Called to Fast
I really hesitated to write about fasting. After all, if there is one passage everyone knows about fasting it is Matthew 6:16-18. This is where Jesus says, “And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” I really wrestled with how can I be okay with writing about something so private, but I believe God has given me permission to discuss fasting so that we can grasp a better understanding of a much neglected spiritual discipline. Matthew 6 is simply reminding us that we are not to fast so that people will think we are “good Christians”. We are to fast for spiritual, internal reasons. A fast should be between God and ourselves.
Why should fasting be a part of our life? In the above passage, Jesus says, “When you fast…” He clearly expects fasting to be part of our spiritual journey, but we must be sure we are fasting because of a clear call from God. Jesus Himself fasted often. In fact, Matthew 4:2 says that He fasted forty days and forty nights.
Many times throughout Scripture we have awesome examples of fasting. II Chronicles 20 tells us that Jehoshaphat was afraid of an advancing army, so what did he do? Verses 3 and 4 tell us. They say, “And Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the Lord; and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to seek help from the LORD; they even came from all the cities of Judah to seek the LORD.”
Ezra 8:21 says, “Then I [Ezra] proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and our possessions.” Verse 23 goes on to tell us, “So we fasted there and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty.”
Nehemiah 1:4 says, “Now it came about when I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”
Esther 4:16 says, “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.”
Job 23:12 says, “…I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”
David tells us in Psalm 35 that he “…humbled [his] soul with fasting….”
Jeremiah 36:9 says, “…all the people in Jerusalem and all the people who came from the cities of Judah to Jerusalem proclaimed a fast before the LORD.”
We also have examples from Daniel, Joel, Jonah and several in the book of Acts. Fasting is found often in the Bible and we have simply neglected it. The Word of God has shown us how to deal with serious issues and we have chosen food over God’s intervention. There is nothing on this earth that can compare to our God, especially not a candy bar.
On a side note here, obviously be smart about any medical issues that you have. If you are on a medication that requires food, ask your doctor how best you could obey God through a fast. Let’s be honest though, most of us are not eating for our health; we are eating in spite of it. Don’t use a medical condition as an excuse, just be wise.
Oftentimes, as mentioned in the Scriptures above, corporate fasting is encouraged. Ezra, Esther, and Jehoshaphat all asked that everyone fast so that God would protect His people. In each situation, God answered in a miraculous way. God has not changed. Maybe we have.
Many times in Scripture corporate fasting is done in conjunction with repentance. In Joel 1:14, God tells Joel to consecrate a fast. In Chapter 2 of the same book, the Lord tells His people to ‘Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping, and mourning….” Fasting humbles us in ways that other disciplines do not. Fasting causes us to depend solely on the Lord. The Holy Spirit then reminds us of sin and we confess. At other times, we know that we have sinned as a people, as a church, or as a nation and we fast as the people of Nineveh did in Jonah’s day to evoke God’s mercy over His wrath.
We also see corporate fasting in the history of the early church. The whole body of believers would come together to fast and pray for direction (Acts 14:23). The early church also fasted in communal worship (Acts13). No decision was made without prayer and fasting. They fasted UNTIL they heard from the Lord. They never assumed. They never decided among themselves. They fasted.
Corporate fasting is vital, but often we are called to a time of personal fasting. We see examples of this in Nehemiah, Daniel, Jonah, and the Psalms. We also see fasting in the life of Jesus and the apostle Paul. Personal fasting can bring us closer to God and further away from the world. We are able to differentiate His voice from others because we are depending more fully on Him.
Any major decision, any minor decision, any decision with a lasting impact needs not only prayer, but fasting as well. But, we must make sure that we are hearing God’s voice calling us to fast. It is not another box to check. It is drawing in closer to our precious Savior. Before we fast, we must make sure that God is calling us to it. I Thessalonians 5:24 assures us that when He calls us to something, He brings it to pass. You will not fail when you are depending on God in an area that He has called you to. Fasting is no exception.
When God chooses the fast exciting things will happen. Isaiah 58:6-12 tells us, “Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free, And break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am’…And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places. And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. And those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.”
Do you have any wickedness that you feel has a grip on you? Any yoke of bondage that is choking your spiritual life to death? Do you not even see the homeless and hurting who have needs? Do you have an illness that needs healing? Do you need your light to break forth in the darkness? Do you need the Lord’s guidance, protection, His strength? Do you need nourishment in a dry place? Are the ancient foundations in need of repair? If so, maybe you are being called to fast.
As you are discovering whether God is calling you to fast, be careful of your motivation. God told Zechariah to ask the people in chapter seven, “Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted?’” That’s a great checkpoint for me. Why am I fasting? Am I fasting to hear God’s voice and invoke His power for His Kingdom here on earth, or do I want my desires to be met? Isaiah 58:3-4 is another example of this. It says, “Why have we fasted and Thou dost not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and Thou dost not notice?’ Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.” The Israelites were asking God why He wasn’t doing what they wanted. After all, they had fasted. But, God was quick to remind them that they fasted for their own purposes, not His. A true fast requires a heart willing to be molded and changed into whatever God wants. It is humbling ourselves so that God can have His way.
Many times I have went into a time of fasting thinking that I was seeking God’s face for a certain issue when in reality He wanted to deal with another issue entirely. As long as we are open, that’s okay. Maybe there is a loved one who is far from God. Is it okay to fast for them specifically? Absolutely; but, just know that God may want to deal with you about other matters as well. What if your finances are a mess? Is it okay to fast for that? Of course; but, realize God may want you in that situation a while longer to make you thankful for daily bread.
I believe that you can certainly fast for specific answers, just keep in mind that God controls the direction of the fast. Listen for His voice. Fasting is primarily not to reach God with our voice, but to listen for His. Psalm 32:6 says, “Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found….” God is still willing to hear us, let’s draw in closer to Him so that we can hear Him.
O, Lord, Help us to hear Your voice in the area of fasting. Help us to be wise and victorious through the strength of Your Holy Spirit. Help us to be willing to do whatever it takes for Your power to reign in our lives. Help us to want You more than food, more than control, more than anything. Help us to love You as You love us. In Jesus’ Name…