Fasting that is Pleasing to God
1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert
to be tempted by the devil.
2After fasting forty days and forty nights,
he was hungry.
3The tempter came to him and said,
“If you are the Son of God,
tell these stones to become bread.”
4Jesus answered, “It is written:
‘Man does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
1 "Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 'Why have we fasted,' they say,
'and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?'
"Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD ?
6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness [a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
13 "If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD's holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the LORD ,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob."
The mouth of the LORD has spoken.
Talking to a Mennonite fellowship about fasting
is like playing with fire…
It goes against the grain of our culture…
ripping at the very fabric
that holds together so much of our church community.
We just love food!
Wereneckje & Farma-Wurscht,
Home-made Chicken noodle soup,
and those church pot-luck lunches…
This is literally a “foretaste of heaven”.
Just thinking about all that food makes me want to
quit my sermon and head for Pizza Hut
Mennonites and Food…
we’re like a match made in heaven…
And many of us…
like a man and wife
proudly wearing their wedding bands…
have that spare tire around the waist
to give testimony to that sacred covenant
we have with food!
By now you’re thinking…
“Where is Ferd going with this one?”
It sounds like fasting is practically impossible
I ask you to bear with me…
Perhaps we can find a spiritual truth here
that can satisfy a hunger in our soul
that is a thousand times stronger
than our craving for a rich piece of Westgate Cheese Cake.
I invite you to take a closer look with me at today’s topic:
An Internet search on “Fasting” turns up
all kinds of interesting results, like:
“Therapeutic Fasting and Internal Cleansing”
or “Ramadan – the Fasting Month for the Muslims”
or “Loose nine pounds every 11 days”
and many many others…
A Concorance Search on “Fasting” yields
A number of different occasions and instances
Of this practice in the Bible:
From a biblical standpoint,
fasting is abstaining from food & drink,
to focus on a period of spiritual growth.
Fasting is not some kind of “test of discipleship”,
or “proof of righteousness”.
Although it is no where explicitly commanded in the Bible,
As in, “Thou shallt fast two times a week
And not eat any food… and so on”,
it is assumed that believers do fast on occasion.
God’s people abstain from physical nourishment
on different occasions:
Public disasters 1 Sam. 31:11–13
Private emotions 1 Sam. 1:7
Grief 2 Sam. 12:16
Anxiety Dan. 6:18–20
Approaching danger Esth. 4:16
National repentance 1 Sam. 7:5, 6
Sad news Neh. 1:4
Sacred ordination Acts 13:3
Fasting often goes hand in hand with:
Prayer Luke 2:37
Confession Neh. 9:1, 2
Mourning Joel 2:12
Humiliation Neh. 9:1
Fasting can be a helpful spiritual discipline
that makes us receptive to God’s Spirit
in our lives.
The Book of Acts (13:2-3) says that
The early Church was able to discern God’s will
as they spent time in worship and fasting:
2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting,
the Holy Spirit said,
“Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul
for the work to which I have called them.”
3 So after they had fasted and prayed,
they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
For us, too often, the focus of fasting
has been on abstaining from food alone.
And that concept generally does not have much appeal
In our western consumer culture.
We like to consume stuff…
To do without… even for a day
Can throw us for a real loop.
In contrast to our cultural expectations
the purpose of fasting
is to shift the focus of our desires
and needs and wants
away from the things of this world,
and to focus instead on God and God’s will.
When we fast, we make a declaration to God
That we want to take our relationship with him seriously.
Fasting is a way to humble ourselves before God
and inviting God’s Spirit to work within us.
Although fasting in Scripture
is almost always a fasting from food,
there are other ways to fast.
Anything you can temporarily give up
in order to focus on God can be considered a fast.
Fasting is not intended to punish our flesh,
but to focus on God.
And, it is not a spiritualized diet to lose weight.
When we focus on the meaning of fasting,
Rather than on the mechanics of it,
We see that anyone can fast.
Some may not be able to fast from food
Because of medical limitations,
but everyone can temporarily give up something important
in order to focus on God.
Even unplugging the TV or Computer for a period of time,
Or abstaining from the magnetic pull of the shopping mall,
can be an effective and God-honoring fast.
From the standpoint of our relationship with God,
it's a good idea for us to fast from time to time.
The Bible does not demand, although it invites us,
To the practice of regular fasting,
And it tells us about the proper attitude
for engaging in this spiritual excercise.
The only Biblical reason to fast
is to develop a closer walk with God.
When we take our eyes off the pleasures of this world,
we can focus better on Jesus,
and his will for our lives.
Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:16-18,
"When you fast, do not look somber
as the hypocrites do,
for they disfigure their faces to show men
they are fasting.
I tell you the truth,
they have received their reward in full
(their reward is that people have seen them).
But when you fast,
put oil on your head and wash your face,
so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting,
but only to your Father, who is unseen;
and your Father, who sees what is done in secret,
will reward you"
Fasting that is pleasing to God
is more than denying ourselves food
or some other earthly need or desire.
In Isaiah 58, we learn what a "true fast" is.
It is not just a one-time act of humility
and self-denial before God,
it is a lifestyle of seeking justice
and walking humbly with our God.
Fasting encourages humility,
it loosens the chains of injustice,
unties the chords of the yoke,
frees the oppressed,
feeds the hungry,
provides for the poor,
and clothes the naked.
