Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 38: Fasting
2 Chronicles 20:2-3; Matthew 4:1-4; 9:14-17
November 14, 2010
· Leftovers (p 1)
Scripture reading: Matt 9:14-17 (Peter t.)
I was thinking I’ve kind of been doing a mini-series on “unpopular topics for Christians.” Evangelism, prayer, and now fasting. Am I trying bring people in or chase them out? Maybe I should finish up with a sermon on tithing.
Why don’t we fast?
I am guessing that many of you are like me – Christians who love Jesus and seek to obey him. But fasting is like this “last frontier,” a spiritual disciple we just are not interested in.
Have to define that: Fasting is intentionally going without, esp. without food, for a spiritual purpose.
Q How many of you have fasted in the past year?
· I am not sure that forgetting your lunch counts, nor dieting.
Jesus assumes we will fast (Matt. 9:15), and it has been part of normal the Christian life, since Acts and through to today, among most Christians. It is part of church life, as much as communion or baptism, e.g. Lent.
· Then there’s us – good, Bible-believing Christians who don’t fast.
is fasting a delight
I could not have preached this sermon six months ago – it would have been hypocritical. I had fasted twice: Once in high school, and once in college (cut short because I was getting so grumpy).
Now, Psalms says that the Law of the Lord is a delight and my Christian journey over the past decade has been to discover the truth of that, and then hopefully to show you.
· I have learned that when I obey and pursue God, I am always more satisfied, more fulfilled in him.
Because Jesus told us to fast, but I really didn’t want to fast, and I couldn’t imagine how fasting would be a “delight,” I decided to put my money where my mouth is.
I decide to test this theory out on fasting, so for the past six month (with a few exceptions), I have been fasting one day a week, from the evening the previous day up to dinner that day.
· This follows Jewish tradition.
So what have I learned about fasting? Is it a delight? No. Not at first, but then...well, let’s see.
· I want to look at three different aspects of fasting from both the OT and NT (I could do more, but focusing on three).
Before we begin let me say I know that fasting is a hard sell – this is not any idea that any of us are excited about. Hey, let’s not eat – it will be fun!
I am asking (and praying) that you listen and not dismiss out of hand. I know what you are thinking “I could never do that” “God isn’t’ calling me to that” “I live under grace, not legalism.”
· How do I know? Because I’ve said them!
But take a listen, and I guarantee you will look at fasting in a new light.
Let me also say, I have come to believe that The Gathering need to fast more than the average church.
First, I want to briefly return to the story of Jehoshaphat from last week (this is largely so I can keep this sermon as part of the “Inscription” series – I am OCD like that).
2 Chronicles 20:2-3 2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi). 3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah.
If you remember from last week, this is a story about absolute dependence on God. I don’t need to repeat what I said then, but notice that their desperate prayers were reinforced by fasting.
· Again in the book of Esther, when all the Jews were about to be killed, they reinforced their prayers with fasting.
And in the NT, fasting reinforced their prayer:
Acts 13:2-3 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.
· Time and time again, fasting reinforced prayers.
It’s like rebar reinforces concrete, each bringing a special strength to the finished product. I remember when they were building the bridge across the Skagit, and the rebar got pulled out – they had to start the pillar all over again.
To my knowledge, every time in the Bible that God’s people prayed and fasted a genuine fast (not merely ritualistic), God answered their prayers.
To this day, we see God responding to prayer and fasting: I read about the church in South Korea that was pretty much founded on prayer and fasting.
From the very beginning they were persecuted for their faith, so they would sneak up to the mountains to pray and fast for their very survival. God has moved there and now 30% are Christians.
· The largest church in the world is there (c. 830,000) and their pastor attributes much of it to prayer and fasting.
This church also set up a sanctuary in the mountains for prayer and fasting. It accommodates over 10,000 people.
How has fasting affected my prayer? My experience has been far less impressive, but perhaps more accessible.
I have grown more over these past months than I think I have ever before. Not like ground breaking changes, but many subtle changes that I only notice in hindsight.
· I’ve grown as a husband, I have more self-control, am becoming a better preacher, God has give visions for the church.
Can I prove a direct link with fasting? No. I can see a clear connection between fasting and self-control (more in a moment), but I have a really good guess that the others our driven by fasting, because that is the only major change.
No Guarantees/How it works
I need to be careful – I am not promising dramatic effects. Fasting is not bribing God or twisting this arm. There’s a temptation to think God owes you, but that is paganism.
It’s not as if God needs fasting to get the job done, like our when our stomachs rumble it gives him magical power. Fasting is for our sake, not God’s.
1. Fasting unites your mind and body in prayer.
I said last week that there is a difference between praying on my knees and with my feet propped up. There is an even bigger difference with I am in bed.
· Fasting sharpens my mind and spirit.
Q What is the strongest appetite we have? Isn’t it for food?
I know all the guys are debating that in their heads – but if you were literally starving to death, which would you choose?
