time, there have been works on the subject of fasting but they are far from best sellers. When most people talk about fasting they usually talk about fasting in the health field or even to bring attention to some goal like Gandhi. Very little attention has been given to fasting as a spiritual discipline. But even so the Bible has quite a bit to say about it, many of the great heros of the faith, including Jesus, made fasting a regular part of their devotion as a disciple.
WHY SHOULD WE FAST?
We have become a nation obsessed with consumption, what they used to refer to as gluttony. And why not? Look at how we are marketed to:
Burger King tells us we can “Have it your way”, who doesn’t want that? Wheaties Cereal is the “Breakfast of Champions”, and you have heard it said that if you want to win that next athelitic competition, “You better eat your Wheaties”. It doesn’t even stop at competition, what about just enjoying life more? Well you need to chew Doublemint gum because you can “Double your pleasure. Double your fun.” I don’t know about you, but I always chew 2 sticks of Doublemint, do the math, it’s worth it.
We are assaulted on every level through media telling us that we won’t feel satisfied or that we are missing out on something if we don’t buy and try something. And the way they communicate that ends up entering into our normal everyday conversation. We are being fed the lie that our happiness, contentment, and satisfaction in life is completely contingent upon something we can buy, eat, or drink. Now I think most of us know intellectually that that isn’t true, but we still often find ourselves at the end of this line with the hook in our mouths, and we’re caught, all the while fighting the idea that we could fall for that kind of bait. If it weren’t true then why is this fact true:
We spend, on average, $40 billion each year, on diet products. If they worked we would only have to buy it once! But we buy it again and again.
But marketing guru’s out there are plugged into you, yes who you specifically, are. What you like, what you don’t like, and they spend billions of dollars every year telling us what we are going to like, while convincing us that it is all our choice. By doing so they manufacture this need that grows within us until we make that purchase, we get the thigh master, we buy those miracle chamois, we buy another set of steak knives just in case we ever want to cut up pop cans, and while they spend billions to sell us junk, they make all that money back hand over fist. We live in this a consumer world, where we think that to find satisfaction we need to buy and to consume more and more, and it
Perhaps Madonna said it best, “we are living in a material world and I am a material girl.” I have a friend who is in marketing, and she said “my little girl doesn’t have a chance because they have got her number.” My response was simple, well if you want her to have any chance at all, you will have to change that number.
Why do we need to fast? because Jesus and the heroes of the faith all fasted, but also because if we want to change our number, if we want to break that grip that is so tightly held upon us, we need to develop self control.
All spiritual disciplines orient our hearts toward God, but this one serves to bring our bodies under control as well.
One author says it like this:
“Physical appetites are an analogy of our ability to control ourselves. If we are unable to control our eating habits, we are probably also unable to control other habits, such as those of the mind (lust, covetousness, anger) and unable to keep our mouths from gossip or strife. We are not to let our appetites control us, but we are to have control over our appetites.”
2 Peter 1:5–7
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.
2 Timothy 3:1–5
3 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
Fasting is a powerful discipline designed to bring us into right relationship with God. We need to fast to gain self control, to break the hold the world has on us. This is the way it has always been, but like anything else it can become twisted when we use it for other purposes. That is why many of the passages we find in the Bible warn about fasting in the wrong way.
Fasting without seeking God is called anorexia.
Fasting with the intention of impressing men leads to spiritual anorexia. You may look good for a while, but eventually the truth comes out. Jesus addresses the issue like this:
16"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. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so 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.”
Fasting is an intensely individual pursuit it builds self control as we fight against the weakness of our flesh, Jesus even chided the disciples saying to them “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” If we fast to impress people, then the practice loses all it’s ability to form us into Christ centered beings because we have taken Christ out of the equation when we fast or do any spiritual discipline for our own sakes.
The Bible describes people fasting before making big decisions most often in conjunction with prayer.
...can get God’s attention
-on 2 separate occasions Moses fasts food and water for 40 for his people and God responds in his favor. Deuteronomy 9:9,18, Exodus 34:28
-Ezra followed in this manner when he had a problem that only God could solve, he called the nation to fast. Ezra 8:21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.
...can empower us.
-Jesus spent 40 days fasting and in prayer before starting his ministry. Luke 4
-The Holy Spirit directed the early church leaders to set apart Paul and Barnabas for ministry in the while fasting. Acts 13:2
-Paul and Barnabas commissioned the Elders of the first New Testament churched after prayer and fasting. Acts 14:23
There are all kinds of examples of how fasting is used in the Bible, and when fasting is done in a righteous manner, God rewards it. It became such a powerful discipline that eventually it became a regular practice, people not only fasted when the nation was called to it in distress, it became a weekly occurrence. The tradition continued and transitioned into Christianity. The early church fathers encouraged fasting in the Didache, and went on specifically to advise the fasting be done on Wednesday and Friday so as not be be confused with the non believers who fasted on Monday and Thursday. John Wesley himself, wanting to revive this teaching, required that any man he ordained practice the Wednesday and Friday fast of the Didache.
But as much as the Bible says about fasting, as much warning as it gives as to our motives and how we are to approach the practice, there is no direct command to fast. There is an indirect expectation though, as Christ gives the directions concerning fasting, that his disciples do fast. He says “when you fast...” not if. But I can’t lie to you, there is no command that says you have to do it. It is not mandated in what we consider to be scripture that a follower of Christ has to fast ever, period. But why not?
There are many reasons why people don’t fast, one reason may be medical. You need to eat or bad things happen with your diabetes. And that is why there are different types of fasts to take into consideration, you should also consult your physician before attempting and absolute or solid food fast:
-Absolute Fast. An absolute fast is conducted by abstaining from all food and water for a certain period of time. This is also known as "total fast." There are several biblical examples for the total fast. Moses and Elijah both abstained from food and water for forty days and forty nights. (Deuteronomy 9:9, 10:10, 18:25-29; 1 Kings 19:8). Although the Bible says they fasted for forty days, many people usually only totally abstain from food and water for three days.
-Solid Food Fast. A solid food fast is where an individual may drink juice and water, but chooses not to eat solid food. Certain scholars and theologians think that Jesus may have drank water while in the wilderness since the Bible doesn't say that he was thirsty after his forty day fast (see Matthew 4:2). Drinking water while fasting for several days can actually be therapeutic for your body. In any case, you should not fast for more than a week unless you consult a doctor.
-Partial Fast. A partial fast is where you choose to abstain from certain foods and drinks instead of complete abstinence. The Bible tells us that Daniel abstained from bread, water, and wine for 21 days (Daniel 10:3). Others may choose to fast from television, computer, newspaper, and hobbies. This will help you free up some time to spend in prayer and reflection.
In our family Bridget and I have taken up the practice of fasting for the season of Lent, the 6 weeks before Easter by observing a limited media fast. We may also take up a fast when life gets too hectic and we can sense we are loosing our connection with God and each other. We have found fasting to be one of the most important and rewarding disciplines you can practice.
We all attest to the busyness and complexity of life. Choosing to fast through the season of Lent is one way to bring things to a crisper focus. So I challenge you to invite God to inspire your sacrifice for these next 46 days, I guarantee it will change something about you, even if it's only to drop a few pounds at worst, or to totally transform your relationship with God and your life at blessed.
Love to hear your feed back.
Grace and Peace,