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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Luke 15:11-32 – What About My Child?

Ref: Luke 15:11-32

I spoke with a friend a day or two ago.  She was concerned because her son was getting old enough to leave the fold now.  She was concerned with the usual things that we as parents get concerned about.  If you have lived through this, or are currently going through this situation, then you know what I am talking about.  This is a heart wrenching time for a parent.  It has been 18 years where the mom and dad have been caring for the needs of their child.  They have tried hard to prepare them for this inevitable day.  All their hopes and aspirations are tied up in the fruition of the life of labor and love they have poured into their little baby, who is now a young adult.  Have they been good parents?

What if their young one fails?  How will they be able to help?  Will their child ask for help?  Did I prepare them enough for them to be successful? But probably the most heart wrenching question for a Christian parent is, “Will they continue in their faith?” Will they walk away from God and never return?

In a study done by Lifeway Research, author Ed Stetzer, relays that 70 percent of high school students who attended church on a regular basis, for at least one year, will stop going to church during their years of higher education.  There are allot of reasons for this, but most do not intentionally stop going to church.  That is, it is not that they could not wait to get away from their oppressive Christian parents so that they could leave their archaic religion.  Most just get caught up in their new busy life.  Juggling of study, school, work, and the development of new friendships distract them from their previous priorities.  Some will get distracted for a while, maybe some for several years, but most will eventually return.  Probably when they start their own families.  There are a few who will get distracted far beyond measure.  Some will forsake their childhood upbringing in favor of some college professor’s views, or do the world views on life, sex, and politics that permeate the college campuses. We can find throughout scripture examples to prove that the Lord does not abandon his children.

In Luke chapter 15 we find the story of the prodigal son.  In this story the youngest son makes a plea for his half of the inheritance and leaves home.  This rebellious son then squanders his fortunes in a foreign land and winds up being homeless and penniless.  After much soul searching he decides to return home and beg forgiveness in hopes that he can work on the family estate as a hired hand.  When he returns his father is overjoyed.  The father’s love overflows from deep in his heart and he rejoices over the return of his son with a great feast and a party.  The oldest son, who remained obedient is put off with this forgiveness his younger sibling received.  He is caught up in his own selfish interests to see the miracle that has happened.

This story has many different points at which we can tear it apart and find some universal truth or a great life application.  I have many times used this parable as a part of my testimony, because I was also a wayward son who had returned.  If you are not familiar with this story it can be found in Luke 15:11-32.

Here in this passage we see a man that did everything right.  He raised his kids in a God-fearing home.  He taught them the value of good hard work. He taught them about the Lord.  He taught him the customs of their people, and how to be good men.  He instructed them in the way of their faith.  Yet one of his children fell away.  This is the case for many of us parents. 

We can teach, and discipline, and hold our breath till we are blue in the face, but some of our children will go away form their faith.  We can do everything right.  Still our loved one abandons the truth and rebels against God.  I should also mention that we can do everything wrong, and yet our child finds God.  The point here is that faith is a personal decision.  Our job is to pray for them, teach them, and reinforce the instructions of life and hope in Christ.  Teach them the wisdom of knowing God and the advantages of living a godly lifestyle.  We are to give them an understanding of God that they can use in life’s decisions.  But the decision is up to them.  Each man (woman) is responsible to God for themselves.  This is why the father rejoiced. 

The father in Luke 15 knew when his son asked for his share of the inheritance and left that he was already lost before his feet his the road.  He also knew that he could not stop him.  He knew that while his son was in rebellion that he was already dead spiritually.  I am sure that his heart was broken.  Something that we cannot miss though.  The father knew his son had to make the decisions. 

When his youngest son asked for the money his father did not argue with him.  His father could have told him, that money is not yours yet, you do not have a right to it.  His father could have drilled him with all kinds of questions, he could told him how foolish he was, and what a bad son he is.  He could have struck out in anger.  The father had all of the authority and right to do any or all of these things.  Instead he listened.  He gave his son an opportunity to learn a life lesson that his son needed. 

This father also trusted God to return his son to his faith. The father knew that the son in his heart did believe in God and that this little light of faith would be used by God to steer him home.  I am sure he held onto Proverbs 22:6.  The father had hope.  He knew that God loved his son also, just as much as he did.  He knew that God would not abandon his son.

This hope is evident in verse 20 of Luke 15.  It says, “But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him.” This father was looking for the return of his son.  He expected the Lord to deliver his son.  He rose up and looked for him every day!  We don’t know how long the timeframe is of the story, but it was long enough for the son to lose his inheritance, take a slum job, deal with starvation, and finally repent.  The son swallowed his pride and came with full intention of making things write with his father no matter what the consequences. 

This story can tell us so much about the love of God.  When the son returned the father did not care where he had been, or what he had done.  He only say his son.  His baby was coming home.  I think about this and I think about my own son.  He is a grown man, but every time I look at him, I still see the little infant that I held for the first time at his birth.  I know the heart of God by this memory.  With all that I love my son and no matter what he has done or where he has been, I still see this little baby in my hands.  That I like to think is the way that God sees each of us.  This father in our story just saw his baby, crying and beaten up by life, returning home.  This father who loved his son, put his arms around him.  Nothing else mattered. 

This is what Jesus made possible.  No matter how far we go.  No matter what we have done. No matter how rebellious we have been.  Jesus made a path home for us, for our children.  Have hope in the Lord.  Your heavenly Father has not abandoned you, and will not abandon your son or daughter.  Yes there are some hard lessons in life to learn.  No we cannot shelter our children from consequences of their own decisions.  However; we can have confidence that the Lord will never leave or forsake them.