This idea of fasting isn't just a one day thing
or a passing political statement that you make…
it's a lifestyle of seeking first the Kingdom of God
and His righteousness.
The opening verses from Isaiah 58 suggest that
for God’s people in the day of the prophet,
fasting and praying had become a mindless exercise,
if not an attempt to manipulate God in their favor.
The people were upset with God,
that their fasting had not inclined God’s goodwill
You can just hear them grumbling,
“All this effort… for nothing!”
“I haven’t been able to eat
Aunt Mary’s wonderful black-bean casserolle
Because I’m fasting every week
so that God will send rain,
And give us a good olive crop…
But my business is really gonna suffer this year…
What’s the use?
God isn’t paying attention here!”
You know what,
Do you want to know what God thinks
About this kind of mentality?
Psalm 2:4 says,
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
In Jeremiah’s day the people also tried
to twist the arm of God by fasting.
And listen to what God said, (Jeremiah 14:12).
"Although they fast,
I will not listen to their cry;
though they offer burnt offerings and grain offering,
I will not accept them.
I will destroy them with the sword, famine, and plague."
Fasting did not move God’s mind one inch.
We must never think of fasting as a hunger strike
designed to force God's hand
and to get our own way!
We don't need to strong-arm God.
God is good (Psalm 119:8) and eager to answer our prayers.
He is generous (James 1:5)
and eager to give us 'good things' (Matthew 7:11).
God cannot be pushed into a corner,
And made to comply to our demands.
True fasting always occurs together with earnest prayer.
It is meant to be an avenue of communication with God,
And an attempt at opening ourselves up
To discerning God’s will for our lives.
A friend said to me once
after I had preached on this topic in another church:
“How does God expect me
to concentrate on my relationship with Him
if my stomach is constantly growling?”
This point demonstrates our deep preoccupation with food
And the appetites of the body.
It also demonstrates how much we are conditioned
By our culture to crave the things
that this world has to offer.
"When you seek me with all your heart,
I will be found by you" (Jeremiah 29:13,14).
God does not say,
“if you fast twice a week
I will stand on my head for you.”
And the hunger pangs and cravings that we experience
can actually serve as a reminder
To pray on the spot for a specific situation
And to ask God’s guidance.
A few weeks ago,
The Mennonite Church in Vietnam
extended a challenge
to Mennonite Churches around the World:
to fast and pray during a specific time period
when their pastor and other church leaders
would appear before the court
on false charges of disrupting the peace.
We shared the challenge with you
to offer solidarity and encouragement
to the Vietnamese church.
It would be interesting to see how many people
Took that challenge to heart
And spent time in fasting and prayer
For the church in Vietnam during that time.
That is the kind of fasting and praying
that is pleasing to God…
an earnest pleading that is not centred on
me and my little wants and needs…
but rather on God’s promises to partner with us
and to intervene where there is injustice and suffering.
In the Bible prayer and fasting is also closely linked
To repentance and confession.
True fasting can only have meaning
If we are willing to examine the ways
in which we contribute to the injustice in the world
and if we are willing to repent
and make amends where we can.
As Isaiah points out,
When you’re fasting while exploiting your workers…
Or fasting while striking each other with wicked fists
(either physically or with words)…
Don’t expect your voice to be heard on high.
Even the most disciplined and religious fasting
When it is disconnected from our compassion
For our neighbor,
Does not turn God’s crank.
In fact, The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
“Is that what you call a fast?
…to look pious for a day
so that you can be admired by all the people
for your superb spiritual stature?”
“Give me a break!
Don’t insult my intelligence.”
“This is the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
to share your food with the hungry
to provide the poor wanderer with shelter -
to clothe the naked,
and not to turn away from your own family.”
What does that mean?
Well, to me this means that fasting is not so much about food,
As it is about taking note of the needs of others around me.
It means that denying ourselves –
even on an occasional basis –
of some of the things we take for granted
can mean the difference between life and death
for another human being.
Think about these things:
How often have we put the yoke of oppression
on our brother or sister
with the pointing finger and malicious talk.
This Bible text says,
When you fast…
fast from pointing the finger,
and finding blame,
and putting another person in his place with malicious talk.
By doing that,
You will lift the yoke of oppression from his shoulders.
Fasting is about shifting the centre of our attention
away from ourselves
and toward those who are oppressed and hungry,
lonely and without any hope…
Refraining from eating food occasionally
or abstaining from some other worldly need or pleasure
can make us more aware of the fundamental needs of others
and God’s will that All people would
come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Fasting reminds us that we are
“repairers of broken walls” and broken lives,
and that we are a part
of God’s mission in the world.
It reminds us that someday in eternity
we will feast on an inheritance that is not of this world,
and which is promised to us as a spiritual treasure.
When we go from here today
it is my prayer that we would strive to be more aware
of our realtionship with God,
and that we would overflow with compassion
for the needs of others around us.
As God challenges us to a closer walk with him,
let us think about the earthly pleasures that we can
and would give up for a period of time
to centre our thoughts and our heart more on God
and the justice He desires.
As a closing challenge,
I invite you think about how you may find
A practical application of this topic for your life.
What will you abstain from…
This coming week…
What are you willing to give up…
to sacrifice… if you will…
In order to experience a closer walk with God
And to show compassion to those who are without hope?
May God speak to our hearts
And humble us
And bring us closer to himself.
Thomas Nelson Publishers. Nelson's Quick Reference Topical Bible Index. Nelson's Quick reference. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995.