“I humbled my soul with fasting” –Psalm 35:13b
In Psalm 35 King David is crying out in agonized intercession to be rescued from his enemies. Part of David’s prayer is that he has bowed-down his soul with fasting. It is widely accepted that our soul consists of our intellect, will, and emotions. According to Matthew 6, Isaiah 58, and Psalm 35 the overall objective of fasting is to humble our soul (or to cause our intellect, will, and emotions to bow down) so that the desires and the purposes of God can arise and become more prominent! When we deny our appetites and soulish longings and turn to the Lord through worship, Christian meditation, supplication, and intercession there is a supernatural grace released upon us to see God’s heart and will. The idea is to set aside regular times during a fast in order to seek the Lord and cry out for His kingdom to increase and for His will to be done – IN us and THROUGH us.
Matthew 6 describes and instructs us in three primary spiritual disciplines. The chapter opens by encouraging us not to practice our “acts of righteousness” publicly; and if we do, we shall have no reward from our Father in heaven. The three spiritual disciplines are giving, prayer (we are to pray secretly, sincerely, and specifically), and fasting.
Isaiah 58 is probably the best and most concise instruction on the spiritual discipline of fasting in the Bible. Verse six lists the four reasons for fasting: “To loosen the bonds of wickedness,” “To undo the bands of the yoke,” “To let the oppressed go free,” and to “break every yoke.” Verses 8-14 contain some amazing promises concerning the fruits, or benefits, of fasting.
“The greatest adversary of love to God is not His enemies but his gifts…the greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie” –John Piper, A Hunger for God
A simple definition for fasting would be voluntary abstinence of our appetites and our soulish longings for spiritual reasons. The Bible speaks of it not as an option but as an expected and regularly practiced spiritual discipline. The following are some of the purposes for fasting; these also convey some of the benefits of fasting:
- Fasting will sharpen our focus in prayer. (After we get beyond the initial discomfort caused by our various addictions such as coffee, sugar, etc.)
- Fasting will cause us to be more sensitive to God’s guidance in our lives.
- Fasting is a sign of humble repentance and expressing to God our desire to be responsively obedient to His will and direction for our lives – both individually and as a church.
- It was common in biblical times to fast when the need for protection and/or deliverance was great. An excellent example is when Queen Esther called for her people to fast with her when she appealed to the king to spare the Jews (see Esther 4:16).
- As David articulated in Psalm 35, fasting can be an expression of simple humility before God.
- Fasting, or the servant-leaders calling for a fast, can be the result of God’s people seeing a need and expressing their concern. When Nehemiah heard about the great distress, reproach, and the broken-down walls in Jerusalem the Bible tells us that he sat down and wept and mourned for days, and then fasted and prayed until the Lord revealed His plans (see Nehemiah 1:3-4).
- When Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness after His baptism He was strengthened spiritually against the strong temptations of Satan. In fact, in Luke 4:14 it says that, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (emphasis added).
- Fasting can be simply an act of worship and adoration with no other purpose than to ascribe glory and honor to God.
There are many different ways to fast. We can fast food and just drink water or juice, we can eat vegetables and/or fruit only (this has been called a “Daniel Fast,” see Daniel 1:8-17), we can choose not to eat any sugar or carbohydrates, we can fast one or two meals a day, we can fast from sunup to sundown. Paul encourages married couples to occasionally fast sexual intercourse, “that you may devote yourselves to prayer…” (1 Corinthians 7:5). We can fast television or the internet and pray instead!
If you have any sort of eating disorder, do not fast food! Fast what it is that tends to dominate your time or takes you away from time with God. Before you begin a fast it is important to seek the Lord regarding what would be appropriate. Please consider organizing a fast for your household, this would be an excellent opportunity to teach children about fasting. And please feel free to add any personal and/or family needs to this time of fasting and prayer. May the Lord strengthen us and encourage us through a mighty demonstration of His power and might!
For addinal instruction check out the following resources
- Seven Steps To Fasting and Prayer by Bill Bright (Cru)
- Various Scriptures on Prayer and Fasting
- Fasting Resources by The Navigators
- The best book on Christian meditation: Christian Meditation by Edmund Clowney (It’s only 108 pages and was written to distinguish Christian meditation from the various forms eastern mystical – and New Age – meditation.)
All Church Fast: Feb 5-7
We will break the fast with an all-church potluck of soup and bread in the gym on Wed, Feb 7 from 6-8pm (If you are bringing soup and bread please arrive by 5:45pm) and then an extended worship and prayer time will follow in the Sanctuary 7-8pm. This is certainly a kid-friendly event so bring them along!
There are many different ways to fast: We can fast food and just drink water or juice, we can eat vegetables and/or fruit only (sometimes referred to as a “Daniel Fast,” see Daniel 1:8-17), we can choose not to eat any sugar or desserts, we can fast one or two meals a day, we can fast from sun-up to sun-down. We can fast hobbies or different forms of technology including TV and social media. The idea is to set aside time to pray and listen for God when we would normally be engaging in whatever activity we are fasting. Seek the Lord regarding what would be appropriate for you to fast.
What Are We Fasting For?
- Recommitting to be Christ-centered and gospel-saturated in all we do (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
- Embracing inevitable conflict and growing through it by being willing to have courageous conversations (Ephesians 4:15)
- Continue to mobilize teams of people to serve lost, poor, oppressed, and brokenhearted people – both locally and around the world (Luke 4:18-19; Matthew 28:19-20)
- That God would break our hearts for the things that break His.