· Perhaps when we fast, we take that energy, that desire for food, and channel it for prayer.
2. Fasting cost you something.
We appreciate we pay for. At my old church, I almost never gave away books (except Bibles), even if a person could only afford a dollar. I wanted them to appreciate it.
Q Do you remember the first time you bought something with money that you earned?
· Fasting demonstrates a genuine passion, a personal eagerness to see the prayer answered (cf. Y107 hat I won).
Reinforce your prayers
Thinking of the millions of Christians who have, either they are wasting their time (and a lot of good meals) on a meaningless ritual, or else you and I are missing out on something.
· We have been given this tool to focus and reinforce our prayers, like the rebar in the concrete, but we won’t use it.
I guess what I am saying is that when we refuse to fast, we are missing out on something. Our prayers are more feeble, less passionate, less dependent on God, because we do not fast.
Q Are you okay with that? Is that a price you are willing to pay for having three meals a day, plus snacks?
Think about the things you are praying for:
· Some personal breakthrough with sin.
· A broken relationship to be restored.
· A friend who is rejecting God.
Q Talk is cheap – do these things mean more to you than breakfast and lunch?
· Try reinforcing these prayers with fasting – think how much more focused and vibrant they will be.
Again, this doesn’t guarantee results, or at least the results you want, but genuine, fasting reinforced prayer will be answered.
And if this is true of our personal needs, how much more for this great enterprise God has sent us on, to double the church while becoming healthier?
· For that reason I fast on Monday’s – it is also the day we have our lunch prayer meeting.
And if you join us, don’t worry, I am not grumpy when I fast any more.
Restrains the flesh
So first we have “fasting as reinforcing prayer.” Here is another portrait of fasting:
Matthew 4:1-2 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
Q So here we see Jesus fasting. Do you know why Jesus went into the desert for 40 days?
Q Remember in the OT, after the Exodus when the Israelites wandered around the desert, how many years were they there?
Forty – in the context it is very clear that Jesus is mimicking their experience in the desert. There is some real cool symbolism here: Their wandering represents our sojourn from salvation (the Exodus) and heaven (the Promised Land).
In other words, Jesus’ temptation represents the temptation we face. Does this sound familiar?
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
That to say, we can look at how Jesus faced temptation and learn how to face temptation:
Matthew 4:3-4 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Q Take a look at this and ask, “What is the most common way that Satan tempts us to sin?”
· Isn’t it through physical appetites and desires? Sexual temptation, craving more and more, gluttony, drunkenness, etc.
Q And what does Jesus say?
“Don’t make your life only about physical desires, but spiritual desires.” And this is what fasting does – it teaches us to deny the flesh in one area so that we learn to deny it in others.
· Fasting restrains the flesh.
Flesh is a Biblical term meaning our physical desires. More than any other spiritual disciple, fasting get to the heart of what controls you – is it your spirit or your flesh?
· Our flesh is like a baby – babies want what they want, whether it is taking a nap or putting a fork in the light socket.
The real question is, who is in charge around the house? Is it you or your baby?
learning to say no
One of the biggest things I’ve learned from fasting – hang on, this is profound – it is okay to be hungry. I won’t die if I don’t eat for a day.
· I am learning to not be controlled by food – Marilyn noticed I am not gobbling food up (I think she had to hide food).
But this lesson goes far, far beyond food. I am learning that I can be in control of my body in many areas. I don’t have to be controlled by it.
1 Corinthians 9:27 ...I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Fasting is perhaps the best way to make my body my slave, rather than the other way around. Because every time intentionally deny my body, I remind it who’s in charge.
· When my stomach growls, I typically say something like “That’s right, I’m da man. Deal with it.” I talk to myself, a lot.
Who’s in control?
Q Who is in control, you or your body? Are you a slave to it?
How much sin, how many destructive habits are simply you letting your body telling you what to do?
· Gluttony – eating too much
· Drinking too much
· Laziness – Sleeping in, watching TV, surfing the internet
· Going too far with your boyfriend or girlfriend
· Masturbation (I’m not saying that it is always wrong, but it almost always is)
· Lashing out angrily when offended
In all of these cases, it is your body telling you what to do. You know better, and you want to do better, but you don’t. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”
Q Isn’t that a hopeless feeling?
In the Divine Comedy – lustful blown around by the tempest. Is that how you feel?
Q So what are you going to do about it?
Try harder? Using the same flesh that got you in that mess? Let me know how that works for you. How about training the flesh.
Maybe you need to try fasting simply for the sake of restraining your flesh, of taking control of your body, so that you can fight sin.
· By willingly saying “no” from things that are fine for a period of time, we learn to say “no” to things that aren’t.
Of course, going into the holidays, some of you might want to use fasting to counterbalance all of that gluttony!
Reveals eternal hunger
Fasting reinforces our prayers and restrain the flesh. There is one more portrait of fasting I want to look at. This one covers the reason The Gathering needs to fast more than most churches.
· This one is the most philosophical of them, but I will not apologize for that.
