Fasting? What is That About?
Sunday, February 21, 2016
58:1-14; Matt 6:16-18; Acts 13:1-3
1 "Cry loudly, do not hold back; raise your voice like a trumpet, and declare to My people their transgression, and to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 "Yet they seek Me day by day, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that has done righteousness, and has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask Me for just decisions, they delight in the nearness of God. 3 'Why have we fasted and Thou dost not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and Thou dost not notice?'
Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. 4 "Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. 5 "Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it for bowing one's head like a reed, and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord? 6 "Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? 7 "Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 "Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 9 "Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.' If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10 and if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. 11 "And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places,
and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. 12 "And those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will raise up the age-old foundations; and you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell.
13 "If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure, and speaking your own word, 14 Then you will take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." NASB
The fast that God chooses - to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke. To divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh.
There are those who fast because they feel it makes them better. They want to be seen by people to be religious. Jesus spoke of them when He spoke of the hypocrites who fasted to be seen of men. Look at Matthew 6:16-18.
16 "And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 "But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face 18 so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. NASB
There are those who fast because it boosts their ego. They feel they are more righteous if they perform this or other religious activities. These are not the fasts that God wants us to participate in.
The Jews had been fasting for a long time. It had become an integral part of their ceremonies and religious activities. One of the earliest mentions of it is found in the book of Esther. Do you remember that story. The niece of a Jewish man became the queen of Persia. This was just before the Jews were returned to Palestine after the Babylonian captivity. It would have been about 70 years after Isaiah wrote his book.
Haman had made plans to have all the Jews killed because Esther's uncle, Mordecai refused to bow down when he went by. Mordecai told Esther that she must go to the emperor and ask him to save them. Esther knew that if she went to her master without being summoned by him, she could lose her head quite literally. She asked her uncle to have all the Jews to fast and pray for 3 days and she would take the chance and go before the ruler of the world.
Esther saved her people and her uncle was raised to second in command, the position that Haman had held before. Haman was hanged on the gallows he had meant for Mordecai.
The early church fasted and prayed to be near to God. They were seeking God's will. One event where this is mentioned is in Acts 13:1-3:
13 Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. NASB
The church was spreading across the world. Jesus had followers in the city of Antioch on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Barnabus and Saul, whose name would become Paul, were to be sent on a missionary journey up into Europe and Asia Minor. This would be the first of 3 such missionary journeys for Paul.
Why should we fast? Isaiah tells us why God wants us to fast. It is to break the bonds that keep us in bondage. We are to fast and pray even as the early church did.
We are in the season that many traditional churches call Lent. It is a period of 40 days before Easter when Christians in those groups are to give something up as a sign of their devotion to God and to Jesus Christ. This is noble, and of some benefit.
There are many proponents of fasting that have nothing to do with religion. There are many in the fields of health that would tell you that fasting can be good for your health.
I would caution you, not to fast without checking with your doctor if you have health issues. It would not be wise for those on certain medications to fast. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before going on a fast of any significant length if you are unsure of what problems it could cause you.
For some, limited fasts may be a better idea. Giving up certain foods, or even other activities may be a way you can fast and get some of the same spiritual benefits.
I would encourage you to seek God and ask what and when He would have you to fast. The language of the New Testament would indicate that Jesus expects us to fast.
As we look to the future of our church family here in the Green Valley community, I would encourage you to fast and pray that God would give us wisdom and direction as we continue to follow Him.
I would encourage you to begin praying and fasting for the lost around you. There are many who are caught in the bondage of unbelief. They are in danger of losing the hope of eternal life. We are called to make disciples. We must begin to get serious about winning the lost to Christ and teaching them to follow Him as their Lord and Savior.
As we begin to fast and pray we need to heed Christ's warnings about fasting for the wrong reasons. It is not to draw attention to our own goodness, but a means of seeking God.
It can be helpful as we seek God and as we learn to put off the flesh and walk in the spirit. It can be a tool of God to help us grow in our faith and in our relationship with God.
Should we fast today? If you are fasting only because you are 'supposed' to, then don't bother. If you are fasting to be seen by others as a 'spiritual' person, you are wasting your time.
But, if you sense the heart of God breaking over the lost and over those who are hungry and destitute, and your heart is breaking as His heart is breaking; if you are concerned because you see people around you dying without knowing the love of God and your heart is breaking as God's is breaking, then yes, we need to fast today. We need to be concerned, as is God, and care enough to give up our simple pleasures and spend extra time in prayer and fasting for those lost souls that God will lay upon our hearts when we spend time with Him in earnest prayer.
When our relationship with God is more important to us than the pleasure of food, we will fast. We will go into our closets and pray for those we see whose lives are broken, for those who do not know that God loves them more than they can ever imagine. When our hearts are breaking because we know that people we know are dying without having a relationship with God, we will begin to set aside our own pleasures and seek God's guidance and direction to see souls saved.
When God leads you to fast, do so. When you are spending time with Him, He will move you to care more about others than about yourself. He will show you that He cares and then you will care enough to sacrifice a little comfort to ask God to show mercy to the lost.
Ask God what He would have you to give up as you follow Him and pray for others to follow Him as well.
Fasting is about denying self and living for God's purpose. Are you serious about following Him today?