We often join our hearts in prayerful fasting as a congregation. There are very real, rich, and profitable reasons for doing so; so vital that fasting becomes a kind of feast--a celebration in spiritual dynamic. Let me share with you concerning this meaningful practice.
Fasting is scriptural: The Word of God makes it clear that fasting is an instrument of spiritual power: a key by which bonds of evil are broken and by which God's counsels are received and established in the affairs of man (Isaiah 58:6-8; Mark 9:29; Acts 13:2, 3).
Jesus taught fasting: By His own word and example, Jesus taught fasting and He said that in the era following His earthly ministry after His ascension, it would be a part of the disciplines of His people to fast (Matthew 4:2, 6: 16; Mark 2:20).
The Bible nowhere suggests that fasting is to be thought a means of earning God's favor or of improving one's status with God. Therefore, we do not fast as a religious or a superstitious exercise, hoping thereby to gain God's special attention or to tip invisible scales of blessing in our direction. We believe that every good thing that comes from God is a gift (James 1: 17) and is the product of His grace, not of human endeavor (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
However, the Bible also makes clear that there are certain means by which Christ's people partner with God's almightiness through the acceptance and application of certain principles--"Kingdom Keys" they might be called. For the Scriptures teach by both precept and example a number of means by which believers may enter into the exercise of spiritual dominion through simple obedience to disciplines shown there. Along with such commonly acknowledged ones as (a) receiving of the Lord's Table, (b) anointing with oil, (c) tithing with offerings, (d) worship and song, and (e) reading and studying God's Word, it is also true that prayer joined with fasting is a proven means of advancing spiritual objectives. We know that we earn nothing by fasting, so in fasting we are not falling prey to the erroneous notions of historic asceticism: i.e., the belief that a higher spiritual state is attainable through rigorous self-discipline. In contrast to this, however, we do believe that we learn something by fasting: we learn a simple, dynamic pathway to spiritual conquest. We do not claim to know exactly why fasting with prayer is so powerful, but the Bible makes clear that it is effective and important, and that Jesus directed it as a part of His Church's life. And so we fast, when the Holy Spirit gives us a corporate call unto united prayer and fasting.
The Objective of the Fast
In prayer, I have felt the Lord's purpose for us in this fast is threefold. Having proposed it to the whole congregation, the overwhelming evidence detectable in the corporate response is that the Holy Spirit has confirmed to virtually every heart that we are, indeed, attuned to His Word and will for us in this regard.
We are called to fast:
1. Because there is a purging and purifying of the Body which the Lord wants to accomplish.
Just as fasting is a means of physical cleansing in the physiological realm, we believe that the Lord is prepared to work in a special way to purge certain things from our lives as we wait on Him during days of fasting and prayer. Open the Word often--it cleanses (John 15:3). In prayer, confess sin and give place to cleansing (1 John 1 :7). As Daniel and his companions refused the diet of the world around them and thereby proved God's superior workings in their own lives (Daniel 1), so let us come with fasting before God and expect a purging from dead works and ways (2 Timothy 2:20,21).
2. Because the spiritual battle is presently one of special crisis at national and international points.
As a congregation we live with a sense of biblical assignment to give priority to intercessory prayer for national issues, knowing that peace in our land is contingent upon such prayer (1 Timothy 2:1-3). With this fast we are mounting an offensive in the arena of the invisible, fully confident that prayer for breakthrough can change the tangled problems of political, economic and military conditions throughout our world. With simple faith we are calling upon God to smite down wickedness, give leaders grace and wisdom, release people from oppression and overthrow the confusing works of flesh and devil.
3. Because there are family members and personal friends who need salvation and spiritual release.
One of the most moving episodes in the ministry of Jesus relates the deliverance and healing of a father's son through the Savior's power. The disciples wondered at the demonstration of spiritual dynamic Jesus exercised and asked why they were unable to master the demonic power involved, as they often had by the authority Jesus had given them. Jesus answered, "Because this kind (of demon) does not come out except by prayer and fasting" (Matthew 17; Mark 9). Similarly, we understand the Holy Spirit to be saying that our prayer and fasting is ordained to be a means by which a new surge of grace will begin to enter circumstances which seem hopelessly bound up by both human and hellish devices. The promise sounding forth is that a new wave of evangelism and miracles is ready to break over the earth. Our fasting and prayer is focused on seeing that breakthrough move into our homes, our families and our circles of relationships.
