In Matthew 9:15 Jesus said that His followers would fast. What did Jesus mean?
Fasting is one of the least understood and seldom practiced instructions given by Jesus Christ. Fasting, which means to abstain from food and water for a certain amount of time, is an important tool to help you discover God's purpose and presence in your life.
Do you experience a hunger for something that seems to be missing? How can physical hunger help you fill your spiritual hunger? On Beyond Today we're going to answer the question, "Jesus Fasted - 'Should You?"
[Gary] The idea of fasting, abstaining from food and water for spiritual reasons, can seem mystical. Some Christians understand fasting as simply avoiding a certain food for 40 days. Others define fasting as a matter of denying themselves activities like watching television or eating desserts for a certain amount of time. Many medical experts claim that missing a few meals can be good for your health.
Is health the main reason Jesus wanted His disciples to fast? What about fasting for public attention?
A recent New York Times headline reported, "California State Students Protest by Fasting." The article states, students at California State University, upset with tuition hikes, are fasting this week in protest.
"The students have pledged to forgo solid food for at least a week, perhaps longer if the administration does not move to meet some of their demands, which include a five-year moratorium on student fee increases and a rollback of executive salaries to 1999 levels" ( New York Times website, May 7, 2012). These students are using fasting as a means to draw public attention to their cause.
Declaring a hunger strike for media attention isn't new. Mohandas Gandhi is famous for using fasting as a way to bring attention to India's independence movement in the mid-part of the last century. His Hindu view of fasting as a means of self-denial was applauded by many people of different religions. His hunger strikes became international symbols of freedom and were a factor in Britain's retreat from India.
It may surprise you, but this isn't what Jesus taught about fasting.
What is the kind of fasting Jesus taught and how can it help you discover a deeper relationship with God and change your life?
The Bible contains various examples of different lengths of time for fasting. The only biblically commanded fast is the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, which lasts for 24 hours. This is a complete fast where participants refrain from both food and drink. The Day of Atonement is observed by many Jews and some Christians today. We'll use the example of the Day of Atonement, abstaining from food and water for 24 hours, as the standard fast for today's discussion.
Now a little later the Beyond Today panel will discuss how to prepare for a fast and how it is important for you make sure that it is medically safe for you to fast.
Well, the idea of going without food and water for an entire day can be daunting. And how do you act while fasting? Do you declare to everyone, "I am fasting" and preach to them about God?
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gave these instructions, "when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees [it] in secret will reward you openly." (Matthew 6:17-18).
Jesus' teaching about fasting has nothing to do with publicizing social or political agendas or getting media attention. He taught that fasting is an element of your personal relationship with God your Father.
Fasting isn't a hunger strike attempting to prepare God for your will. Rather, it is a way of humbling yourself so that you will become prepared for God's will in your life. Fasting should be accompanied by prayer and Bible study as you seek God's purpose and His ways.
Let's illustrate the purpose for fasting from an example in the pages of the Old Testament. Israel's King David had perpetrated great crimes against God. He committed adultery and had a man murdered. Although David repented, God said that he would still face punishment. He declared that the baby, who was the product of David's sin, would die.
When the newborn became ill, David began to fast and pray. After seven days, the baby died and David's servants were afraid to tell him what had happened. I mean his grief was so intense that they thought he might harm himself. When David saw his servants talking among themselves, he asked if the child had died and they replied, "He is dead."
We pick up the story in 2 Samuel 12:20-23: "So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, 'What is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food.' And he said, 'While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, "Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?" But now [that] he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.'"
It was a common practice in ancient Israel to express grief by abstaining from food. David's servants were confused by David's fasting before the child's death and his lack of fasting after his death.
Now, on the surface David may seem to be fasting with the same motives as the students in California who were trying to force others to accept their agenda. Was David on a hunger strike to force God to make a decision? If we look closely at David's words and actions, we find his purpose for fasting was much more profound than just trying to influence God to do what he wanted.
