Fasting

by Glen Podd – 28 April 2017 

 

Fasting “When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, 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 others 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)

 

Definition 

The deliberate shunning of food for spiritual purposes. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus was talking about the right kind of righteousness. When it came to fasting the religious leaders of the Jews were setting the wrong example for the people, making great show of their piousness instead of fasting privately as unto the Lord. So let us examine fasting – there is a right and a wrong way to do it. 

 
There are four categories of fasting: 

Absolute fast 

Where you abstain from both food and drink, this is normally reserved for critical situations.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.' Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the  covenant – the Ten Commandments" (Exodus 34:27-28).
 
Normal fast 
 
The most common fast, where food is avoided but water is taken. 
 
Partial fast 
 
All desirable foods and liquids etc are avoided (Daniel 10:3), avoidance of the favourite things to tickle the pallet. This was only seen in Daniel 10:3, “At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over”.
 
Non-food fast (Isaiah 58:6) 
 
There are so many calls on our time in modern-day living, especially on the amount spent on social media (mobiles, games, on-line, hobbies and entertainment), that fasting from them and using that time to focus on God has become popular. 
 
Jesus viewed fasting as a normal part of a believer’s worship. In Matthew 6:16 Jesus does not say if you fast but when


Why do we fast? 

Fasting is not about losing weight, or curbing excessive eating habits or practices per se. In the Christian calendar Lent is the key period associated with fasting. It is the six-week period or 40 days leading up to Easter which prepares the Christian for the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection, traditionally from Ash Wednesday to Maundey Thursday or Easter Eve. The preparation involves penance (acts of repentance), almsgiving to the poor, prayer and fasting (self-denial). 

 

1. Fasting says no to the appeals of the flesh and yes to the things of the Spirit!  It is a process where we humble ourselves and seek God.

2. It perfects prayer. Fasting goes hand in hand with prayer. It demonstrates our urgent desire to connect with God and gives an opportunity to give Him our undivided attention.

3. It penetrates problems. There is no better time to fast than in the face of problems or issues:

 

- Preparing for a great task.

- Jesus fasted at the outset of His ministry (Matthew 4:1-11).

- Facing an urgent need – Esther fasted when Israel’s destiny was at stake (Esther 4:16).

- Mourning for great loss, sin or rebellion – the death of Saul and Jonathan and the defeat of Saul’s army (1 Samuel 31:13-2 Samuel 1:12).

- The Day of Atonement where Israel confessed their sin (Leviticus 23:26-32).

- Something impacts you so hard you cannot eat Saul’s blinding vision of Jesus on the Damascus road resulted in three days of fasting (Acts 9:5-9).

- Humbly asking God for help. King Jehoshaphat faces the threat of invading armies of Ammonites and Moabites and calls a national fast, gaining victory (2 Chronicles 20).

- An act of devotion – Anna on a daily basis in the Temple (Luke 2:36-38).

Just some of the reasons for fasting in the Bible. 

 
Private fasting 

“When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigu re 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)

 

Public fasting

There are times for public fasting when we pray as a church for example: "Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. 16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber" (Joel 2:15-16).
 

How long to fast? 

This can be varied and depends on the need at hand and the type of fast undertaken. In the Bible there are one-day, three-day, seven-day, 14 day and even forty day fasts. One person might fast for one meal or for one week, the longevity does not necessarily determine its success or spirituality; we need to be sensitive to God’s leading. 


Warning 

Generally people can survive for up to three weeks without food, but only three days without water (some up to eight to ten days). Water is critical as we dehydrate very quickly. The Bible does not promote 40 day fasts, it is only recorded twice, both for key moments in God’s spiritual agenda. Moses (Deuteronomy 9:9, 18 and 25-29; 10:10). These are the only mentions of fasting from food and water for such a length of time; the encounters must have been aided by God –a supernatural occurrence – as no normal man could have survived once, let alone four times! 

 

Jesus 

(Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13) The passages describe Jesus as fasting, Luke specifically mentioning fasting from food, and both he and Matthew emphasising that at the end Jesus was hungry. There is no mention of fasting from water. 

 

Blessings of fasting 

In Isaiah 58, the chapter on fasting, God denounces wrong fasting. Once in the year on the Day of Atonement there was a national fast but people could also fast on their own any time. However they grumbled that no-one could see what they were doing and no gain seemed to come of it! This brought an angry response from God and He declares what true fasting results in:

- New light and insight, v8.

- Health, v8.

- Increased testimony, v8 and 10.

- Divine protection, v8.

- Quicker answers to prayer, v9.

- Divine guidance, v11.

- Satisfaction in drought, v11.

- Produce fruit, v11. 

 

Final warnings 

Beware fasting from food if it works against your current state of physical and mental health.

1. If you are taking regular medication for a health condition (diabetic etc).

2. If you have an eating disorder.

3. You feel you should endure punishment or suffering.

4. You are pregnant or breast feeding.

Seek advice if uncertain (doctor/pastor). Choose a non-food fast.
 


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