Thursday, June 09, 2005


Fasting and Prayer

Fasting is sometimes misrepresented as a magical weapon to be used against God or other people. Or, more often, it is viewed as an archaic practice that doesn’t apply to Christians today. “Fasting” is a temporary giving up of an essential and good part of life (most often food, but it could be sleep or marital sex) in order to give yourself to prayer or sacrificial service during that time.

Don’t fall for these incorrect notions about fasting:
1. Fasting is not a means of impressing other people. Matthew 6:16-18 warns against fasting for other people to see, as certain religious leaders did in Jesus’ day. Don’t play up your fast for sympathy. (This does not mean that your fast has to be totally private, since people have often fasted together.)

2. Fasting is not a hunger strike to force God to do what He does not want to do. God is not impressed with us seeking suffering through self-punishment. Isaiah 58:3-5 indicates that such a fast is not what God has chosen.

3. Fasting is not a religious ceremony by which we can be acceptable to God. Colossians 2:16-23 warns us not to look to food restrictions as a means of being right with God. Only through faith in the work of Jesus Christ can we be acceptable to God. Matthew 9:14-17 demonstrates the emptiness of fasting as a ritual.

4. Fasting is not a form of dieting. While times without eating may have physical benefits and may be prescribed for certain individuals, this is not the same as Biblical fasting. Isaiah 58:6-12 calls people to spiritual responsibilities in their fasts.

Fasting is an expected part of the Christian life. The Bible commands us not to fast wrongly, but never implies that fasting itself is wrong or unusual. Matthew 6:16-18 quotes Jesus as saying, “When you fast,” assuming that his followers will fast. Luke 5:33-39 quotes Jesus as saying that his followers could not fast while he was with them, “but the time will come when the Bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.” When Jesus declared, “The old is better,” he meant that fasting in sorrow is better than celebrating in joy. Acts 13:2-3; 14:23; and 27:9 indicate that fasting was an important part of the life of the early church, including groups of believers fasting together.

How Fasting Should Be Understood:
1. Fasting shows seriousness in prayer, as measured by the cost to us. See David’s sacrifice in 2 Samuel 24:24.
2. Fasting exerts discipline over the appetites of the body while we cultivate the appetites of the spirit. See Colossians 3:1-4 and Paul’s personal testimony in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 .
3. Fasting chooses to be nourished by God’s Word, rather than merely by physical satisfaction. See Jesus’ own example in Matthew 4:4 and John 4:31-34.
4. Fasting devotes time and energy to doing God’s work instead of pursuing our own desires. See the call to feed the hungry and help the oppressed in Isaiah 58:6-12.
5. Fasting utilizes the time usually spent in eating, sleeping, etc. for concentrated prayer instead, perhaps focused on a specific need. It also utilizes the feeling of hunger, physical discomfort, and a growling stomach as persistent reminders of prayer and priorities.

Let’s read with our eyes open.

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