Fasting: More than a Trend

Fasting, for most of us this word means little more than just not eating or some trendy diet to try. Yet, when we look into the purpose and ideology behind fasting, we get a much deeper image and a truer sense of what it is to truly fast. The practice in the Hebrew tongue is read as ta’anit (pronounced ta’anith) and it holds a deep root in their traditions in remembrance for God delivering them.

The practice of fasting originates with Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) as we can read in Leviticus 23:26-32

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Also, on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord.  And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an     atonement for you before the Lord your God. For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people. Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath. (King James Version)

The word says we are to afflict our souls… the word afflict is defined as to cause pain or suffering. We are to atone or repay for our sin by afflicting our souls with how we live for the day, and if you did not follow you were cut out from the people. This affliction is done by not eating or drinking (to include water), not wearing shoes, no bathing, no wearing or perfumes or oils and additionally not working as on the sabbath. And this day was always followed by the observance of the sabbath day, so it would be 2 full days before anything was done. This was done as a direct commandment from God to honor Him and remember His will for His people, and as to make ourselves a living sacrifice for our own sins as this was done under the Law still.

The next earnest and voluntary example of fasting we find comes from David in 2 Samuel 12:15-21

And Nathan departed unto his house. And the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick. David therefore besought God for the  child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth. And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them. And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead? But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead. Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat. Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child,    while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread. (KJV)

Here David has multiple reasons as to why he fasts. At first it is to plead for his son’s life, but then he begins to mature spiritually and he begins to seek God’s will in it all. He mourns for his son, but becomes obsessed with atoning for his sin that caused this situation in the first place (2 Samuel 12:13). Upon receiving news of his son’s death, the first thing he does before eating is clean himself and go praise the Lord in open worship before eating. David’s fast was again an atonement for his sins and in seeking of the will of God as was the purpose of the day of atonement that was set out in Leviticus.

Now, the way Christ fasted was on the complete next level… in the book of Matthew we see Christ venture into the woods for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-4)

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (KJV)

Christ denied himself any contact with others and prayed to strengthen His spirit for the things to come (not just the devil’s temptations). This is the first thing Christ does as part of His ministry. He got baptized by John and then goes straight way to the wilderness to fast, to prepare His spirit to meet the will of God for the ministry that His Father had ordained for Him. Christ later talks about fasting, and reminds us for whom we should be fasting. Reading Matthew 6:16-18 we see we aren’t to fast for others to know that our pride might grow, but rather that we might humble ourselves to God.

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you,      They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:16-18,KJV)

So, what is the big deal with people coming out and saying I am doing the Daniel ‘fast’ and coming out trying to lose weight through intermittent fasting? Well, none, however it is not truly fasting as is described biblically. For one, the Daniel fast is based off of Daniel abstaining from delicacies to express his mournful state (Daniel 10:1-3) in addition to living out the Proverb 23:6, where it is said we should not eat even the bread of a miser (defined as someone who holds much wealth). When you do not eat because of a diet, you are not fasting, rather you are regimenting your diet or food intake to help lose weight, not abstaining from the world to seek God first. That is what a fast is all about. Giving God glory by truly denying oneself.

Let us look at what each example of fasting has in common, first and foremost, they were each done in response to, or in seeking God’s will. Yom Kippur was a commandment, while David and Jesus were preparing to accept the will of God. When you fast, you should seek God’s will first, no matter what it is that you are giving up, or abstaining from, your purpose should be to seek God’s perfect will and to put Him first with denial of yourself. When you fast you should truly live out as Christ said we are to do, deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow Him (Luke 9:23-24).  The entire fast should be focused on reminding yourself of who God is, what He has done, is doing, and will do for you. God is an awesome, and powerful being, there is no one like Him, when you fast, your spiritual eyes should open up and take in just how awesome our God is! Your days of fasting should be filled with His praise and worship, also spent studying His word and perfect ways. A huge part of fasting is just pondering the endless aspects of God.

