I hope that our brief introduction to fasting last week left you hungry for more – in both senses of the word. I hope that you’re hungry to learn more about fasting and I hope that you’re hungry because you actually tried fasting. And if you did, I’d sure be interested in hearing about your experience.
Now, I know we read that verse last week about how we aren’t supposed to make a big show about our fasting – we’re not to try to look miserable and disheveled so people can tell that we’re fasting. Fasting is supposed to be something just between you and God. But that’s not to say we should never talk about our experiences in fasting.
Jesus is just telling us not to fast with the wrong motives. We’re not supposed to fast just to try to appear righteous to everyone else around us. We need to do it for the proper motives. But He’s not saying to never talk about it. And maybe that’s why fasting is so foreign to us – because the handful of Christians who do fast, never talk about it.
So if you’ve tried fasting before – even if it was just once – I’d love to hear about it! I think it would be awesome to see fasting once again become a normal, expected part of the Christian life (much like Bible reading and prayer). And to not see it just some foreign, strange ritual they did back in Bible times.
Because fasting is such a healthy habit! We talked last week about how fasting reminds us how desperate we are for God. The hunger we feel in the pit of our stomach when we fast is a physical reminder of a spiritual reality. Our body’s physical dependance on food reminds us of our spirit’s dependance on God. Like Jesus says in John 6:35…
Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35
Jesus is saying that apart from God we have no life. He is the source of life. He gives us everything we need to live abundantly and eternally. We are absolutely dependant on Him. And fasting is a great way to remind ourselves of that.
And that’s just one of the benefits of fasting! That’s probably a good enough reason in itself, but today I want to dig a little deeper and point out even more reasons why fasting is such a healthy habit. There are several reasons I think, why this spiritual discipline has been practiced by the men and women of God for centuries.
Now for those who might have missed last week’s message, we should probably revisit our definition of fasting. This is the definition we were working from.
“Fasting is voluntarily going without food — or any other regularly enjoyed, good gift from God — for the sake of some spiritual purpose.” ~ David Matthis
So it’s not just a diet or doctor’s orders – there has to be a spiritual purpose in mind when we fast. And the first spiritual purpose we identified was that it reminds us how desperate we are for God. And I think we do often need that reminder. As humans, we tend pride ourselves on being self-reliant and self-sufficient. We’re pretty quick to forget how badly we need God. So fasting is a great way to remind us of that on a regular basis.
The second spiritual purpose for fasting that I want to suggest today is that that fasting helps us keep an eternal perspective. And I think this is even more important today than it ever has been – because right now – more than any other time in history – we are living in a world of instant gratification.
If you’re feeling hungry? Well, just go to the cupboard or the the fridge – there’s bound to be chips or cookies or some pre-packaged food that you can eat immediately. You don’t have to go out hunting or fishing or picking berries. You don’t have to fetch the water from the well and gather wood for the fire. You don’t even have to wait 5 minutes to cook up some instant rice or a pizza pocket. You don’t even have to be at home – just swing through the drive through for instant burgers and fries.
And that’s just food. How about entertainment? When I was a kid, you had to wait until a certain time and day to watch the show you wanted. You guys remember… 10:30am every weekday morning was Mr. Dressup. At 11:00am Sesame Street. And 6:00pm Sunday evening – The wonderful world of Disney!
But there’s no waiting today! Just watch it on Netflix – watch it on demand. You don’t even have to suffer through commercials. Just watch what you want when you want. Again, you don’t even have to be at home – it’s all on your phone in your pocket. Literally, within 30 seconds, anyone of us right now could be watching any show we liked.
And shopping is no different… There’s no need to go to the market or even the mall. Anything you want, just order it online. Choose over-night shipping and enjoy it immediately. Even if you don’t have the money to pay for it – put it on your credit card! Enjoy it now – pay for it later.
That’s the mentality of our world today – in every area of life. Don’t wait for anything. Live for today.
And that mentality makes perfect sense to most people – because if this life is all we’ve got, then, yah… we’d better make the most of it! We need to enjoy every moment of every day to the fullest because we never know what day will be our last.
And I would agree that it’s a no-brainer to live for the moment….If this life is all we have…. But the Bible is very clear that this life isn’t all we have. The Bible tells us that this life on earth is merely but a moment compared to the rest of our life throughout eternity. David writes in Psalm 39:4-5
4 “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered—
how fleeting my life is.
