By: Sammy Stewart
The bible is replete with instances in which men have fasted. Not only did the saints of the Old Testament fast regularly, but so also did the apostles. In the case of the latter, there is little wonder that
they were such spiritual giants.
Today the subject of fasting is discussed and practiced all too irregularly. This may be due, in part, to a lack of understanding. However, there are those who declare that fasting is no longer necessary. In the light of this, there is a need for God’s messengers to deal with the subject, not only by word but more effectively by example. Let no one doubt, men who fast and pray with the right motives, are men who have power with God.
I. WHAT IS FASTING
Matthew 6:16 states, “Moreover when ye fast, be not , as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They do not eat, but it not be right to describe them as fasting.
To fast, therefore, is to abstain, from food for a spiritual observance. The abstention may be for a day or for a longer period. In either case, there should be the involvement of body, mind and spirit.
Having given the above definition, I am aware the question of the use of water will arise. The Scripture records a number of instances in which there was an abstention of both food and drink. The following
are some instances:
1. Moses was with the Lord forty days and forty nights and neither ate bread nor drank water. (Exodus 34:28).
2. Ezra did not eat bread nor drink water. (Ezra 10:6).
3. Esther did not eat or drink for three days and three nights. (Esther 4:16).
Therefore, we must conclude that God inspired some of his people to go without food and water. Let me affirm that God still gives this kind of inspiration. However, where it is not given, water should be used
whenever fasting is for a protracted period.
II. THE PURPOSE
Almost everything that one does is either a sudden response to something which has happened or else a preconceived action based on diligent thought. The decision to fast should never be made in a hurry, but should follow careful consideration, particularly in so far as motive is concerned. Matthew 6:18 states “That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” Fasting that is disguised to impress humanity is hypocritical, to say the least, and only obtains the applause of man. What is important is not man’s applause but the reward that comes from God.
A. Averting God’s Wrath
In the Old Testament, people turned to God in fasting in an attempt to avert His wrath. The children of Israel, when faced with impending doom at the hand of the children of Benjamin, went up to Bethel and
sat before the Lord, wept and fasted. (Judges 20:24-28). When Joel informed the people that destruction was at hand he advised that they sanctify a fast, and cry unto the Lord. (Joel 1:13-14).
B. Desire For Special Mercy
Another purpose revealed in the Bible covers the individual’s need for special help from God. When Jehoshaphat learned that a great army was on its way to destroy his people he “set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (II Chronicles 20:2-3). Ezra, when he realized his need for protection against the enemies, “proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance (Ezra 8:21).
Matthew 6:18 states, “thy Father. . .shall reward thee openly.” Jeremy Taylor once said, “He who would recount he benefits of fasting might just as well, in the next page, attempt to enumerate the benefits of
Fasting does provide benefits. However, if we are fasting in order to obtain some benefits, as though it were a tool in our hands, we may end up spiritually frustrated. At all times fasting should be used as
a spiritual means whereby we are melted unto a more complete realization of the purpose of God in our lives. When this is achieved, self grows less and less and Christ becomes more and more. Let me share some of the benefits with you.
Acts 13:2 states “As they ministered to the LORD, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”
B. Increased Humility
“But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer returned unto my own bosom” (Psalm 35:13).
C. Increased Faith
Fasting does not produce faith–“faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). In fasting there is a neglect of self, and this neglect feeds the faith which is in us because of the
D. Power Over Sickness And Evil Forces
Mark 9:28 records a despairing question “Why could not we cast him out?” The question was asked by some disappointed, perhaps frustrated disciples after witnessing Jesus healing a boy who had a deaf and dumb spirit. The answer Jesus gave was food for thought. “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29).
Luke 4 is a marvellous chapter. It recounts the activities of our Lord. Let me share them with you briefly.
1. Returned to Jordan full of the Holy Spirit, and led into the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil and where He fasted for forty days.
2. Returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee.
3. Entered into the synagogue, where He read the lesson and commented there.
4. Left for Capernaum where He cast the demons out of a man.
5. Entered Simon’s house and healed Simon’s wife’s mother.
6. Verse 40 states “Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them.”
It is interesting to note that the above miracles occurred after Jesus had fasted for forty days. I believe that the church of today can be used in a similar manner. In fact, Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say
unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do;… (John 14:12). These greater works must be preceded by prayer and fasting.
The Bible contains instances in which fasting was displeasing to God. Isaiah 58:4 states that Israel fasted for strife and contention. This may seem strange and yet, if we are not careful, we could fall into
the same trap. It is important that we consider some of these dangers.
Fasting must never be reduced to a lifeless religious habit. If it becomes a ritual not only do we lose sight of its purpose but we have no benefit from it.
Hypocrisy is one of the more subtle dangers that we can encounter in fasting. The Pharisee stated, “I fast twice per week’ This statement, among others, was said in an attempt to demonstrate that he was unlike
the Publican. The Lord emphasized that this approach did not lend itself to justification. Fasting should never be used to “cover up” a sinful life. At best, this will invite the judgments of God.
C. Spiritual Pride
Spiritual pride is more common among Christians than we realize. The Christian who sets out to seek God in fasting and prayer must be careful that he does not sit down and make comparisons–“See how much I fast and he does not fast at all.” The fact of the matter is that your brother may have been fasting in secret, and with the right motive. In the final analysis, therefore, your comparison would be to your own destruction. Watch spiritual pride.
In this age of technological advancement and new methods, it is not difficult for the Church to pick up catalogues and probe them with a view to finding some man-made method which may seem plausible for
adoption. No professional band or choir, no sophisticated soundtrack system, no manipulation of lighting effects will bring revival.
The Church must motor down the road of fasting and prayer not for a week or a month, but until the rapture. Then and only then will we have revival till He comes.
(The above material was published by the Pentecostal Tabernacle Kingston, Jamaica.)
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