The Observance of the Fast
The observance of a fast varies with each participant. Of course, the basic fast is observed by (1) frequent prayer during the day(s) of the fast, and (2) only receiving water as physical intake for the space of the fast.
We wish to avoid established religious procedure, and so the following guidelines should only be perceived as assistance and counsel for those who wish to participate but who for various reasons cannot observe a complete fast. Let no one feel constrained to fast by reason of guilt feelings nor may anyone seek on the other hand, a couch of ease for their flesh by fasting less than they understand to be their personal God-directed, Holy Spirit-prompted duty and ability. Within those parameters, these guidelines may help to pursue a fast in what one leader called "the spirit of fasting"; i.e., abiding in the idea of the fast, even if the ideal was sometimes difficult to reach.
Practical considerations ought to be kept in view when fasting.
Because we are not trying to convince God of our worthiness, but rather are simply observing a biblically taught discipline, it is not unspiritual to recognize there will be functional realities at a physical level that ought to be understood.
- Do not fast if there are medical or dietary reasons which prohibit it.
- Always drink plenty of water while fasting, for it washes out physical impurities released into your system by the fast. (A squeeze of lemon in the water is helpful to this end.)
- Some whose regimen cannot seem to tolerate a complete fast find that taking fruit juices helps them remain in the "spirit of the fast."
- Those who for any reason are unable to participate at all, in their going without food, often find the "spirit of the fast" is sustained by their disciplined giving of regular times of prayer beyond their usual pattern of devotion or intercession.
- People, whose work is of such a heavy energy expenditure that a total fast is outside reason, often find that a measuring back of their food intake, as a kind of "offering" becomes a contemporary example of Daniel's "partial fast." Daniel 10:3 describes the prophet’s taking "no pleasant food" for an extended period of fasting, while he still served his role of duty in government offices. This voluntary reduction of intake, denying the flesh delicacies while still answering to basic need for energy, is a fast which might be applicable to some.
(* Practical wisdom recommends that a fast be concluded with a light meal to assist the body in resuming its digestive duties. In this case, soup or light breakfast fare without meat would be wise.)
The observance of a fast involves special prayer and waiting upon God; the idea of a fast being not the issue of self-denial, but the issue of seeking God. Therefore, as a part of your time of fasting:
- Give special times of prayer, praise, and intercession. Allow intermittent occasions during the day; perhaps five-minute "prayer-breaks" or an entire lunchtime given to the Lord in prayer.
- Find occasion to agree in prayer. Seek out brothers and sisters in Christ who will join you daily in prayer. Their partnership becomes a strong bond of fellowship in the fast. Even telephone contact is dynamic, and through agreement in prayer the purpose of the fast is advanced.
- Ask the Lord how much you should fast, and then obey Him. Jesus said, "My meat is to do the will of Him who sent me" (John 4:34), and in fasting one may sense the delight of feeding upon obedience to that degree of fasting to which God has called you.
- Take added time in the Word of God. David said, "Your Word is sweeter than the honeycomb" (Psalm 19: 10), and Jesus made clear that the Word of God is nourishment to the soul as well (Matthew 4). Feed on it and you will find strength for the fast.
The Offering of the Fast
Isaiah declared God's will concerning fasting, and emphasized that God's ordained fast is one of spiritual triumph and practical service (Isaiah 58:6-8). Not only are yokes of spiritual bondage and oppression broken, but physical needs as basic as food and clothing will be served by those who fast.
It is our practice to give an offering in conjunction with fasting, comprised of those monies we did not spend for our food and sustenance: converting those funds into resources to feed the hungry and clothe the needy.
At the conclusion of our fast we bring this offering and give together. Our church offices distribute these monies through agencies which not only honor Jesus Christ, but who also feed the hungry in desperate regions around the world. By this means we relieve human need at a physical dimension while paving the way for the Gospel advance at a spiritual one.
