1. Fasting, or abstaining from food for spiritual purposes, is a practice often misunderstood by Christians. Since it is natural in times of great grief to lose the appetite, some have concluded that this is the fasting Jesus expected of his disciples after his departure. (Matthew 6:6-18; Matthew 9:14; Mark 2: 18-20 and Luke 5:35).
a. Some religious groups have set aside seasons and days when their followers are expected to refrain from eating or are to refuse to eat certain foods. Perhaps these practices have added to the confusion of Christians thinking on the subject of fasting.
b. History indicates that man in all ages and among all nations has engaged in fasting. It has been used for many purposes including ceremonials, mourning, or as an aid to building self-control and as a method for gaining spiritual strength. The late Mahatma Gandi gained world attention through his extensive fasting. It has been used by both groups and individuals and is widely practiced today. Many groups have found "hunger strikes" more powerful than violence in obtaining their purposes. Recently a group of teenagers did without food for 24 hours in order to gain understanding of the hungry populations of the world, The money they saved on their food was then sent to rescue missions in India. Many Christians today have experienced the blessings that can come only to one who has dedicated a season to fasting and prayer to Jehovah.
2. Biblical examples of fasting indicate that it was only once commanded as a regular ritual, on the day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27) but it was practiced by God's people both individually and in groups. Sometimes it was commanded by leaders, sometimes it was voluntary. God's people fasted for many purposes; David, to humble his soul, to entreat God in behalf of his sick son, for his enemies and in mourning for the death of Saul and his sons. In times of great crisis, the children of God usually turned to their Father, confessing their sins, praying and fasting, entreating his favor; and the Scriptures indicate that God usually blessed them. In one case, that of the Nenevites, he even repented and changed his plans for destroying them.
3. Fasting was habitual for John's disciples (Matthew 9:14), for Anna (Luke 2:36-37) the Pharisees (Matthew 9:14), Cornelius (Acts 10:30) and for Paul (II Corinthians 6:5, 11:27). Jesus fasted for forty days and nights and told the disciples of John that his disciples would fast when the bridegroom was taken from them. (Matthew 9:15). Apparently, fasting alone does not move God, for in Isaiah 58:3-9 the people asked "Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not?", and the answer is given: "Behold you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high." Again in Jeremiah 14:12, the Lord said: "though they fast, I will not hear their cry". Here the Lord's people had turned to wickedness and the prophet was asked to refrain even from praying for them. In Zechariah 7:5, their fasting was lost because of wickedness. Thus, fasting is not a substitute for righteousness.
a. Fasting, like any other act of devotion can be empty and for show only, hence the Pharisee of Luke 18:12 who fasted twice a week was not justified. Jesus condemns as hypocrites those who wear a sad countenance that they may appear to men to fast (Matthew 6:16).
4. It is easy to understand why fasting is not popular today. With so much emphasis on pleasure and selfindulgence as constituting the good life, any appeal to self-denial is unpopular. Eating has been regarded as one of the nations greatest problems, especially eating for enjoyment. This very condition actually enhances the value of fasting for a person with this attitude if he could be persuaded to try it.
5. The physical aspect of fasting is beyond the scope of this lesson. Health and body condition is such a highly individualized matter, that its results cannot be generalized. There are few, if any, however, who could not leave off a meal now and then to the benefit of their physical well-being.
a. Fasting, like prayer, may bring blessings to the participant apart from the special blessings bestowed by the Heavenly Father. For the person who would gain in self-control it is excellent practice. It may contribute to weight control and economy of time and food cost, but like prayer, Jesus taught that its greatest benefit would come from the special blessings of God.
6. Perhaps our strongest New Testament teaching on the subject is from the Sermon on the mount when Jesus was teaching that we should be careful not to make a show of our religion before men. When we do an act of charity, pray, or fast, they should be done without public attention, and with each of these it is stated that, "your Father who sees what is done in secret will regard you" Matthew 6:1-8). Doesn't it seem likely that he expected his followers to fast since he gave them instructions for the proper way to conduct it?
7. Christians today would do well to consider fasting as a means of drawing closer to God, or gaining spiritual strength. It is not a command, it is a privileges In times of great stress it is a way of communicating with the Lord, and if it is sincere and dedicated to God, it will be regarded by him. (Matthew 6:18).
A. Fasting: Increase spiritual awareness
1. Our ability to perceive God's direction in life is directly related to our ability to sense the inner promptings of His Spirit. God provides a specific activity to assist us in doing this.
