One practice that has been largely abandoned by many professing Christians in this comfortable age of abundant materialism has been fasting, the practice of abstaining from food* and/or water in order to focus more on prayer. Modern Christians are more prone to feast than to fast. Yet fasting was practiced in both the Old and New Testament periods by different saints (e.g. Moses, Joshua, David, Jehoshaphat, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel, the prophetess Anna, Cornelius, Paul, Barnabas). Christ Himself fasted prior to His public ministry (Matthew chapter 4) and did teach on fasting more than once during His earthly ministry (Matthew chapter 6, Matthew chapter 9, Matthew chapter 17).
In Matthew chapter 6, in the middle of His Sermon on the Mount, Christ spoke to His disciples concerning the proper way to give charitably, to pray and to fast : “… WHEN thou doest thine alms…”, “… WHEN ye pray…” and “… WHEN ye fast…”. Notice that He did not say “IF you give…”, “IF you pray…” or “IF you fast…”. He uses the word WHEN meaning it is something that is expected to occur. Unless you falsely believe the Sermon on the Mount is not applicable today** it is expected that Christians should pray and give and even fast.
“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. 17 But thou, WHEN THOU FASTEST, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 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)
Lesson 1 : Fasting should be done secretly and not to impress others.
In Matthew chapter 9, Christ teaches us again that fasting is for this present era/dispensation:
“And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but THE DAYS WILL COME, WHEN THE BRIDEGROOM SHALL BE TAKEN FROM THEM, AND THEN SHALL THEY FAST.” (Matthew 9:15)
We still await the Return of the Bridegroom so this is still a time for fasting.
In Matthew chapter 17, Christ teaches us that critical situations may require fasting:
Critical situation : “Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. 16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.” (Matthew 17:15-16)
Disciples’ question : “Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?” (17:19)
Christ’s answer: “And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. 21 Howbeit THIS KIND GOETH NOT OUT BUT BY PRAYER AND FASTING.” (17:20-21)
God-approved fasting (Isaiah 58:6-7) is accompanied with great blessings. We read in Isaiah chapter 58 the following:
“Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. 9 Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.” (Isaiah 58:8-9a)
“… then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: 11 And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. 12 And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.” (Isaiah 58:10b-12)
Who would not want such blessings from God?
I could say more about fasting but I would rather point you to some a series of sermons on fasting which I found fairly recently on SermonAudio. The pastor’s name is Paul Rendall (Reformed Baptist Church of Tama, Iowa) and he preached 10 sermons on fasting (click on links):
* abstaining from food is the popular way to fast but is not the only way… a married couple can abstain for example from sex for a time (1st Corinthians 7:5) as a form of fasting unto God
** is the will of the Father done on earth as it is in heaven? is the name of God truly hallowed in today’s culture? just watch any recent Hollywood movie or listen to unconverted people speak and you’ll see that is far from the case
*** fasting does not contribute to justification but to sanctification… salvation is a gift not a reward… rewards are for good works done for God’s glory by one who is already justified
I want to also mention the website “Setting the Captives Free” which helped two Christians I know of who were struggling with a particular sin. The website does promote the use of fasting. Here’s the description found on the home page:
Welcome to Setting Captives Free. Every day we help people just like you find freedom from habitual sins and learn to grow in grace. Our Christ-centered courses are free of charge and help people just like you escape impurity, over-eating, substance abuse, gambling, smoking and more. Join the more than 433,592 people who have benefited from Setting Captives Free. We’re glad you’re here, and we’re here to help!