David fasted as a way to humble himself before God as he implored God for the life of his baby. But notice, when God's answer was no, David, because he was ultimately seeking God's will instead of his own, accepted God's decision as a good decision. After David heard that God had allowed his child to die, he washed himself, put on proper, clean clothing and went into the tabernacle to worship God. This is the kind of faith in Him that God wants to produce in your life through fasting.
David fasted to prepare himself for God's will. He implored God to save the baby, but when God didn't, David was prepared to accept God's decision, trust in God's love and wisdom, and worship Him.
If you are seeking the Kingdom of God, then you must be seeking to have God's rule in your life right now. Remember, fasting isn't a hunger strike attempting to prepare God for your will. Rather, it is a way of humbling yourself so that you would become prepared for God's will in your life.
One of the reasons why you may be so easily influenced by the wrong behaviors of society; or still wrestle with anger and hatred; find yourself being seduced by greed and lust; struggle with addictions; and suffer serious marriage and family problems is because of a lack of understanding about the role of fasting and prayer in your relationship with God.
Now we're going to look at some biblical instructions about what God wants to produce in your life through fasting from a source that you might find surprising--an Old Testament prophet. But first, I want to tell you about the important study guide we're offering here on today's program.
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Jesus said that His followers would fast. Now fasting means to abstain from food and water for a certain amount of time while dedicating yourself to prayer and study of God's Word. It is a way of humbling yourself before God so that you can become spiritually prepared for His purpose, His work, His miracles in your life.
Now we've seen that Jesus didn't promote fasting as a way to publicize an agenda, or force God into a decision, or as only an exercise in self-denial. What then is fasting supposed to produce in your life? What is an acceptable fast to God?
The answer to what is an acceptable fast to God is found in what some would think, maybe a surprising source--the prophet Isaiah.
Today we're going to take an in-depth look at the instructions on fasting in Isaiah 58 and starting in verse 3 where the people ask God: "'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?'"
The devout people of ancient Judah possessed great pride in their belief that they were a nation under God. They were proud of their religion, but their lives didn't reflect obedience to God's ways.
Now what we're reading here in Isaiah isn't just a message from an ancient prophet to people long dead. Isaiah's message is important for you today - 'in every country where Beyond Today is aired - 'the United States, Canada, Australia, India, throughout Europe - 'wherever people claim to be Christians, we must honestly ask, are we people who pretend to be right with God, but our daily lives are no different than non-Christians? If your life isn't reflecting God's way then you have to admit there is something wrong between you and God. Fasting is an important tool in repairing your relationship with Him and releasing His power in your life.
Now Isaiah goes on to tell these religious people why God didn't accept their fasting. He writes, "In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers. Indeed you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice heard on high."
Here we find four reasons why God didn't accept their fast.
1. They fasted for their own pleasures.
2. During their fast they mistreated others.
3. They fasted for strife and debate. To them fasting was a public display to show people that God was on their side. They approached fasting thinking that they already knew the will of God and wanted God to punish those who disagreed with them.
4. And they fasted to make their voice heard on high. The people of ancient Judah weren't fasting in order to hear God's word, but to try and get God to hear their words. And they wondered why God was not moved by their hunger strike.
If fasting isn't a way of appeasing God into doing your will or to force others to do what you want, and God doesn't want us to hunger and thirst because He likes to see us suffer, then what does God want to produce in your fast?
To discover what God wants to produce in your fast, you first have to ask yourself a question. So before you fast you need to ask yourself, am I willing to suffer physical hunger and thirst as a way to face my spiritual hunger and thirst for God's presence and purpose in my life?
Only then can you begin to understand the real reason why Jesus wants His followers to fast. Experiencing physical hunger and thirst is a way to help us acknowledge and experience spiritual hunger and thirst for a relationship with God.
To find out what God wants to produce in fasting--now let's go back to Isaiah 58 and pick up verse 6 where God says, "Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; [and] when you see the naked, that you cover him, and [hide not] yourself from your own flesh?"
