Whatever the reasons may be, none of us are to come under any condemnation because we may choose not to fast. As much as I believe that fasting is for today, an individual needs to come at this subject not under legalism, nor the compulsion of man, but because they have been drawn by the Spirit. Remember, “flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit”, John 3: 6. For those who do become convinced, I believe that fasting is liberating, and is a powerful tool for any disciple of Jesus to employ.
To begin with, let’s first be convinced by asking a couple of questions:
a) Is fasting only an Old Testament teaching?
b) Did Jesus model fasting for us?
c) Did the early church practice fasting?
d) Is fasting an essential practice?
First, fasting is taught in both the Old and the New Testaments and essential truths can and should be gained about this subject from both testaments. For this first in a series of five articles on fasting, I will limit my use of Scripture to the New Testament.
Following the context of Matthew 6:1, we are taught not to do our “acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them.” Jesus highlights giving, prayer, and then fasting, underlining that these are worthless if we hold a wrong motive to be seen by men. In this context, he is not condemning the activity of fasting, He is simply condemning the wrong motives by which proud people fasted. Isaiah did the same in Isaiah 58.
In verse 16, Jesus said, “When you fast”. He doesn’t say: “If you fast”, he is taking it for granted that fasting, like prayer and giving, are important elements to a Christian disciple. He tells us how to fast, on the assumption that we would, and in doing so he is helping us to realize that fasting is a powerful means for intensified seeking of God in prayer.
Secondly, the Synoptic Gospels all record that Jesus was sent by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days to prepare himself for ministry. Matthew and Luke also mention that he went without food for that entire time. It was during this period that he was challenged and tempted by Satan and Jesus defeated him through the Word of God and I believe also through prayer. We should not miss this fact that Jesus, as the Son of God, began his earthly ministry with a forty-day fast, which should at least cause us to pause and ask the question:
“Can we face the hazard of life and ministry without walking with Jesus through the wilderness of fasting?”
Shouldn’t this story shake us? He was the Son of God and we are not. But he did say, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you”, Jn. 20:21. Under the Spirit’s leading, Jesus prepared himself for this confrontation by fasting! Here is Jesus standing on the very threshold of the most important ministry in the history of the world! On him rests the salvation of the world! And God wills that right at the very outset that this ministry would be threatened with destruction! Of all the hundreds of things Jesus could have done to fight off this threat, he is led by the Spirit to humble himself and to fast.
If anything, the very fact that Jesus modelled fasting underlines it’s importance as a spiritual discipline. This example of Jesus convinces me that fasting is a God-given strategy, which helps to emphasize our weakness and dependence on God. Therefore, room is made that his strength / his power, would be made perfect in my weakness! See 2Cor. 12:9. Also, this story of Jesus in the wilderness teaches us that fasting helps us to focus and indeed can become a weapon in personal overcoming.
Thirdly, Jesus was questioned by John’s disciples regarding why his disciples did not fast, but John’s disciples did and so did the Pharisees. Jesus replied, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast,” Matt. 9:15. Jesus was ‘taken away’ at the Ascension and between then and his Second Coming, we are expected to fast.
The early church practiced fasting. In the Acts of the Apostles and the New Testament letters there are several references to the apostles fasting. (see Acts 13:2,3; 14:23; 27:9; 1Cor. 7:5 [NKJV]; 2Cor. 11:27 [NKJV]). These passages involve seeking God for His direction; and the laying of hands on those called to minister. Also, there are numerous examples in the Early Church where fasting was frequently joined to a person’s prayer-life that the mind, might devote itself with less distractions from the world. (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church pp. 379).
So we cannot dismiss fasting as something of an Old Testament practice abrogated in the New or as something that only Catholics may practice today.
I intend to bring four more teachings on fasting. There are many spiritual truths that can be applied with this subject and also, I will devote one teaching on the very practical question of How to Fast.
Let me leave you with one quote to ponder:
“If you want things to remain the same, do nothing differently”
National House of Prayer