5 You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
at best, each of us is but a breath.” Psalm 39:4-5
And I like how David measured his life on earth. It’s the width of his hand.
Here’s your life life on earth – the width of your hand. On one side is where you are born – on the other side is when you die. Most of us spend the majority of our time thinking only the things that are going to take place between those two points. But what about beyond that?
Because our life doesn’t end here – our time on this earth ends here and the rest of our life continues on and on and on… How much time and effort do we spend thinking about and getting ready for that time?
How foolish are we to spend so much time and effort thinking about our time right here – without giving any thought to how we will spend the rest of our life over here and beyond.
“For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.” Philippians 3:18-20
As citizens of heaven, we would be foolish to think only about this life here on earth. And that’s why fasting is so useful in helping us keep that eternal perspective.
Fasting forces us to forgo that instant gratification because we choose instead to focus on eternal things. David Matthis says….
“We fast in this life because we believe in the life to come. We don’t have to get it all here and now, because we have a promise that we will have it all in the coming age. We fast from what we can see and taste, because we have tasted and seen the goodness of the invisible and infinite God — and are desperately hungry for more of him.”
~ David Matthis
In other words, fasting help us keep our priorities straight.
It’s so easy to get caught up taking care of the urgent things in our life, that we neglect to do the things that are most important in life. There’s a big difference between urgent and important.
Urgent things demand that you do them right now – things like taking kids to school, going to work, going to meetings, doing the laundry, or eating…. Those all have that sense of urgency – you’ve got to get these things done.
But those aren’t always the important things. At the end of your life, you’re not going to say….
Boy I wish I had gotten the kids to school on time or Boy, I wish I had kept on top of that laundry…
No! Those aren’t the important things. The important things are things like spending time with your kids, getting to your spouse, dating your daughter, teaching your son what it means to be a man of God, becoming that man of of God yourself – cultivating a rich relationship with the Creator of the Universe! Those are the important things!
And fasting is a great way to practice choosing the important over the urgent. When you fast, your stomach is going to remind you that eating is urgent! Your hunger is going to shout “You need to deal with this right now!” But that’s when you can say “No. Not right now. Right now I’m taking care of what’s important. I’m spending time with my Creator. I’m going to spend this time in prayer or I’m going to spend this time reading His Word”… or whatever else you choose do. But it’s a great way to remind ourselves to choose the important over the urgent.
When Jesus fed the crowd of 5,000 people with those few fish and loaves, the next day the people all gathered around him again. And it wasn’t because they recognized that someone who could do that sort of thing must be God… No, they just wanted to be around this guy who gave out free food! And Jesus says to them in John 6:26-27
26 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. 27 But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. John 6:27
And I think we can apply that very much to fasting. Don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food – spend your energy instead seeking after God. Don’t be so concerned about the urgent – seek after what is important – seek after what is eternal.
Now of course, I’m not saying that we should never deal with the urgent. Of course we need to get the kids to school – of course we need to go to work, of course we need to eat. But sometimes we get so caught up in all the demands of the urgent that we neglect the important.
I know that all of us have very busy lives. Our whole day is often filled with urgent things. Many of us struggle to find the time to read our Bibles or spend time in prayer or to do any of those other things that help us grow in our relationship with God. Well, fasting gives us a way to replace one of those urgent things with one of those important things. It takes our focus off of life right now and puts it onto eternity.
And I think that is a key point of fasting – putting our focus on eternity. It reminds us that this life is fleeting – but we have a life to look forward to that will endure for eternity. And frankly, it’s going to be a much better life! We read Matthew 9:18 last week – as Jesus was questioned about why his disciples didn’t fast. I think this fits right in with what we’re talking about. Let’s look at that again…
18 Once when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and asked, “Why don’t your disciples fast like John’s disciples and the Pharisees do?”
19 Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can’t fast while the groom is with them. 20 But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.
Jesus’ disciples didn’t need to fast because they were in the presence of the groom – they were with the bread of life. But shortly after this, Jesus would return to heaven and then, the disciples would fast.
