Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Reward of Fasting: Why and How?

We generally call our church to fast  12 times per year; Ten 1-day fasts and two 3-day fasts. As I've chatted to folk in the church, they often find the 1 day fasts more difficult because they take people by surprise. Being that today is our 1st 1-day fast of the year I want to remind us why and how we fast. I have to admit that I normally go in to fasts asking, "So, why are we doing this, again? "but always come out going, "Oh, now I remember why we did this!" As I reflect on 2016, God has done so many great things in our midst, and I am persuaded that there is a strong link between His work in our midst and our earnestly seeking Him through prayer and fasting. 

So why do we fast as a church?
In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus speaks very clearly about fasting.  "When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast anoint your head and wash you face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father, who sees what is done in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret will reward you."  
1) We fast because Jesus commanded it. He said, "When you fast," not if.
A few practical helps:
a. Be prepared for some dizziness, caffeine headaches, or nausea in the early stages. Most of our bodies have never gone without food for longer than a few hours.
b. Lead up to and break your fast gradually with meals that are light and easy to digest. Trying to gorge yourself following a fast will only make you sick and will leave you with an unpleasant memory of fasting.
d. Sometime during your fast, mix your fast with prayer, time in Scripture reading, singing, or devotional reading. Remember: fasting is not an end in itself. Seek the Lord, not the experience of fasting. Keep checking your motives concerning your fasts. Hypocrisy and spiritual pride can easily creep in. There is a reward for fasting, but only fasting done with the right motives (Matthew 23:28).

He also said that while He was with His disciples they would not fast, but when He left they would fast. (Mark 2)
2) We do not fast to win the approval of people. "Do not look gloomy like the Hypocrites, they have received their reward." Neither do we fast to earn God's approval. We already have God's approval through Jesus. Nothing we do could make Him love us more!
3) We fast because there is a great reward in drawing close to Jesus. "Your Father in heaven sees in secret and rewards you."Though few people enjoy fasting, there is a very real reward and that reward is Jesus himself. In fasting, we deny ourselves food in order to feast on the Bread of Life and the  Living Water. Fasting is ultimately feasting on Jesus. Time and time again, people come out of a fast saying, "I may be hungry for food, but Jesus has satisfied and sustained me in a way that no food could."
4) We fast because it is a source of  victory in spiritual warfare. When Jesus was tempted by the devil he fasted.  When Jesus' disciples struggled to deliver a boy of demons, he said, "This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting." Matt 17:21 So fasting is also a powerful way of praying for others in desperate situations. 
5) We fast because it is a catalyst for mission Acts13:2 "They were worshipping and fasting and the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have for them.'"  
6) We fast to deny ourselves food as a way of resisting our culture of gluttony. Fasting is saying to our stomachs, "You are not GOD!." Say no more.

c. We fast on liquids. For some that is just water, for others it is juice or thin soup. It is not blended steak and potatoes! The issue is not who is more of a fasting extremist. The issue is that all of us feel the pain of hunger and denial, and use that to press into feasting on Jesus' word and presence. Whatever the case, drink lots of water. 

e. Avoid strenuous work or exercise. You will feel more weak and it will make you more hungry. If your job involved strenuous work then drink a smoothie or have soup for energy. 

e. Don't see it as a hunger strike, or a way to lose weight. That doesn't work. Fasting without prayer is fruitless. Be sure to join us at 6:30pm tonight at Southlands Brea as we seek the Lord in worship and prayer together. That is what makes a fast feel worthwhile.
I anticipate a deeply rewarding time as we seek the Lord together this year! 

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