Fasting That Pleases God
In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus said,
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
In our study of Matthew 6, so far we learned that Jesus wanted His disciples to understand how important it is to take our religion serious and not to act like the Pharisees and teachers of old who seem more interested in showing off. As He raises the righteousness bar, in this lesson we are going to look at something that most Christians have little experience with, and that is fasting.
In all my years of being a Christian I am not sure if I ever heard a lesson preached on fasting. Many of us do not understand or or appreciation its significance. Fasting done properly can be very powerful and life changing! I hear frustrated Christians asking questions related to their faith and religion and walking the walk of a Christian. I believe that by fasting that practice could help them get some answers and solutions.
For example; some say, ‘I have been praying about this thing so long and I just can’t seem to get an answer. Or, I have been struggling with this sin so long – How many times am I going to have to go around and around and deal with the cycle of sin, having to confess, repent, sin again, confess, repent and not moving forward? Or, I’ve been just so discouraged. I don’t know what’s happening to me. I should be the happiest person in the world but I’m not.’
I personally believe that fasting is a tool that God has given us to help us find some answers to such questions and so much more. And I believe it just may be the missing ingredient in your life. I believe it is a lost discipline that Christians should be re-examining and taking full advantage of today. A survey of 100 Christians (take by James MacDonald) was taken and these people were asked the following question: What is it that personally frustrates you as a Christians in your own life, in you own walk as a Christian? Here are the top five answers which given which Christian personally frustrated over in their life :
#5 - The Inconsistency of their quiet time. ‘I know I should walk with God. I know I should read the Bible. I want to do it. Sometimes I try to use a study guide. Sometimes I make myself do it. But the fact of the matter is, a week goes by and I don’t do it at all. It’s been like that more than weeks or months at time. In all honesty it’s been like that for years. I know the right, I want the right, but I don’t choose the right. And it’s frustrating me.’
#4 – I don’t sense God’s presence with me. ‘I sense it at church. I sense it occasionally in other places, but mostly my life is relatively secular. I don’t think about God all the time. I don’t sense God at work. I don’t sense God in my home very much. Sometimes I wonder if we are really any different than our neighbors. Why don’t I sense God’s presences more when I love Him as I do?’ This is frustrating to many people.
#3 – I feel like I don’t measure up. ‘I have nagging areas of secret sin and attitudes I can’t shake. I have anger inside. I have bitterness inside. I Lust, I struggle with fear and anxiety and depression. I have secret sins that trip me up. In a lot of ways God has helped me grow, but in some certain areas I wonder if I’ve progressed at all.’
#2 – Where’s the miracles? ‘Where’s the answered prayers? The Bible is filled with stories of them. How about just one God? You know I hear about other Christians that have had miraculous things happen; answered prayer, break troughs with specific things that they’ve prayed about. But I feel like I prayed for a lot of things a lot of times and I am just not seeing that much happening.’ And that frustrates many Christians.
So far the things that frustrate Christians: - Inconsistent quiet time - Not sensing His presence like I want. - Feeling like we don’t measure up. Having certain areas we struggle with. - Not seeing the answer to prayers and the breakthroughs we long for
- And the #1 thing that frustrates Christians is quality of their own their prayer time ‘I said that I want to pray more and what happens, I didn’t do it. I want to, I know that it is right to do but just don’t seem to do it as much as I should. And that frustrates me and I feel guilty about it.’
Some people would say, “Well you don’t change because you don’t want to.” That is not correct. The problem is not that we don’t want to; the problem is that even though you feel you like you want to, you want other things more.
So what can I do when the things that I want the most don’t become my reality. The problem is that I am not getting from knowing what’s best to doing what’s best and so I feel stuck and frustrated.
Now God has given us some tools to break these cycles of frustration, but even some of the tools He has given us require us wanting to use them. Study of God’s word can help break these patterns. Memorizing scripture reading God’s word can help. But what has God given me to break the pattern of not doing the thing I want to do most? Answer, FASTING.
If you don’t believe me I would challenge you to take a concordance and look up the word fasting and how much it is used in your Bible. You will be shocked how frequently the subject of fasting comes up in scripture. It’s in the OT and it’s in the NT. It’s in the Gospels and it’s in the epistles. Jesus fasted regularly. He even fasted for 40 day and nights before he launched out into His three year ministry.
So what is the definition of fasting for a Christian: It is
“Abstaining from foods (or something else) for measured periods of time in order to heighten one’s hunger for the things of God.”
I declare that fasting can ignite your hunger for God. If we do it for the right reason, as you yearn and hunger for food or whatever you have give up, it can help you turn to the Lord. When you turn your hunger to Him and give it to Him as a sacrifice to be closer to Him, it helps clears your mind to receive His will.
Unfortunately, whether we realize it or not, one problem that most of us have is that we are addicted and enslaved to food. We think we can’t go without it even for a day. But again that’s not true. We can be enslaved even to good things, things that are good for us, whether it be food, or sex, or exercise, rest or a bunch of other things. Anything that can empower you can be set aside for a time to break it’s potential enslavement. When we fast that enslavement is broken and we are able to focus on our hunger for what we really want.
Listen to what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 6:12-13,
“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”
Anything that I have to have can enslave me. Paul said I am not going to let anything, anything enslave me. Fasting also can reveal the things that control us. It also humbles us and shows us our true selves. As Jesus was teaching the Sermon on the Mt. He show that our Fasting can be misplaced. We can do it for a bunch of reasons other than trying to draw to God.
In Zechariah 7:5 God ask the Jews that very question. He Asked,
“When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?”
That’s what the Pharisees were doing in Jesus’ time. And we can do the same thing fasting for reasons other than to drawing closer to God.
Read Isaiah. 58:1-5
As you read this you see how displeased the Lord was with their fasting, but then in the following verses 6-12 we not only see the importance of fasting properly, but also the actions and attitudes one should have that please the Lord.
Read Isaiah 58:6- 12 (Click on verse to read)
There are some indications as to why we should fast here:
#1) In verses 6 it indicates that proper fasting will help when we have a heavy burdens to deal with. If you have been carrying a heavy burden and you’ve been carrying it for a long time and you are not seeing the changes you need to see, it time to fast. I challenge you to skip lunch for a whole week and rather than eating give that time to God praying about this. Let the gnawing in your stomach heighten your hunger for God Maybe you are burdened because someone, maybe in your family, is not walking with God and you’ve prayed and prayed for them. Have you fasted? Have you fasted and prayed that God may break the yoke that enslaves them?
#2 Vs 7 seems to indicate we may need to fast in order to get the right attitude about giving, sharing and helping others.
#3 In Vs 8 it seems to me that we may need to fast when we need direction and the Lord’s encouragement and support.
#4 And in Vs 9 we need to fast when I need an answer to prayer vs 9
#5 Vs 9b -10 Seems to indicate that it will help us get back on the right track.
#6 Vs 11 seems to indicate that if we fast the Lord will guide us and satisfy our needs. He said you will be like a well watered garden.
Does something has a hold on you? You want to do the right thing, but can’t seem to do it? You wish you could move from knowing to doing. When you are in a sinful pattern, when you have a heavy burden, when you need direction — any time you need more of what only God can provide — you need to develop the discipline of fasting. Let this practice ignite your hunger for God and increase your capacity to choose that which truly satisfies; and that is living in obedience to your Heavenly Father.
Based on a sermon by Dr. James MacDonald
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