Secondly, it should be a true denial of yourself. When you fast, you aim to build dependency on God. Not eating or drinking is the baseline for a fast, not the be all or end all of a fast. With Yom Kippur, they did not even bathe or wear shoes! They were humbled to the point where they took no pride in their appearance, smell, and they even endured walking without protection for their feet. And its not like they had sidewalks or paved roads to walk on, they had the desert (they were still wondering the desert with Moses at this point), so often this meant great pain from the sand and rocks drying, cutting, and cracking their feet.

Which brings me to the final part of fasting, it should not be easy. When you fast, it should be a great burden on you. A large part of fasting is enduring by reliance on God. You cannot rely on when it is something that is within your normal capabilities. For example, as a soldier I am used to traveling and being alone, so isolating myself is not a good way to increase reliance on God, however giving up video games, social media, exercise and other things that would strain myself and increase my dependence on him. Remember, all of those are done in addition to the not eating or drinking, not just the other activities being abstained from.

In short, your fast is about God, not you. You should fast in order to prepare yourself for the will of God, not to seek the favor of God. Fasting is done in direct submission to God and His will for you. A fast is not some light hearted diet or trend, it is a lifestyle of worship to God. It is worshiping through sacrificing your self and honoring God with the true recognition He deserves and that is with everything you are.

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Mark 12:28-31 The First Commandment

Mark 12:28-31 The First Commandment

If I were to ask 100 different Christians what they thought was the most important part of Christianity I would undoubtable get many different answers.  Some would say it is Faith, others study of the Bible, or Prayer.  Even others would say the Holy Spirit, or service in the church.  I am of the persuasion that while all of these are important, they are merely manifestations that come out of the most important aspect of your belief in Christ.

*******************Read the Passage Mark 12:28-31********************

In Mark 12:28-33 Jesus is asked this very question.  Jesus said that the first thing we should have is a directed love towards God.  We should be careful, that we don’t misunderstand this word love.  It is not a general kind of love.  It is not like when we say, “Oh I just love that dress, or I love this new car!”  It is not even like a when we say that we should “love all mankind”.

Jesus didn’t say that the most important commandment is to love God and to second, love animals.  Had he said that then we could take away that he was talking about a general kind of love, where we should express love for everything, love people, love animals, love the planet, love everything.  But “love” in itself is not the main topic Jesus is speaking of.

Even when he goes on to say that the second commandment is like it, to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Instead he is still stressing the importance of the first command.  Jesus is saying the main point is to LOVE GOD!  The second is like it because it is still loving God, man was made in the image of God.

1 John 4:20 says that if a man says he loves God and hates his brother, then he is a liar!

James 3:9-10 says, “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.  Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessings and cursing.  My brethren this ought not so to be.”

This love Jesus is speaking of is not a blanket that we throw over our shoulders and sing warm little campfire songs for.  It is a more specific kind of love.  It is even more specific than a love for a spouse, or a child.  Instead it is a living love directed explicitly at God above all other things, places, or persons.

You see, God is Love (1 John 4.8 ”He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”).  So then whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God in him (1 John 4:16).

How do we then love God?  Jesus tells us this also.  We love with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength.  We demonstrate this with our love for one another.  This is all simple words and easy to say, but how do we put this in action?

Our natural state as fallen creatures is not to love God, but rather to regard him with suspicion and resist his authority.  Jesus told Nicodemus that in order to enter heaven you must be born again.  You have to know that you are fallen and in danger of judgement, and in danger of eternal separation from God.  Matthew 25:41 “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

But also as apostle Paul told us in the Colossians 1:20-22, that even though we were enemies with God, he had mercy on us and provided a sacrifice for our sins, in Jesus’ blood, to that we could be reconciled to God the Father.  So we were once alienated from God because of our evil nature.  But God Himself made a way for us to be with him.

“The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” (Deuteronomy 30.6)

God himself gave us the way to love him, buy wiping out our record of sin.  By this I mean past, present, and future… This gives us the ability to love God with a pure heart and in good conscience, having a sincere faith.  Jesus has set us free, “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.” (Tutus 1.15)

God knows that we cannot love him of ourselves.  He provided the way through Jesus Christ.  Jesus suffered so that we would not have to suffer in our sin and bondage.