God wants to break the chains of addictions, anxiety, broken relationships, depression and sin that plague your life. It is through fasting, heartfelt prayer and intense Bible study that God will bring about this healing. To fill your spiritual hunger you must humbly go before the awesome Creator, acknowledging your hunger and thirst for Him, and open up your inner being for His direction.
Notice that the result of a fast that is acceptable to God is that you will desire to reach out to help others. False fasting produces selfishness, mistreating others, strife and debate, and an attempt on the part of the person fasting to get God to do what he or she wants.
True fasting produces a humble willingness to actively love others. When you fast for selfish reasons, when your purpose is to get God to honor your request, then at the end of the fast you will find yourself still consumed and frustrated with your request. You know if your fast has been accepted by God because afterwards you will have a desire to serve others. Your emphasis will have been changed from inward to outward.
Notice the last clause of this verse " and not hide yourself from your own flesh?" This refers to our children. When our fasting draws us closer to God, He motivates us to renew our relationships with our own children.
Now Isaiah tells us that what God will produce through a fast that seeks His will and purpose, and His presence,--so here's what he continues to tell us then - ' "Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.'"
How much do you hunger and thirst for a relationship with God? Do you want God in your life so much that you will suffer physical hunger and thirst in order to open up your inner being so God can fill your intense spiritual hunger?
A few chapters before Isaiah 58, here in Isaiah 55, God inspired the prophet to write, "Ho!" Listen up everyone! "Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me [God says], and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance" (Isaiah 55:1-2).
We spend our lives buying, building, getting, always trying to fill our spiritual hunger with physical things. When you deny the basic need for food and water for even just one day, and spend time in prayer and study of God's Word, God can satisfy your spiritual hunger.
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Well, today we've talking about fasting. We're joined by Darris McNeely and Steve Myers to help you learn about fasting as an important tool in your personal relationship with God.
What has fasting helped produce in your personal life?
[Darris] Fasting, Gary, is one of the hardest disciplines that a person could really ever get into. Prayer is one thing, Bible study's another. Fasting, where you have to deny yourself food and water for a period of time...
[Gary] It is uncomfortable.
[Darris] Is uncomfortable. But when you do it, and when I've done it, it is really helped to get a handle on some of the attitudes that we're bombarded with continually: anger, pride, suspicion, some of those issues that are the works of the flesh. You begin to get a handle on them because you begin to deny yourself physically some of these things and you put your mind on God through a constant period of focused prayer and study. And it really has served as a periodic check in my life to bring me back into an alignment with God as creator and to keep me from kind of going off on my own.
[Steve] It's interesting when you go without food and water for a while, it immediately starts to affect you because I'm used to eating! And when you don't eat, suddenly you realize how badly you like food... and how dependent I am on that food. And I think that reminder is supposed to be, I need spiritually to be dependent on God.
[Gary] If you were dealing with someone who was fasting for the first time, how would you instruct them to both physically and spiritually prepare for that fast?
[Darris] I think physically a person needs to certainly be sure that their physical health will endure and allow for a period of fasting, whether it's a short 6 or 12 hours or even a 24-hour fast. Our bodies are not meant to do long periods of fasting like we read about in the Bible or some people might undertake under duress. So make sure your health will allow it. Even check with a doctor and if you're on medications, then certainly don't mess up those medications. There are ways to work around that because you can cause other problems. That's the physical. The spiritual side of preparation for fasting is another matter.
[Steve] Yeah I think it is. Physically it can be overwhelming to think that, how am I going to go without food and water for an entire day? So if you've never fasted before it probably wouldn't be the wisest thing to try a long fast. But just to take some time, you could fast by just missing a meal and going without water and food for just a shorter period.
And be sure that we prepare spiritually for a spiritual meal during that time. We might not eat a physical meal but that's the time then instead of eating food that you partake of the spiritual food. Partake of the Word, study God's Word and take in, drink in of that spiritual nourishment that God can give us.
