There is a curious apathy about a discipline Jesus assumed His followers would practice.
After all, just as He gave instruction on prayer prefaced by the words “And when [not if] you pray…,” He gave instruction on fasting prefaced by “And when you fast…”
Both appear to be normal, expected disciplines for Christ’s followers. While Jesus did not command fasting, certainly He commended and demonstrated it. At the very least, if Jesus felt it necessary to fast, it seems unlikely that we are meant to avoid it altogether.
Strangely, we seem to want to have a perfect theology of fasting before we practise it.
I am convinced that much of our apathy toward fasting derives from our confusion about it. We do not understand why or how to fast and, therefore, we do not fast. Strangely, we seem to want to have a perfect theology of fasting before we practice it.
Yet nowhere else do we demand such precision. We begin to pray before we know an adoration from a supplication and we begin to read the Bible before we know an epistle from an apostle. But somehow when it comes to fasting we allow ignorance to breed inaction.
At heart, fasting is simple—it is refraining from a specific thing for a specific time and a specific reason.
Lately I have heard people advocating refraining from other things in place of food, especially during Lent. “I am fasting from Facebook this year,” a friend told me. But Biblically, we are to fast from food for this simple reason: food is something we need, not merely something we want. You may want to use Facebook, but you need to eat food. Thus, in fasting you are withholding from yourself something you need (food) in order to pursue something you need even more (communion with God).
You can fast for a morning, you can fast for a day, you can fast from sunup to sundown, you can fast for a week, or you can fast for a morning every day of a week.
Fasting must only be long enough to feel it physically, to feel the weakness and hunger pangs that remind you of your weakness and your utter dependence upon God.
Fasting is related to prayer in such a way that one theologian describes them as ‘first cousins’. We are to fill our whole lives with prayer so that we pray continually about every kind of issue (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18). We are to unrelentingly bombard Heaven with our prayers (Luke 18:1–8).
Yet at times we are also to fast, and it seems from the Biblical record that fasting is related to prayers that are especially earnest and intense or that come at times of deep spiritual sorrow, desire or uncertainty. It may not be necessary to fast over your prayers for God to help you plan vacation well or to heal your sore knee, but it may be wise to fast over your prayers that God would help you overcome your addiction to alcohol or your pleas that God would grant salvation to your wayward child.
Thus, fasting is something you can ADD to prayer.
You fast in those times you earnestly desire to seek God, the presence of God, the will of God, the power of God and the forgiveness of God. If it is worth pleading with God about it, it’s worth fasting about it.
Ultimately, prayer is a means of seeking God Himself, and fasting is God’s mysterious but effective means of assisting that noble desire.
It is putting aside the satisfaction of food to come to a deeper satisfaction in God. It is diverting the desire for food into a desire for God.
Through it all, remember that God is for you. He is a loving Father who is far more concerned with the orientation of your heart than with your first hesitant actions. You do not need to master a theology of fasting before you begin to practice fasting any more than you need to master a theology of worship before you begin to worship.
Ultimately, fasting is the school of fasting just as prayer is the school of prayer.
Learn to fast by fasting.
‘May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another.’ 1 Thessalonians 3:12 NKJV
The real test of trust in any relationship is if you’re able to share your secrets and struggles—your deep inner fears and failures. It takes courage to be honest with God, and even more to be honest with one another. The relationship between Adam and Eve is described in these words: ‘They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.’ (Genesis 2:25 NKJV) They were open and transparent with one another because there was nothing to hide or be ashamed of.
Perhaps you’ve been so hurt by a relationship you’ve said, ‘I will never trust anyone again.’ That’s because you’re not healed yet. To never trust again is like living in a tower. You’re safe from threats, but you’re so detached from what’s going on around you that you lose consciousness of people, places, dates and events. You talk only about the past because you’ve stopped living for the future.
Good news! ‘He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.’ (Psalm 147:3 NIV) God’s healing process can set you free to taste life again, trust again, and live without fear. Don’t isolate, celebrate! Regardless of whether you’ve lost a friend, a close friend or a parent, you’re still alive! Are you ready to live, or are you going to continue reliving what no one, including you, can change—the past?
Pray: ‘God, I’m ready to start again. Help me forgive those who have hurt me in the past, teach me how to overcome my fears, bind up the wounds of my broken heart, and bring trustworthy people into my life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.’
