Posts Tagged ‘Fasting’

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Matthew 6:16-18 Fasting, What is Jesus Saying?

February 29, 2012

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

(Matthew 6:16-18 ESV)

What is Jesus trying to communicate in this passage?

There were three pillars of Jewish religious practice that Jesus addresses in the SoM.  Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting.  Fasting was a common part of life for faithful Jews.  The Pharisees fasted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays.  Their practice was to “disfigure their faces and look dismal”, most likely they spread ashes on their beards in order to look pale and somber.[1]  They wanted to be noticed and to draw attention to the fact that they were fasting.  Jesus is directing this teaching to contrast with those who would act in such manner, to contrast with those who fasted primarily so that others would know that they were fasting.  Thus Jesus begins, “when you fast, do not look somber…”  Like with every element of the Sermon Jesus is drawing the hearer’s attention toward the condition of the heart.  What is the hearts motive for fasting?  Is it to seek God and deny oneself out of devotion to God or commemoration of His deeds?  Or is the motive of the heart to garner the praise and admiration of men?  Would we rather hear from men, “look how spiritual he is.” ? Or would we rather hear from our Father, “well done, good and faithful servant.”  Giving to the poor, praying and fasting are all good endeavors and none of them is wrong in and of themselves.  But each can be perverted and used to steal glory that rightfully belongs to God.

“To use good things to our own ends is always the sign of false religion. How easy it is to take something like fasting and try to use it to get God to do what we want…Fasting must forever center on God. Physical benefits, success in prayer, the enduing with power, spiritual insights—these must never replace God as the center of our fasting.”[2]  This is the key to what Jesus is saying.  Whether we give, whether we pray, or whether we fast, God must be our focus, so we do these things for the benefit of His eyes alone.  If we seek others approval we have made their approval, in essence, our god.

As with almsgiving and prayer, Jesus’ followers could and would practice fasting as an act of private piety. His main concern was their inner spirit with which fasting was performed. They were to be pure in motive as they fasted and not to fast as a means of gaining approval from others.

Ultimately Jesus is continuing to inform His followers of God’s preference for the affections of their heart rather than the public display of their worship.  Those who pursue God, do so effectively by having a pure heart that hungers for more than food and thirsts for more than attention.  The Christ-follower hungers and thirsts for righteousness and in the end gains a vision of God and the abundance of His Kingdom.

Read the Reasons Why We Fast… Here.
Read How Fasting informs our Past, Present and Future… Here…

[1] Dockery, Seeking the Kingdom. 82

[2] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: the discipline of Fasting.

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Why Should We Fast?

February 28, 2012

While Jesus never commands that we fast and fasting is never commanded in the New Testament, Jesus assumes that those who truly follow God will on occasion forsake food to communicate their reliance upon Him.  Following His example, and baring witness that “man does not live by bread alone.”  This was the practice in NT Judaism, and the early church continued His instruction on fasting.  We fast not to lose weight, not to get others attention, not to earn favor with God, and not merely because others fast.  We fast individually order to privately communicate to God that we are setting our entire focus on Him, and that we are seeking Him above our own physical needs and relying on Him to supply our needs during the fast.  We fast corporately  to express the same to God as a group, that we as a church, a Sunday school class, a youth group, etc. are seeking God above our physical needs and relying on Him to sustain us during the time of our fast.  The end should always be greater than the means, that God will receive glory through our weakness and reliance upon Him.  That we might receive a vision of Him high and lifted up above our earthy needs, capable of sustaining us in lean times and times of plenty.

Ten reasons for why one should fast:[1]

A.  To strengthen prayer (Ezra 8:23; Neh. 1:4; Dan. 9:3; Joel 2:12-17; Acts 13:3)

B.  To seek God’s guidance (Judges 20:26-28; Acts 14:23)

C.  To express grief (Judges 20:26; 1 Sam. 31:11-13; 2 Sam. 1:11-12)

D.  To seek from God deliverance or protection (2 Chr. 20:34; Ezra 8:21-23; Esther 4:6; Ps.109:21-26)

E.  To express repentance and the return to God (1 Sam. 7:6; Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:5-8)

F.  To humble oneself before God (1 Kings 21:27-29; Ps, 35:13)

G.  To express concern for the work of God (Neh. 1:3-11; Isa, 58:6-7; Dan, 9:3) Historically Christians       have fasted as they have sought the revival of the Church.

H.  To minister to the needs of others (Isa. 58:6-7)

I.  To overcome temptation and dedicate yourself to God (Mt. 4:1-11)

J.  To express love and worship to God (Lk. 2:37)

 

Read How Fasting informs our Past, Present and Future… Here.


[1] Adapted from Chapter 9 in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Nav-Press) by Donald S. Whitney, 1991.

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How Fasting Informs our Past, Present and Future…

February 27, 2012

 

Fasting informs us about our past.

When we undergo a fast, we begin the process of denying our body something that we have always relied upon.  As the meal times pass, and the hours and days go on, we begin to experience hunger.  We soon realize how much we have focused on food/drink/technology (whatever you’re fasting from) in the past.  The countless snacks we used to sneak throughout the day, the large meals we used to enjoy, suddenly draw our attention to the amount of time, energy and money that we spend pursuing our own appetites.  No one can undergo this process without experiencing a little conviction about how much they have loved and sought food in the past; in comparison to how much they loved and sought after God.  Fasting exposes our appetites and makes us aware of past idols we may never have noticed.

Fasting informs us about our Present.

As our fast continues, we experience the weakness of our bodies and the fatigue of our denial.  As it should, fasting makes us turn toward God and rely heavily on Him.  We can no longer rely on food for strength, or the next meal to get us through the day.  We must seek God for the strength to carry on.  This reliance, brought about by fasting, exposes a need that we have everyday, we need God to make it through the day.  Too often this need is deafened under the sound of chewing and crunching and the energy produced by coffee and caffeine.  When we are tired, we drink espresso; when we are fatigued, we eat an energy bar.  Fasting removes all our crutches and forces us to lean on God to accomplish the most menial tasks.  In truth this should be our attitude everyday of our lives, for it is through Him that we live, move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)  This is true every present day, whether we are fasting or not.

Fasting informs us about our future.

As we near then end of our fast, our thoughts are drawn both to God’s work of sustaining power and the promised feast that awaits us.  We look forward to eating once again, and have a new-found appreciation for the gift of food which God provides.  The beauties and fragrances of our favorite foods seem all the more intense and desirable after a period of deprivation.  We have tasted food before, and now we look forward to the time when we shall again feast to the glory of God.  Fasting informs our future, in that it mirrors the intense desire we should have for the future presence of God.  We have had but a taste of Him now, but soon we will see Him face to face, and sit with Him at the marriage supper of the Lamb.  Fasting develops our reliance on God but is also builds anticipation for the time when our fasting shall cease, and our feasting shall begin.