You see, fasting reminds us that as long we are absent from the presence of Jesus – we recognize that something’s missing. We are not complete. We are not satisfied. We are hungry for something more. Every person on earth has felt that longing inside them that says there must be more to life than this. And there is. The only way that longing can be satisfied is by knowing and being with Jesus.
“Fasting is for this world, for stretching our hearts to get fresh air beyond the pain and trouble around us. And it is for the battle against the sin and weakness inside us. We express our discontent with our sinful selves and our longing for more of Christ.
When Jesus returns, fasting will be done. It’s a temporary measure, for this life and age, to enrich our joy in Jesus and prepare our hearts for the next — for seeing him face to face. When he returns, he will not call a fast, but throw a feast; then all holy abstinence will have served its glorious purpose and be seen by all for the stunning gift it was.
Until then, we will fast.” ~ David Matthis
There will be no fasting in heaven! When the day comes that we see Jesus face-to-face, and we can live in his presence for the rest of time, we will finally be completely and utterly satisfied. No hunger. No longings. No emptiness. Instead, we will feast! What a day that will be! But until then, we fast.
It kinda goes hand in in hand with communion actually. In communion, we share a meal to look back and remember that Jesus died for us to give us life. That passage in 1 Corinthians 11 says that when we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again. And in fasting, it’s similar, but opposite. In fasting, we abstain from a meal and to look ahead to the time when Jesus undoes the damage of sin – when he removes the curse of sin and it’s effects, and He fully satisfies the longings of every one of his children.
So not only does fasting remind us of our dependance and our need for God – but it’s also a proclamation to the rest of the world (much like communion) that we will not find our satisfaction in mere food and drink or anything else this world offers us. We will find our satisfaction only in the bread of life – in the springs of living water, Jesus Christ – our Creator and Saviour.
So today, I’d like to invite you to do 1 of 2 things… or even 2 of 2 things…
First of all, I’d invite you to consider eternity – what happens when your life on this planet comes to end? What then? How will you spend the rest of your life? Will you spend it in the presence of your Creator – feasting, celebrating, being fully and completely satisfied? Or will you spend it apart from Him?
The Bible is very clear that the only way for us enjoy eternity in the presence of our Creator is by putting our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Otherwise, our sinfulness will keep us apart from him forever. The Bible says in John 3:16-18…
16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.
God loved us so much that, even though we are sinful, rebellious people, He sent His Son Jesus to come to earth, to born as a baby, and he lived a sinless life, and he died on a cross to take our punishment, so that we could be forgiven. When He died on the cross and rose again from the grave, Jesus traded his perfect righteousness for our absolute sinfulness so that when we stand before God at the end our days, God does not see our sinfulness – that’s all gone – and instead, God sees the righteousness of his Son in us. But that only happens when we believe and receive what Jesus did for us.
We have to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died for us. We have to acknowledge that Jesus is the only way for us to be forgiven and to find that joy and peace and hope and satisfaction that all of us desire.
So if you’ve never acknowledge that, I’d sure encourage you to do that today. Make that choice today and begin to find that Jesus really is the source of eternal, abundant life!
The second thing that I’d invite you to do, if you’ve already accepted Jesus as your Saviour, is to practice fasting.
Of course, this isn’t a requirement for being a Christian – this doesn’t change your standing with God – but it is something you can do that’s really for you own benefit. We talked about last week how fasting is an excellent and necessary reminder for us of how desperately we depend on God. And then today, we talked about how fasting reminds us that our life isn’t all about the here and now.
Giving up a meal or two today to invest in a friendship that will last through eternity – a friendship with the Creator of the Universe no less… I’d say that’s well worth the trade. It’s a great way to insure that the urgent demands of life don’t cause us to neglect what’s most important.
And the hunger we feel is a vivid reminder that when that day comes – when we are ushered into eternity into the presence of God – all hunger and longing and emptiness will be gone and we will be completely and utterly satisfied forever.
The hardships of this life are a whole lot easier to endure when we keep that in mind. So to help us keep that in mind – let’s fast.
And I realize that fasting is still a bit of a foreign concept for most of us, so before I send you off today, I want to give you bit of a how-to guide for fasting.