2. Learn why fasting increases spiritual alertness.
a. If we eat, an increased amount of blood is needed for our digestive processes.
b. If we exercise, a greater amount of blood is used in building up our muscles; but if we neither eat nor exercise, a greater amount of blood is available for mental and spiritual concentration.
3. Discern when to fast.
a. Fasting is a voluntary abstinence from food for one or more meals.
b. Fasting must be combined with Scripture memorization and meditation.
c. Fasting should focus on reaching specific spiritual objectives.
d. Fasting is most efficient when practiced regularly one day a week.
e. Fasting should be preceded by nutritional eating habits and medical counsel if physical ailments exist.
B. Turn needs into motivation for fasting: Read, Memorize, Meditate
1. Detecting temptation: Jas 1; Gal 5; Ps 25
2. Conquering moral impurity: Col 3; Rom 6,7 & 8
3. Discerning God's will: I Thess 4; Rom 12
4. Identifying genuine love: Phil 2; I Cor 13; I John
5. Increasing spiritual growth: Jn 15; 1 Pet 2; Mt 5,6,7
C. Guides for a day of fasting:
1. Men throughout whom God has worked greatly have emphasized the significance of prayer with fasting. One such man used the following schedule for a day of prayer and fasting.
2. Whenever this Christian leader had an important decision to make, or whenever he was asked to bring an important message, he would set aside a twenty-four hour period prior to the meeting or to the time the decision had to be made. The twenty-four hours went from evening to evening. Here are the items included in his day of prayer and fasting.
3. Evening: Reading large sections of scripture
a. He read or scanned as many significant sections of Scripture as possible for general content and key ideas related to the subject of his needs.
b. Marking significant sections for further study
c. When a particular section seemed significant to him, he would make a special notation of it for the purpose of studying it further the following morning.
D. Guides for Proper Use of Fasting:
1. Fast for the purpose of greater effectiveness in discerning and achieving God's purposes -- Is 58:6
2. Fast secretly and God will reward you openly - Matt 6:16-18
3. Warnings Against Improper Use of Fasting
4. Don't fast to achieve selfish purposes - Is 58:3-5
5. Don't fast to impress others with your spirituality: Zech 7:5; Matt 6:16-18; Luke 18:12
E. Purposes of fasting:
1. Fasting to Gain Spiritual Alertness to Overcome Temptation: Jesus Christ was led to fast forty days (Matt 4:2)
2. Fasting to Seek God's Will in a Specific Matter.
a. The Israelites fasted to determine direction in battle - Judges 20:26
b. Paul and Barnabas prayed with fasting before choosing elders - Act 14:23
3. Fasting in Repentance for Sin.
a. The Israelites fasted and repented and put away false gods - I Sam 7:6
b. David fasted and repented of his sin - II Sam 12:16, 21-23
c. Ahab fasted and repented after causing Naboth's death: I Kin 21:27
d. Hearing God's Word, Israel fasted, confessing their sins - Nehemiah 9:1-3
e. Daniel fasted and repented for himself and the people for not having walked in the laws of the Lord - God's chastisement was to come - Dan 9:3
f. Joel called for a fast because of the Lord's chastening - Joel 1:14, 2:12,15
g. The people of Ninevah repented in fasting - Johah 3:5
4. Fasting for Concern for the Work of God: Nehemiah fasted over the condition of Jerusalem - Nehemiah 1:4
5. Fasting for Deliverance or Protection: Jehoshaphat and all Judah fasted for deliverance in battle: 2 Chron 20:3
a. Ezra and the people fasted for the Lord's deliverance: Ezra 8:21-23
b. The Jews fasted and grieved after King Ahasuerus' decree: Ester 9:31
c. People fasting for repentance and deliverance but God will not hear: Jeremiah 14:12
6. Fasting to Humble Oneself before God: David humbled himself before God - Ps 69:10,11,13
7. Fasting As Part of Worship: Anna served God through prayers and fastings daily: Luke 2:37
8. The early church was fasting and worshipping God: Act 13:2,3
9. Fasting When In Deep Sorrow:
a. Sorrow over the death of Saul and his sons - I Sam 31:13; 2 Sam 1:11,12
b. David grieved over the life of his child - II Sam 12:16; 21-23
c. David prayed and fasted for his enemies' troubles: Ps 35:13
d. King Darius fasted when Daniel was in the lion's den: Dan 6:18