Day 23 – When You Fast
“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. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so 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. Matthew 6: 16 – 18
Jesus did not say, “If you fast”, he said, ”When you fast”. I guess that means He expects us to do just that…and all the while, keeping it just between God and us. So, if we are to fast, why? Is it for the reward spoken of in Matthew 6:18 above?
As a young Christian, I was afraid to fast because of my past eating disorder; finding it difficult to have pure motives. As I’ve matured and found complete victory in that area of my life; occasional fasts have drawn me closer to God and given me clarity. One such fast was done before launching our Women of Purpose ministry in San Diego in 1997. Throughout the entire time, I sensed God’s power and provision. The night we launched the ministry; over 100 women attended from over 20 churches; and today, eleven years later, we have reached over three thousand women with the gospel. I know it was not the fast that gave our ministry its wings…but rather God who heard our heart’s cry for the lost and drew women to partner with us.
Fasting is spoken of in the Bible seventy-four times and there are several recorded reasons why people fasted. They include, mourning someone’s death; repentance and confession; seeking protection; seeking direction; healing from sickness and sending people out for the purpose of ministry. As I prayed about today’s devotion, I sensed God wants us to better understand this important element of the Christian walk – especially for those of us who have or still battle with eating issues. So, this may seem a bit more instructional than inspirational today as we take a little extra time to seek clarity about how and when God calls us to fast.
Since I am such a novice at fasting, I sought the wisdom of someone well grounded in this area. Dennis Rupert, pastor of New Life Community Church in Safford, Virginia is that person; and by his permission, I am sharing his excellent teaching on this subject below.
Thoughts on Fasting – by Dennis Rupert:
The Bible tells us that food was given for four reasons; enjoyment, sustenance, fellowship, and worship. Yet, God also has a place for fasting in our lives. We must never think of fasting as a hunger strike designed to force God’s hand and get our own way. We don’t need to strong arm God. God is good and eager to answer our prayers. He is generous and eager to give us good things. Don’t use fasting to try to push God into a corner. Who knows? Maybe He would rather let you starve and join Him in heaven!
What exactly does fasting (not eating food) mean? Why did people in the Bible “not eat?” We find a clue in Leviticus 16:29. This verse says that fasting is synonymous with “afflicting one’s soul.” We gain some insight here about how the Hebrews viewed fasting. Fasting is more than just “afflicting one’s body”. It is “afflicting one’s soul.” In other words, fasting in the Hebrew mind is something my soul participates in. Fasting is denying my self. It is denying not only my own body, but also my own desires. It is a way of saying that food and my desires are secondary to something else. Fasting is an act of self-denial. But it is not only that and thus the reason God is not moved by religious hypocrisy.
Biblical fasting is “not eating” with spiritual communication in mind. We know this because it always occurs together with prayer in the Bible – ALWAYS. You can pray without fasting, but you cannot fast (Biblically speaking) without praying. Biblical fasting is deliberately abstaining from food for a spiritual reason: communication and relationship with the Father. We also always find fasting connected with a very troubled spirit or anxious heart before the Lord. Fasting is something you do when you have a consuming reason to seek God for very special guidance, provision or forgiveness. We fast to demonstrate that we are seeking God “with all our heart.” Fasting puts things in proper focus. It is a physical way of saying, “Food and the things of this life are not as important to me now as (fill in the blank).”
So when should a Christian fast? We should fast when we sense the Spirit of God leading us to do so. The occasion for fasting is a totally voluntary decision. A Christian may decide to fast whenever there is a spiritual concern or struggle in his or her life. Of course, there may be times when those in authority over us proclaim a fast, as was done by King Saul (1 Samuel 14:24) or Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:3). But normally and ultimately that decision is solely between us and the Lord. It is important to understand that we cannot fast and pray expecting God to bless us when there is known sin in our lives. Fasting does not impress God with our spirituality to the point that he ignores our disobedience. On the contrary, genuine fasting will always cause us to examine our hearts to make sure everything is right with Him.
In the Bible, there were three basic fasts recorded. The first, the “normal fast”, was when a person abstained from food and liquid for a period of one day (from sunset to sunset). The second, the
“partial fast” placed an emphasis on restriction of diet, rather than abstaining completely from eating as in the prophet Daniel’s fast recorded in Daniel 10:3. The last is the “radical fast” which is one in which the person refrains from both food and water, or simply food for an extended period of time. A radical fast can be harmful to your health and in most cases should not exceed three days. Fasts that extend beyond three or seven days can be found in the Bible, but these exceptions were based upon direct guidance from God or a supernatural ability given by God to complete the fast. Examples of these extreme fasts are: Moses (Deuteronomy 9:9-18 and Exodus 34:28); Elijah (1 Kings 19:8); and Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11). We must be wise to fast based on our body’s unique need or weakness. God is not so concerned with the “how”, but rather the “heart”.
God said, “When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you” (Jeremiah 29:13, 14). When a man or woman is willing to set aside the legitimate appetites of the body to concentrate on the work of praying, they are demonstrating that they mean business and are seeking God with all their heart. Fasting is an expression of wholeheartedness.
Please help me to know when you want me to fast and give me the strength to surrender my hunger and needs fully to you. I want to know you more intimately and understand how fasting fits into our relationship. I love you, Lord.
From the devotion above I have identified:
Nourish Your Body
Fasting for Health
Fasting can serve two important purposes. First, as we already noted in our “Nourish Your Spirit” segment today, fasting is a way for believers to surrender themselves to the Lord and seek His forgiveness, wisdom or provision during times of important decisions or trying circumstances.
The second reason to fast is for the health benefits it can provide. And while one may gain some health benefits from a spiritual fast, it is my personal opinion that this should not be the main motivation. Unfortunately for many who struggle with weight management issues or eating disorders, this may be a hard definition to make. I simply caution you to determine which objective you are seeking at the outset of your fast. God always deserves our best.
With that being said, let’s take a quick look at some healthy ways to fast and their benefits. Regarding this subject; Jordan Rubin, in his book, The Great Physicians Rx for Health & Wellnesswrites: “I’m a firm believer in the value of giving the body’s digestive system time off from the round-the-clock digestive cycle that so many people put their bodies under these days. Your liver – the hardest-working organ God gave you – will thank you.” He explains that to work efficiently, the liver needs the kind of rest that fasting or even healthy “under-eating” on occasion provides.
In addition to resting your liver, most people find that regular fasting (missing 2-3 simultaneous meals per week) helps them have higher energy, stay leaner and promote a younger appearance. Jordan Rubin chooses to do a one-day partial fast almost every week by skipping breakfast and lunch and then eating a light dinner as a part of his total lifestyle plan.
If you have never fasted, you may want to start by simply eating only fruits and vegetables and drinking only water or herbal tea for 2-3 meals a week. As you begin to feel the benefits, you may want to try “water only” for a partial or whole day. Again, this type of fast is for the health benefits; so you can modify it in ways that maximize your ability to consider fasting as a regular part of your health regime.
As I stated elsewhere, the only proven way to increase longevity is to eat less, so fasting is certainly one way to do that. But, that being said; we also want to support a healthy metabolism. That requires that we eat at least as many calories as our “RMR” most of the time. Fasting for health purposes must maintain a balance between “resting and cleansing” your body with sustaining it. If you find yourself falling into an attitude of fasting for weight loss for days on end…STOP fasting. We must maintain healthy and balanced attitudes about fasting (both spiritual and health related) in order to realize its benefits.