Offerings for this purpose should be designated as such, and are ministered through such agencies as World Vision, Food For The Hungry, Foursquare Missions and Save The Refugees. If you have a specific agency of concern to you, you may designate it and it will be distributed accordingly.
"My meat is to do the will of Him who sent me; My meat is to do the will of God.
I will wait upon Him and be glad in His presence; My meat is to do the will of God." (JWH)
Let us consider a feast which makes possible the spreading of the harvest of blessing God wants to release to mankind. This is the 10th anniversary of our Lord's summons upon our assembly--calling us to a distinct intercessory ministry for our land; the nations of the earth. Nothing is a stronger companion instrument in accomplishing powerful intercession than the practice of fasting, as taught in the Bible.
The passage in focus expresses the word of the Lord by the prophet Isaiah, pointing toward a valid and victorious practice of fasting. The people were being rebuked, not because they hadn't fasted, but because they had exercised the fast as a ritual rather than as an instrument of release. When the fast, as a "key of the Kingdom" is understood, there is a sense of feasting that is felt, although one voluntarily goes without physical food; for a powerful and praise-begetting spirit of thanksgiving will fill the heart in the awareness of the fact that freedom and fullness of life will abound because of prayer with fasting.
I. Fasting Invalidated, v. 3-5
Just as the people Isaiah spoke to had violated the real intent of fasting, so this practice is neglected in much of today's Church due to ignorance concerning the fact that abusive, soul-dulling ritual does not abolish the possibility of valid fasting. Hear the Word on the subject. Fasting is invalidated when it is:
- Attempted as a means of earning increased favor with or response from God, v.3a.
- Participated in merely as a sanctimonious exercise expressing religiousness, v. 5.
- Unattended by complementing spiritual exercise and practical obedience, v. 3b,7.
- Obviously done, motivated by a desire to impress others, v. 4 (see Matthew 6:1618).
II. Fasting Instructed, v. 6a "Is not this the fast that I have chosen?"
The Living God clearly says that there are fasts that He wills--that He intends to be observed with spiritual understanding. Such will become a feast of obedience, rather than ascetically observed, mournful season of bitter self-denial. "All His ways are righteousness and peace!" Count on it: If God chooses a fast, it will be blessed! That He does call us to seasons of fasting is clearly seen in the Word:
- By the direct teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ": His example, Matthew 4:2; His explanation, Matthew 6: 16, and His exhortation, Mark 2:20.
- By the practice of the Early Church: Acts 13:2, 14:23; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 6:5,11:27.
- By the examples of great people of Bible history whose fasting with:
- At the time of transition in national government, 2 Samuel 1:12 (David)
- At a time God's people faced deadly satanic attack, Esther 4:16 (Esther)
- At a time when a great project was being undertaken, Ezra 8:21 (Ezra)
- At a time prophetic promise was due to be actuated, Daniel 9:3 (Daniel)
III. Fasting Inquiries, v. 6-12 answers them.
- What does it do? Answer: It accomplishes something that allows for liberty from spiritual bondage and oppression, v. 6. Jesus taught this! (Mark 9:29--Concerning the authority of the words, "and fasting," significant is the note from Dr. Morison, quoted in the Expositors' Greek Testament, Vol. 1, p. 404: "The authorization for omitting and fasting" [because of absence in some ancient manuscripts] is not sufficient. But even if it were overwhelmingly, fasting would, in its essence, be implied.") See also Daniel 10:3,12,13.
- What does one experience through fasting? Answer: A bountiful harvest of practical and visible results, v. 7-12. Fasting is not a mystical, ascetic exercise of piety. It is a normal and powerful participation point in seeing the release of God's purposes and benevolent intent toward mankind. (1) Food made available to the needy, v. 7; (2) Genuine service and concern for those without, v. 7b, see 1 John 3: 17; (3) Life/health-giving ministry begins to flow from you, v. 8; (4) Personal answers to prayer begin to be released, v. 9a; (5) A removal of the spirit of criticism graces your own life, v. 9b; (6) God-directed and fruitful living ensues, v. 11; (7) An edifying, uniting life follows, v. 12.
By: Pastor Jack Hayford, president