24 The sons of Simeon: Nemuel, Jamin, Jarib, Zerah, Shaul; 25 Shallum was his son, Mibsam his son, Mishma his son. 26 The sons of Mishma: Hammuel his son, Zaccur his son, Shimei his son. 27 Shimei had sixteen sons and six daughters; but his brothers did not have many children, nor did all their clan multiply like the men of Judah. 28 They lived in Beersheba, Moladah, Hazar-shual, 29 Bilhah, Ezem, Tolad, 30 Bethuel, Hormah, Ziklag, 31 Beth-marcaboth, Hazar-susim, Beth-biri, and Shaaraim. These were their cities until David reigned. 32 And their villages were Etam, Ain, Rimmon, Tochen, and Ashan, five cities, 33 along with all their villages that were around these cities as far as Baal. These were their settlements, and they kept a genealogical record.
34 Meshobab, Jamlech, Joshah the son of Amaziah, 35 Joel, Jehu the son of Joshibiah, son of Seraiah, son of Asiel, 36 Elioenai, Jaakobah, Jeshohaiah, Asaiah, Adiel, Jesimiel, Benaiah, 37 Ziza the son of Shiphi, son of Allon, son of Jedaiah, son of Shimri, son of Shemaiah— 38 these mentioned by name were princes in their clans, and their fathers' houses increased greatly. 39 They journeyed to the entrance of Gedor, to the east side of the valley, to seek pasture for their flocks, 40 where they found rich, good pasture, and the land was very broad, quiet, and peaceful, for the former inhabitants there belonged to Ham. 41 These, registered by name, came in the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah, and destroyed their tents and the Meunites who were found there, and marked them for destruction to this day, and settled in their place, because there was pasture there for their flocks. 42 And some of them, five hundred men of the Simeonites, went to Mount Seir, having as their leaders Pelatiah, Neariah, Rephaiah, and Uzziel, the sons of Ishi. 43 And they defeated the remnant of the Amalekites who had escaped, and they have lived there to this day.
5:1 The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father's couch, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel, so that he could not be enrolled as the oldest son; 2 though Judah became strong among his brothers and a chief came from him, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph), 3 the sons of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. 4 The sons of Joel: Shemaiah his son, Gog his son, Shimei his son, 5 Micah his son, Reaiah his son, Baal his son, 6 Beerah his son, whom Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria carried away into exile; he was a chief of the Reubenites. 7 And his kinsmen by their clans, when the genealogy of their generations was recorded: the chief, Jeiel, and Zechariah, 8 and Bela the son of Azaz, son of Shema, son of Joel, who lived in Aroer, as far as Nebo and Baal-meon. 9 He also lived to the east as far as the entrance of the desert this side of the Euphrates, because their livestock had multiplied in the land of Gilead. 10 And in the days of Saul they waged war against the Hagrites, who fell into their hand. And they lived in their tents throughout all the region east of Gilead.
11 The sons of Gad lived over against them in the land of Bashan as far as Salecah: 12 Joel the chief, Shapham the second, Janai, and Shaphat in Bashan. 13 And their kinsmen according to their fathers' houses: Michael, Meshullam, Sheba, Jorai, Jacan, Zia and Eber, seven. 14 These were the sons of Abihail the son of Huri, son of Jaroah, son of Gilead, son of Michael, son of Jeshishai, son of Jahdo, son of Buz. 15 Ahi the son of Abdiel, son of Guni, was chief in their fathers' houses, 16 and they lived in Gilead, in Bashan and in its towns, and in all the pasturelands of Sharon to their limits. 17 All of these were recorded in genealogies in the days of Jotham king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam king of Israel.
18 The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had valiant men who carried shield and sword, and drew the bow, expert in war, 44,760, able to go to war. 19 They waged war against the Hagrites, Jetur, Naphish, and Nodab. 20 And when they prevailed over them, the Hagrites and all who were with them were given into their hands, for they cried out to God in the battle, and he granted their urgent plea because they trusted in him. 21 They carried off their livestock: 50,000 of their camels, 250,000 sheep, 2,000 donkeys, and 100,000 men alive. 22 For many fell, because the war was of God. And they lived in their place until the exile.
23 The members of the half-tribe of Manasseh lived in the land. They were very numerous from Bashan to Baal-hermon, Senir, and Mount Hermon. 24 These were the heads of their fathers' houses: Epher, Ishi, Eliel, Azriel, Jeremiah, Hodaviah, and Jahdiel, mighty warriors, famous men, heads of their fathers' houses. 25 But they broke faith with the God of their fathers, and whored after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. 26 So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, the spirit of Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and he took them into exile, namely, the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river Gozan, to this day.
13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
18 Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”
9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.
19 Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets;
therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.
20 If one curses his father or his mother,
his lamp will be put out in utter darkness.
21 An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning
will not be blessed in the end. (ESV)