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Saturday, January 12, 2008

On Fasting

I've been thinking a lot about fasting lately. In Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus spoke of three important spiritual disciplines - giving, praying and fasting. Most notably, I notice that Jesus said, in Matthew 6:16-18, "Moreover, when you fast .... when you fast ..." And there it is. Notice that He didn't say IF you fast; but rather He said WHEN you fast. So let's be clear, it's an expectation that Jesus set for His disciples. Wow!

Most of us would agree that fasting seems like a virtuous thing to do. But frankly there is never really a good time to do it. There's always a lunch I want to go to, a dinner, a party, etc. Maybe I just want to see a movie, and that movie popcorn ... well, it's do die for!
But Jesus expects us to carve out time for this important principle of fasting. He carved out 40 days to do it, at least once that we know of. And the thing I notice most about that is that He did it right before He was about to embark on the most important undertaking of His life. Mmmm.

I think when we set apart time for fasting and prayer at the beginning of a new year, we are putting God first. He told us in Matthew 6:33, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you." What things? Blessings? Hopes? Dreams? Successes that I want God to give me? Yes, it would seem that these are the things I can expect when I make God and His will my first priority. And if you've never fasted, I can tell you that it gives you a laser-sharp focus on God. It's a good way to seek Him.

Reasons for Fasting
So why should we fast? Really, does it really have tangible benefits? Or is it just something that really holy people do? There are a number of good reasons to fast, but I can think of at least three that I've experienced in my own life.

1. Fasting enables us to spend more time earnestly seeking God. The time you would normally spend eating, planning to eat, cooking food to eat, shopping for food to eat and talking about what you ate --- can now be spent in prayer and worship with God.

2. Fasting demonstrates the depth of my desire when praying for something. It shows that I mean business when I'm talking to God. I fast when I am asking God for an important spiritual or moral breakthrough. It makes my request before God a whole lot more credible because my request is accompanied by my own sacrifice. "Lord, I'm denying myself. This is that important to me!"

3. Fasting seems to release God's supernatural power. Apparently God is impressed with my willingness to fast. Scripture reveals that God's people have always united in prayer and fasting to deal a decisive blow to the enemy. It preceded some of their most memorable victories. I find that it precedes mine too.

Benefits of Fasting
So what can one accomplish with fasting? What do I really get. There are several blessings that come about from a God-centered fast --- versus something that would amount to a selfish diet.

1. The practice of fasting helps our spirit to become more sensitive to the voice of God.

2. Through fasting we establish a more intimate relationship with God.

3. Fasting helps create that attitude of humility in us --- which is necessary for an effective relationship with God.

4. My dependency on God is focused when I am in a fast.

Perhaps the most important benefit of fasting is simply stated in Scripture though. Fasting can aid us in breaking the power of undesirable appetites, stronghold of addictions, demonic oppression and influences or even fleshly lusts. This is an important one from my perspective. Jesus told us that some of the evils we fight go "... not out but my prayer and fasting." (Matthew 17:21).

So some of the spiritual warfare in our lives can only be won in prayer and fasting. Did you realize that? It would seem that fasting might be all the craze with today's Christians. Most of the ones I know are quite ready to talk about how they "are under attack" from the enemy. I wonder if they don't realize that one of the most effective ways to fight those so-called attacks is with prayer and fasting.

Perhaps I could host a prayer and fasting conference. I wonder if anybody would come.

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