The first of January, before Covid, I decided to make 2020 the year of my spiritual growth spurt. My word of the year is Immanuel, God with us. The chorus that kept running though my mind was “I’m hungry for a mighty move of God. . . I long to see the hand of God move mightily, inside of me.” Be careful what you ask for. I didn’t really want it to happen this way. Covid, racial unrest, a planner full of cancelled stickers, but it is happening.
One of my home churches asked the congregation to fast this week. They usually do 14 days of fasting at the beginning of the year but we can all agree on the need to revisit that this year. I’ve read, listened, and studied about fasting in an effort to understand it and frankly, get something out of it. Most teachings concentrate on giving up food, praying during meal time and seeing God move. That hasn’t been my experience. Fasting frustrates me, I get hungry, really hangry. I try to pray during meal times but I’m not sure how to pray. I struggle that my longest, hardest fast was unsuccessful. At least from the standpoint of getting what I wanted.
So, as I am likely to do; I got out my Bible, my commentary website and a pad of paper to study fasting. again. In the Old Testament, fasting is mentioned in regard to trouble. Joel, Daniel, Nehemiah and Esther all called the people to fast when they were in trouble. It was always accompanied with weeping, mourning, and sorrow. They fasted in hope of deliverance. In the New Testament, fasting illustrates an intense prayer. Anna fasted in prayer to live to see the Messiah. Matthew warned Christians to fast in private and not put on a show like the Pharisees. Paul and Barnabus were fasting when they received specific directions. When the disciples were unable to cast out a demon, Jesus said, “But an evil spirit of this kind is only driven out by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21 Weymouth New Testament). Ellicott says the “intensity of evil demanded fasting”. Tough situations must be met with fasting. Our spiritual life and faith are made stronger by self-denial and communion with God (Cambridge study Bible).
We understand “fasting” as willfully giving up food or pleasures for a specified time. So, we give up lunch every day for a week and we pray during our lunch hour and God answers our prayers. Done! So why are our prayers still unanswered? God’s chosen people, the Israelites, had the same experience. Their fasting didn’t seem to change anything and they complained about it. Isaiah 58:3-7 addressed their complaints.
Isaiah pointed out six reasons that their fasting did not result in answers. I wonder if these are relevant to us.
1. In their fast, there was no repentance or call to repentance. (I have never heard a speaker include repentance in their call for a fast).
2. Unforgiveness We know prayers are hindered when we harbor unforgiveness against someone. Matthew 5:24.
3. Wrong Motives Why are fasting? What do we hope to gain? Every fast I have ever participated in was for something I wanted badly. Is that a ‘right’ motive?
4. Hypocrisy, going through the motions with no real repentance. Fasting because everybody else is and making sure they know I’m doing it too, Pride?
5. Good Works must follow the fast. Fasting approved by God will be followed by “deeds of justice, kindness and charity.” (Barnes)
6. The fast does not result in a changed heart. They had all the outward dressings of the fast but there was no change in their hearts.
Fasting that the Lord accepts must be devoid of pride. Matthew Henry says, “If it (a fast) does not express true sorrow for sin and does not promote the putting away of sin, it is not a fast.” A fast is about the heart, not the stomach. A fast requires self-denial of food but also denial of worldly desires. John Piper says we must fast “for our own holiness”. True fasting must include a change of heart which results in changed behavior.
Thinkin’ ‘bout that.