First of all, I’d really encourage you to start small. If you’ve never fasted before, I wouldn’t jump into a 3-day fast or even a full day fast. I think for most of us, a one meal fast will be hard enough for the first time. It surprising how strong that pull of hunger is. If you’ve ever been on a diet before, you know how hard it is to eat less – let alone to eat nothing! A lot of people who try fasting for the first time don’t even make it through the first meal, let alone trying to go full day. So start small and work your way up.
When I first tried fasting, that’s what I did. I did a one meal fast – I had breakfast, fasted through lunch, and then later had supper. Then the next time, I did a two meal fast where I skipped breakfast and lunch. And then after that I tried a 30 hour fast – I had breakfast and then didn’t eat until lunch the next day.
I’ve fasted several times since then, but never any longer yet. I think my next stretching step would be a two-day fast – but you know, if I never get there, that’s fine. It’s not a contest to see how long you can go without eating. You’re not more spiritual because you can fast the longest… The whole point of fasting is for our own spiritual benefit. So if fasting through one meal is all you ever do – that’s great – so long as that’s helping you draw closer to God and it’s reminding you to live with eternity in mind.
And to make sure that you are getting that benefit of fasting, it’s important that you make a plan and have a purpose for your fast. Without a plan and purpose – you’re really just going hungry. So make a plan. What are you going to do in that time when you normally eat? How are you going to make sure that you’re putting your focus on God and that you’re not just spending the whole time thinking about how hungry you are.
Will you take that time to pray? Will you spend that time studying God’s Word? Will you spend that time memorizing a certain passage? Will you spend that time serving others or worshipping God in some other way? How will you focus your attention on God and on your relationship with Him? That’s a key part of fasting.
Last week we came up with a list of why different people in the Bible fasted – perhaps you’d choose to do some of these during your time of fasting…
Seek God’s guidance (Judges 20:26; Acts 14:23)
Express grief or sorrow (1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:11–12)
Seek deliverance or protection (2 Chronicles 20:3–4; Ezra 8:21–23)
Express repentance and a desire to return to God (1 Samuel 7:6; Jonah 3:5–8)
Humble oneself before God (1 Kings 21:27–29; Psalm 35:13)
Express concern for the work of God (Nehemiah 1:3–4; Daniel 9:3)
Minister to the needs of others (Isaiah 58:3–7)
Overcome temptation and to dedicate yourself to God (Matthew 4:1–11)
Express love and worship to God (Luke 2:37)
Those are all valid ways of focusing on God and serving Him. There are all kinds of things you can do. So don’t just go without eating – make sure you have a plan and purpose for your fast that will focus your attention on God.
And there are lots of ways you can fast. Normally we think of fasting as something personal and private – but the Bible also records times when people have fasted together – sometimes as a church – sometimes as a city – sometimes as whole nation. So it doesn’t have to be something done alone. And sometimes they held regular days of fasting and at other times there were special circumstances that caused them to fast.
So maybe you want to try different ways of fasting. Maybe you want to fast on a regular weekly basis – maybe you want to fast and pray through every Wednesday lunch.
Or maybe your family has a big decision to make and so perhaps the whole family wants to fast and pray together to seek God’s guidance and wisdom for that situation. That’s exactly what we see in the story of Esther when she is about to go before the king – she asks her family to fast and pray for her because she’s in a very difficult situation.
There may be times that we as a church want to fast together – maybe on a regular basis as we pray for our community. Or maybe some particular situation might come up and we might call for a day of prayer and fasting… These are all valid reasons and ways to fast.
And in fact, we don’t even have to fast from eating. That’s kinda the basic form of fasting, but we can fast from other things too. Maybe you want to fast from Facebook – and spend the time you’d normally spend on Facebook in prayer or one of those other things we mentioned. Maybe you want to fast from tv or movies. Maybe you want to fast from coffee or pop. You can really fast from anything so long as it helps you turn your focus and attention towards God.
Food, I think, works best, because hunger does a great job of being an ever present reminder of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. But certainly, there are other ways of fasting. Especially if there are some medical reasons that might prevent you from fasting – although I think most anyone can handle a short fast.
Again, it’s not some mystical experience that’s going to be all weird and strange. You’re just gonna feel hungry – but by choosing to feel hungry, you’re going to be choosing to do what’s important over what’s urgent. You’re going to be reminded how desperate you are for God and on top of that, you’ll be reminded of how amazing it’s going to be when we are finally fully satisfied in the presence of Jesus.