Friday, September 11, 2015

Why Should I Fast? (Part 2)

So why should Christians fast? Does the Bible command it? Scripture does not command Christians to fast. God does not require or demand it of Christians. At the same time, the Bible presents fasting as something that is good, profitable, and beneficial. Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. Instead, the purpose of fasting should be to take your eyes off the things of this world to focus completely on God. Although fasting in Scripture is almost always a fasting from food, there are other ways to fast. Anything given up temporarily in order to focus all our attention on the Lord can be considered a fast (Ex. 19:14-15, 1 Corinthians 7:1-5). Fasting should be limited to a set time, especially when fasting from food. Extended periods of time without eating can be harmful to the body. Fasting is not intended to punish the flesh, but to deny the flesh and redirect attention to God. Fasting should not be considered a “dieting method” either. The purpose of a biblical fast is not to lose weight, but rather to gain deeper fellowship with the Lord. Anyone can fast, but some may not be able to fast from food (diabetics, for example). Everyone can temporarily give up something in order to draw closer to the Lord.

What are some of the benefits of fasting? Help in time of trouble often comes from fasting and prayer. God says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will glorify me” (Ps. 50:15). Joshua experience this in Joshua 7 when were prostrate before the ark from morning to evening without eating after they were defeated by the men of Ai. It was a time of distress and defeat, of shame and fear! But when they fasted and prayed to discern why they were in that situation and the Lord showed them the sin that hindered victory!

When faced with a civil war against the Benjamites the nation of Israel fasted (Judges 20:26). Israel fasted again before a fierce battle with the Philistines at Mizpeh (1 Sam. 7:6). Fasting is a natural expression of grief. David demonstrated his grief at Abners death by fasting (2 Sam. 3:35). In the same way the Psalmist expressed his sorrow through fasting (Ps. 35:13). 

Genuine repentance often involves fasting and prayer. It is possible to confess sins without repenting of them. Fasting sometimes helps us to break up the fallow ground of our hearts! It often leads to victory over sin. Fasting and prayer help strengthen us and diminish the power of the flesh over. Prayer and fasting initiate spiritual power in our lives. This is what the disciples learn from the experience in Matthew 17 when the Lord had returned from the Mount of Transfiguration, a father approached Him concerning his son. The young boy was an epileptic and suffered severely often falling into the fire and water. The disciples had tried to heal the boy but could not. After the Lord Jesus rebuked the demon and healed the boy, his disciples asked Him, “Why could we not cast it out?” Jesus answered, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.21 However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” 

When Daniel was faced with spiritual hindrances, he fasted and prayed (Dan. 10:2-3). Because Daniel laid hold of the promise of God and continued in prayer, the Lord answered his prayer (Dan. 10:12). Fasting and prayer disciplines the body and makes it a useful instrument for the Lord. Paul said, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). When we fast we determine that our god is not our belly (Phil. 3:19). Fasting and prayer help give us the victory over fleshly desires.

Fasting can also help us when we need wisdom from above. In Acts 13:1-3 we read of how men who fasted and prayed received direction from the Holy Spirit, “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.” It was “as they ministered to the Lord and fasted” that the Holy Spirit told them to “separate Paul and Barnabas and then they fasted and prayed and laid hands on them and they sent them away.” Twice in this short passage we are told that they fasted as they prayed for wisdom and as they prayed for power to be upon these missionaries whom the Holy Spirit was sending out! When we face spiritual decisions, we need guidance from above. Prayer and fasting can help secure that guidance so that decision can be made in full confidence of the leading of the Lord.

In the many examples that have already been given would also remind us that intercession for others is answered when we fast and pray. It is good to take time without the distraction other things pray for others on a regular basis.

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