[Gary] So you miss a lunchtime but you take that time and you study your Bible and you pray, and you fast during that time period. And of course the idea is to build up to where you can go 24-hours without food or water and to actually have that sort of model fast in your life.
[Darris] It's possible to do. People think oh I could never miss a meal or I couldn't miss two meals. Yes you can. It's easily done and once you put your mind on the spiritual aspect of the fast and on God, you'd be surprised at how time goes and the ease with which it is accomplished is quite surprising. It is possible.
[Steve] It takes your mind off the physical.
[Steve] We get so involved in everything around us. And what we need and what we want and all these physical things that entrap us. When we leave that out of our daily routine, suddenly we can turn and look at what's most important. God says the spiritual is so much more vital. And so isn't that what we want to partake of? Isn't that what we should be eating of? Christ said that Himself. He says my need or my food, my will is to do the Father's will. And so that's what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to eat of the Word of God.
[Gary] So a person says okay, I understand this. I want to take 24-hours and I'm going to fast. I'm going to draw close to God. I really want to increase my relationship with God. What do they do during that fast? What do you do during your fast to help you draw closer to God?
[Darris] First of all set aside a period of time that's not going to be distracted with a lot of the everyday work that you're going to be doing. And you have to even plan for that. It may take a weekend or a day off that you have. Turn off the television. Turn off the internet. Spend that time in study of God's Word, just reading the Bible. Take a book of the Bible to read. Take a subject that you're going to go through. Spend extra time in prayer. But make sure that you use the time to not just go through a denial of food if... Because if you do nothing else, if you don't do anything spiritually oriented then all you're going to do is deny yourself for a period of time of food and you've accomplished nothing spiritually.
[Gary] And you don't want to do a lot of heavy work.
[Darris] No you don't.
[Gary] Because you know, you'll just dehydrate.
[Steve] You'll just end up hungry. And you won't get much out of it.
[Gary] You won't get much out of it, that's right.
[Steve] But I think if you focus in on drawing closer to God, as we realize our physical limitations, we realize our spiritual limitations as well and God wants to supply that need. And so we should be praying. We should grab that Bible and if it's a lunch hour that we're missing a lunch, that we're going to fast and miss lunch, don't eat don't drink. Well that's a time to grab your Bible and take some time alone, and read that Bible and study it. And pray about what you're reading. And that way God can help you to understand His way that much more fully.
[Gary] Prayer, fasting, Bible study, attending a church, these are all important elements of your personal relationship with God. You Can Have Living Faith and The Good News magazine will both help you in your daily relationship with your Creator.
You know many people think that belief and faith are the same thing? But they are not the same. God wants you to have a living, vital faith that guides every aspect of your life.
You can read You Can Have Living Faith online at BeyondToday.tv . Or request your free copy to be sent directly to your mailbox by calling: 1-888-886-8632. That's 1-888-886-8632.
In addition, I really encourage you to visit our website where you will find information about fasting with a simple keyword search. Plus, we are now producing daily video commentaries on breaking news and important topics. Join us throughout the week for BT Daily and get additional analysis on prophecy, the Bible and God's plan for your life.
In Psalm 63 King David wrote, "My soul thirsts for you; my flesh longs for You; in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water."
The humbling experience of fasting, coupled with prayer and study of God's Word, can help you fill the spiritual thirst in your soul.
Now I'll be right back with a final comment right after this.
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[Steve] That Kingdom is coming to earth - 'that was the message of Jesus Christ. It's not a Kingdom that's off up there in heaven but it's a Kingdom that Christ is going to establish right here on this earth.
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[Gary] Sign up to attend our informative Bible seminars today. And, don't forget our free offers and be sure and tell your family and friends about us. Join us next week on Beyond Today as we continue to discover the gospel of the Kingdom. We also invite you to join us in praying, "Thy Kingdom come." For Beyond Today I'm Gary Petty. Thanks for watching.