Saturday, July 19, 2008

Feasting on Fasting

I believe I mentioned before that Caleb, Andrew and I have been reading through Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney - available in the church library once I return it!

So far, the study had reminded me of things I knew and encouraged me in areas that might not have been emphasized previously but which I was not completely unfamiliar with: Bible Intake (reading, meditating-on, memorizing, hearing), Prayer, Meditation, Stewardship (in time and finances), Worship, Evangelism, Serving.

Today we began reading about fasting & I must admit that I've never closely examined this topic; still haven't since there is only one chapter on it here, but this one chapter contains a feast on fasting compared to my previous study. Here are some nibbles for you.

Christians in a gluttonous, denial-less, self-indulgent society may struggle to accept and to begin the practice of fasting. (OUCH! My toes!!!) Few disciplines go so radically against the flesh and the mainstream of culture as this one but we cannot overlook its biblical significance... Most of us dare not overlook fasting's benefits in the disciplined pursuit of Christlike life.

Fasting is mentioned in the Bible 77 times, baptism 75 times. I mentioned this to my pastor who preached on baptism not too long ago but from whom I've never heard a sermon on fasting. He surprised me by saying he had recently downloaded a free e book about fasting from . Perhaps a sermon on this topic is in the works?

A biblical definition of fasting is a Christian's (no eternal value for the non-Christian) voluntary (not to be coerced, although may be encouraged) abstinence from food for spiritual purposes (more than just the ultimate crash diet). A broader view... defines fasting as "the voluntary denial of a normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity"... such as involvement with other people, the media, the telephone, from talking, from sleep, etc.

Matthew chapter 6 makes it obvious that Jesus expected that His followers would fast. [Jesus said] "So when you give...", "And when you pray...", "But when you fast..." No one doubts that we are to give and to pray and there is nothing in all of scripture that indicates that we no longer need to fast, and since we know Christians in the book of Acts fasted (9:9, 13:2, 14:23), we may conclude that Jesus still expects his followers to fast today.

If you are wanting any kind of a blessing for it, fasting is to be done ONLY for God-centered purposes such as to strengthen prayer, seek God's guidance, express grief, seek deliverance or protection, express repentance and the return to God, humble oneself before God, express concern for the work of God, minister to the needs of others (an example was included here of donating the $ one would have spent on food to the needs of those for whom one is fasting), overcome temptation and dedicate yourself to God, and to express love and worship to God.

REMEMBER THAT even at our best we do not deserve what we desire, nor can we force God's hand. Whether or not you receive the blessing you hope for, one thing is sure: If you knew what God knew, you would give yourself the identical blessing that He does. And none of his rewards are worthless.

At the end of the chapter are application questions, in this case asking readers to confess and repent of any fear of fasting. The boys & I agreed that it wasn't something we feared just something we hadn't thought about before & that we didn't enjoy being hungry. We also agreed that we had skipped meals in the past just because we didn't have time to eat and wonder of wonders: WE DID NOT DIE.

Another thing brought up in our discussion was that since fasting is between a person and God, and we are not supposed to proclaim our fastiness to the world (Matt. 6 again) that plenty of people could be observing this spiritual discipline without the rest of us knowing about it. Now don't start looking your fellow believers in the eye to try to spot that "hungry" look. Don't mess with their blessings!

The chapter concludes by asking readers, "Will you fast as the Holy Spirit directs?" and "Will you plan a fast of dedication now as an expression of your willingness to fast from now on?"

My question to you is, "Now that you know that Jesus expects us to practice it, will you closer examine the spiritual discipline of fasting?"

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