When it’s at its best, philosophy changes how you view the world, which changes how you live. I’m giving an abstract concept and then showing how it applies to everyday life.
Let’s take a closer look at our opening story:
Matthew 9:14-15 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
Obviously this passage shows that Jesus expects us to fast. But he implies something very important:
· Look at what Jesus said, what does he compare fasting to? Mourning.
· And why are we mourning? Because we are apart from our Savior and God.
Q When was the last time that you “mourned” because Jesus has been taken away from you?
An Eternal Longing
Listen to how Paul, one of the greatest saints put it:
Philippians 1:21-24 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
Listen to the eager longing, that desire to be reunited with his savior. This wasn’t a theoretical assertion, this was deep yearning that filled him. Even the best things here on earth were weak substitutes for the “eternal weight of glory.”
· It is like an eternal hunger gnawing away at him.
Q Why don’t we feel this way?
We do, it is something we all feel deep inside, “God has placed eternity in our hearts.” (Eccl. 3:11). We work very hard to ignore it. We just don’t recognize it. We call it by the wrong names. We call it loneliness, or restlessness, or being worn.
· I call it homesickness.
All of these feeling point us back to a deep longing a hunger in our souls for something else.
A pastor’s story of loneliness
I recently listened to a pastor talk about how his pornography problem had been found out. His church helped him repent, heal, and be restored (it’s a great story of grace).
As he went through counseling, he first realized that he looked at porn because he felt lonely, even though he was happily married, had a great church community, and a relationship with God, he was lonely.
· You see, this side of heaven, loneliness will be a constant reminder that this world is not our home.
All of us know what it means to be lonely. If you have never been married, you may think that marriage solves it, but it doesn’t. Neither do children, church, or regular quiet times.
· Loneliness, longing, restlessness are like a splinter always reminding us that there is something more.
We can respond to this loneliness in one of two ways:
1. We can believe that is means that there is something wrong with us, something that can be fixed.
We try to medicate with our drug of choice. Some are ungodly: Porn, immorality, drunkenness, drugs.
Q How many sinful, painful things have you done to fill a void that cannot be filled?
· You are trying to satisfy a hunger that cannot be filled.
Many of them are fine: TV, music, books, friendship. Some are even spiritual: quiet times, prayer, reading the Bible.
· Many people think their homesickness means they aren’t close enough to God, that if they worked harder is would go away.
But none of the truly remove the loneliness; if we expect it to we will be disappointed, because the problem isn’t in us.
2. We can realize that our loneliness means there is something wrong with the world we live in.
· Fasting reminds us that it is okay to be hungry,
It is okay to not have everything, it’s okay to be lonely. In fact, it’s to be expected. So long as we are apart from our savior, we will be hungry, we’ll be lonely, we will be restless.
· Said another way, fasting reveals our homesickness.
The Gathering and fasting
It is because of this issue that I think The Gathering needs fasting more than most churches: To speak very broadly, all churches fall somewhere on a scale of “Stoic to Indulgent.”
Some churches practice a very stoic Christianity. I can’t help but think that these Christians will get heaven and be surprised by how much they enjoy it!
· This is something that many of us are actively and aggressively avoiding. Why? Well, duh, it’s no fun!
Some churches, like us, practice an indulgent Christianity. We know that “the joy of the Lord is our strength” and that “the kingdom of God is a party.” And we are ready to party! This is one of our strengths – there is a vivaciousness here.
· We know that earthly joys are a reflection of the glory of God and can be embraced to his glory.
And we are on good ground Biblically, the word “fast” occurs about 40 times, feast about 140 times.
Q But there is a huge danger – have you caught it?
We can fool ourselves into thinking that we can be satisfied here. We can fill ourselves up on the God-given joys of this life, and dull our appetite for heaven’s joys.
Q So what can we do?
Fasting has allowed me the best of both worlds – embracing godly joys, with a constant reminder that they are the appetizers, not the main course.
To wrap it all up, I hope you are thinking about fasting now. But acknowledging that it might be a good idea to do, theoretically is a good start, but it isn’t enough.
So here is the challenge: Start today. After dinner, don’t eat anything else. If you are prone to the late night snack, take that time to pray.
· Then don’t eat again until tomorrow’s dinner – use your lunch time to pray.
And every time you feel the hunger pains, remind yourself that “I am in charge, not my body” and that “It’s okay to be hungry.”
· And from there, pray about doing it again.
Finally, if you are not a Christian, not submitted to God, this entire sermon is useless.
· There is no promise to listen to the prayers of those who don’t follow him.
· Restraining the flesh is worthless if you soul hasn’t been restored.
· You are homesick for a place you can never go (and wouldn’t want to because it is we all submits to him).
Q & A
Main Point(s) of sermon:
· Fasting: 1) Reinforces dependence, 2) Restrains the flesh, and 3) Reveals heavenly hunger
Objectives of sermon:
· Inspire the church to fast on a monthly basis