A Theology of Fasting: part 6

Why should we fast?

When should we fast?

How should we fast?

We have been looking at what the Scripture teaches about fasting over a series of posts, and we have seen that fasting can be an important and helpful God-given way to respond to distressing circumstances, but we have to be careful when we are fasting on a regular basis of using a spiritual practice like fasting as a means of masking our own hypocrisy.

It’s not wrong to have regular appointed fasts. I know some people have these normal times when they fast, but, we need to be careful that we don’t twist fasting into something spiritually ugly by making fasting about self, instead of God.

For example, it’s easy to use fasting as a means of lifting ourselves up in the eyes of others.

“Look at me, I am fasting, I am so spiritual.”

That’s the problem Jesus had with the religious leaders in his day.

In Matthew 6, he says “when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward.”

And it’s so ironic, you know, to use fasting as a means of getting others to look at you, because fasting is supposed to be about humbling yourself before God, that’s the heart of fasting, really; and it’s just another indication of how sin has so twisted us, that we can take the very thing that is supposed to be a demonstration of humility and use it as an occasion for pride. 

But, we need to be careful of using fasting as a means of exalting ourselves before men; we also need to be careful not to use as a means of justifying ourselves before God.  That’s again what Jesus said the Pharisees were doing, in that parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, with the Pharisee standing there praying to himself, I thank God I am not like other men, I fast twice a week, that’s what he was trusting in to save him, his spiritual performance, and it doesn’t work.

If you are ever thinking, I have to somehow fast, in order to get God to accept me or love me, you are looking to the wrong thing, maybe if I fast long enough, God will be happy with me and answer my prayer, no, man, you need to be looking to Christ for that, He’s the only way you will ever be accepted or loved by God, He’s the reason you can draw near with confidence, and when you have Christ, it’s done.

Praying and fasting is really a gift from God, but it’s one we can take, and use in a very ugly way, and so as you look at some of these bad examples of fasting in the Bible, it makes you realize, as you fast, you have to ask yourself, is it really for God that I am fasting?

Because it’s easy for it to be about yourself.

Sometimes it is to lift yourself up in the eyes of others, sometimes it is to earn God’s favor, other times it just to help you feel spiritual, while you go out and do whatever you want. It’s like if you are fasting, you don’t have to feel guilty about being a jerk.

Isaiah 58.

Israel’s asking, why is God not listening to us, even though we are fasting and we are religious, and we have humbled ourselves before him?

And God says in response, verse 3, that it’s because, “in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold you fast only to quarrel and fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow his head down like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?”

We have to watch out for using fasting as an opportunity to glorify ourselves or justify ourselves or hiding or excusing the selfishness that is really going on in our hearts. 

We can use fasting as a way of looking spiritual to other people, so spiritual, that they don’t look at what’s really going on in your life.

I know that sometimes people talk about fasting as if it were the way you can deal with the selfishness in your heart and get a spiritual breakthrough or something, but it obviously doesn’t automatically do that, because the Israelites were great at fasting, and in spite of all there fasting they were seeking their own pleasure, it wasn’t helping them at all, which is why, you don’t want to give fasting a place that the Bible doesn’t give it, it’s not a miracle cure to your spiritual problems, it’s not fasting that sanctifies us, it’s God’s Word that changes us, and yet, here’s the thing, as God’s Spirit uses God’s Word to get in us and change us, sometimes it will create desires and longings in us, that are best expressed in prayer and fasting.

This is for me, where the talk about fasting, and even praying gets convicting, because if you ask me does your church have regularly scheduled fasts at such and such a time, that’s not convicting, you can have those, you can not, but what is convicting is, do we long for God and for the salvation that He is providing, do we hunger and thirst after righteousness to the extent, do we feel such a burden for the lost, such a longing for heaven, that sometimes we want to or need to express that even physically, where we have to find a physical way of saying, God all I need is you, I am completely dependent on you, I want to humble myself before you?

There is an appropriateness at certain times in our Christian life and as we are reflecting on certain biblical realities to fasting, and the lack of desire to fast is concerning, more because it is like, are we even aware of who we are and what we need and what’s going on all around us? 

Obviously at a wedding you don’t normally need to tell people to be happy and feast, and at a funeral you don’t normally need to tell people to be sad, and if it is especially difficult, you don’t need to tell them not to be hungry, when you are so emotionally moved by something, a lot of times, you even lose your appetite, and back in the day when Jesus came, the problem with the Pharisees fasting, was that they were so out of touch with what was happening, Jesus was there, they should have known to be feasting, here they were going without food, it’s like how you could not know this is a time for feasting, and here’s the thing for us, now that Jesus isn’t with us physically in the same way any longer, it makes sense that there will be some times where there is going to be great longing for him, it’s appropriate, and that longing should impact us even emotionally and fasting is totally an appropriate way to express the burden on our heart to God.

We are actually kind of living in a funny time, because there is so much to be thankful for, so there should be a lot of feasting, but we are not in heaven yet, and so there should be times for fasting, and, if we are never fasting, if we are fully satisfied all the time, we are never feeling the burden of Jesus’ absence, if we are never so longing for God to direct us, or if we never feel so desperate for God to answer our prayers that we want to completely just focus on crying out to Him, then maybe it’s a symptom of something missing in our hearts, and perhaps we might even choose to fast then, as a way of saying, God please help me hunger for what I should hunger for.

 I think that’s the place for fasting, and there is a place for fasting in our lives, and if you don’t fast, I don’t think you should just run out and stop eating, and think that will magically fix things, but instead, you should go to God, and say God, please give me the kind of heart that loves Christ so much, that loves the people around me so much, that hates the sin in my life, hates the sin in others lives, that I actually feel, I feel such a deep longing for Christ and a concern for people, that I lose some of my concern for even the things of this world, like eating and want to give all my energy to God in prayer.

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