Psalms  22: 14-16 records a portion of his suffering, “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it has melted within Me.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; you have brought Me to the dust of death.  For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation if the wicked has enclosed Me.  They pierced My hands and My feet;”

So knowing these things we desire to please him.  The question is not “What would Jesus do”, but “What would please Him?”  We put Him first in all things.  The psalmist said “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” (Psalm 73.25)

We love the Lord with our all in all; as a result of salvation through Jesus.  This is the starting point, without this relationship with Jesus, we cannot love God.  The love of Jesus must be the key feature in our lives.

We love the Lord by eliminating competing loves.  Loving God must become the key feature in our lives.  Don’t compartmentalize God into on little piece of your life. 

Each one of us have 168 hours in a week.  In that week the average Christian devotes 7 hours in Church, Sunday School, and a small group devotion or study.  During each week if you sleep 8 hours a day, every day then you spend another 56 hours in sleep.  That leaves 105 hours that are spent in eating, school, work, shopping, social events, or other leisure activities.  The question is how much of that 105 hours is spent demonstrating an active love for God?(Southern Baptist of Texas Convention, 4/25/2017)

This isn’t just a temporary fasting. Not just a time where we skip a meal or that we don’t eat red meat for few weeks.  It is not even a deprivation of sleep from an all-night prayer meeting, or a week of revival.  It is instead a way of living for God. 

In fact the Lord said in Isaiah 58:6-7 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? 

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and hot hide yourself from your own flesh?”

Wouldn’t it be awesome if someone were to ask your best friend, or your wife, or husband, or your children, “Tell me one thing about so-in-so…” and they could say, “That you really love God.”  Shouldn’t your life SHOW others that you truly love God!

This is a conscious choice.  We purpose ourselves for his service (Romans 12:11 says that we should be passionate in spirit, serving the Lord).  We do everything in life as if we are performing it whole heartedly for the Lord (Colossians 3:23).  In short we live “all out” for Him.  We hold nothing back from Him.  We are fully dedicated to His purposes.  We have to be wholehearted in our devotion to Him.  We are not ashamed of Him. 

Do you know that God knows that we are not perfect?  Do you know that he knows that sometimes, even on the way to church some of us have terrible arguments in the car?  Then we put on a smile and walk in the church like we just love everybody.  Then as soon as we walk out and start the car, our argument picks right back up from where it was.  Do you know that is wrong?  Sure we do.

We need to pray, and seek the Lord.  You know that as we humble ourselves and understand that we are not perfect, and hey no one else is either, and we realize again that Jesus still loves us.  He forgave us.  You know we can forgive others too.  We can love God by loving those around us.

We can even be so radical in our love for Him… that “We Love Our Neighbors, as we Love Ourselves!” (Mark 12:31) Do you know the best thing you can do for someone else is to let them see you LOVE God with all you have to love Him with?

In Matthew 25:34-40  we read “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat:  I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink:  I was a stranger, and ye took me in:  Naked, and ye clothed me:  I was sick, and ye visited me:  I was in prison, and ye came unto me.  Then shall the righteous answer him saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have don’t it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:34-40)

If someone asked that question, if the asked about you… today… if they asked “tell me about so-in-so”; and they were pointing the finger at you… Could who they were asking say, “They really love God”?  Does your life show your love for God?  Does your language show that your love God?  Do your neighbors even know that you know who Jesus is?  If not, maybe you need to make a commitment today. 

Get things right with God today.  Come to the alter of his mercy and tell him.  Lord I have not been living like I love you.  I have not been doing the things that I should, or speaking up for you.  Lord people have no idea that you’re my God or my savior by the way I act, speak, or how I treat other people, not even other believers.  I want to make that right with you today.

Or maybe you’re here and you have never even considered the sacrifice that Jesus made for you; how he poured out his blood to make restitution for your wrong doings.  Maybe you need to come and tell him you believe in Him.  You believe that he sacrificed himself for you, so that you could learn how to truly live in love.