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I am studying prayer and fasting. I find this to be a part of all of God's children through both Old and New Testament. I don't hear it preached in the church, other than "it's not a commandment" but a good thing to do. Do you have any lessons or information you could share. By the way, I appreciate your web site and use it frequently for resources. God Bless You. - Terry
Fasting has fallen out of practice, I believe, to our detriment. Once you understand what fasting is all about, I think you might agree. Here are several pertinent points concerning fasting.
1. It was a common practice in both the Old and New Testaments. Take a concordance and look up the words, "fast" or "fasting." You will find that it is a common practice in both the Old and New Testaments. It was typically associated with prayer, repentance, or seeking God's direction. This is not all of them, but here are a few references. (2 Sam 12:23; 2 Chr 20:3; Ezr 8:21; Psa 35:13; 69:10; Isa 58:3-6; Joel 1:14; 2:12-15; Matt 6:16; 9:14; Luk 2:37; 18:12; Acts 13:2; 14:23). I would suggest you read at least these passages and spend time reflecting on each of them.
2. It continued to be a practice in the life of the church. In the generations that followed the first century church, Christians continued to practice fasting. I can understand how this would raise the question for us today. "Should we fast?" "If so, how do we go about it?" "If so, why isn't there more instruction on how to fast?" One possible reason that there is not more "how to" instructions concerning fasting is that it was such a common practice among believers in ancient times that it was unnecessary. In fact, fasting was considered somewhat normative up until about two hundred years ago.
3. Jesus took it for granted that we would fast. If you notice, his section on fasting begins the same way that he does the sections for praying and giving. "So when you give to the poor...(Matt 6:2)"; "When you pray...(Matt 6:5)"; "Whenever you fast...(Matt 6:16)." He takes it for granted that we will be practicing all of these as a matter of spiritual discipline and practice. He doesn't differentiate between any of them. Fasting is placed right along side with giving and praying. You may want to keep in mind that there is about as much in the New Testament concerning fasting as there is the Lord's Supper.
In a recent survey of a class of about 25 people, only three fasted regularly. I would imagine you would find a similar situation wherever you go. Why do people not fast? Is it necessary? Is it a direct command? While it is not a direct command, it is encouraged in an indirect way and in certain situations. Jesus gives us teaching about the correct heart for fasting (Matt 6:16ff). Paul encourages married couples to fast from sex by mutual agreement (1 Cor 7:5). We have an example of Jesus fasting (Matt. 3). We have an example of the early church fasting (Acts 13:1-2). In these and other subtle ways, fasting is affirmed as part of the spiritual life.
It is significant that Jesus began his ministry with a fast. In Matthew chapter three, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days and nights. Why? Perhaps the answer lies in Israel's experiences, which mirrors Jesus' experience. Jesus passed through the waters of baptism then went into the wilderness for 40 days where he fasted. Israel passed through the waters of the sea and went into the wilderness where they experienced a sort of "fast for 40 years. They didn't have the homes, meat, and other luxuries that came along with their bondage in Egypt. In reflecting on the wilderness experience, God communicates this,
"You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, ... He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. ... Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son (Deut 8:2-5)."
God was teaching them that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Life is not about physical bread. It is not about material things. It is about fellowship and communion with God. That is the point Jesus was trying to get across to the worldly-minded people in the wilderness in John 6. The "true bread" out of heaven is what gives life, not physical bread.
We live in a materialistic world. We do not truly know what it means to do without. Our life is filled with instant gratification. It leads to arrogance, self-centeredness, independence, and other things that are opposed to God. Like Israel, we need to learn to rely on God in all humility in the wilderness. This is hard to do with satisfied bellies. This is hard to do in all the noise, distractions, and demands of daily life. With the constant barrage of images, messages, sights, smells, tastes, sensations, and such, is it any wonder that it is hard to perceive God in our lives? Fasting is about clearing out the clutter in our lives so we can be more in tuned with God. It is about removing some of our distractions. It is about removing some of our crutches. Taking time out to go into the "wilderness" can bring you to a deeper spirituality.
Of course, there are pitfalls. One of them is doing it for physical reasons. If you fast in order to lose weight, it will be counter-productive spiritually. If anything, it can be spiritually destructive because it is self-centered. Fasting is to be God centered. Another pitfall has to do with pride. If you begin to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment due to the practice of fasting it will be spiritually destructive. If you have a sense of self-congratulations, it will drive you away from God that closer to God. This precisely the issue Jesus deals with in Matthew 6. It is also the issue that Jesus deals with in Luke 18:9.
I am by no means an expert in fasting or any other spiritual discipline. Be wary of anyone that tells you they are. If you would like to do some further exploration of this topic, I recommend the book, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.
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