Well, it’s 2018. During the month of January, I will be doing a 3-part miniseries on the Purpose of Fasting where you and I will be exploring the Purpose of Fasting and why God has called us to fast. Fasting should be a crucial time for us as Christians to repent, draw closer to God and even learn more about God and His plan for us. So, for most churches, as we go into the fasting season I hope that you join me as we discuss why it’s important for us as Christians to fast.
What does it mean to Fast?
Well, the word fast or fasting either comes from the Greek word Nesteia which means “abstinence” or referring to “the Day of Atonement” or the Hebrew word tsum which means “to abstain from food”. So, if both words speak of fasting as the abstinence or removal of food, why then do we as Christians fast the way we want to fast and not the way God wants? It’s all because of our hearts.
The prophet Joel tells us exactly what God wants us to do regarding fasting and how we should not only fast in the physical but in the spiritual sense as well. In Joel 2:12-13, Joel is trying to not only telling us but teaching us how to fast as God would have us fast.
“12. ‘Now therefore’ says the Lord, Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. 13. So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.”
This verse should act as a reminder for us as Christians that fasting towards God means that we need to turn with our hearts open towards Him while during our fast. In my opinion, when Joel is saying that we ought to “rend our hearts, and not your garments”, I think that he is trying to tell us that we as Christians need to not make a public display of fasting where everyone can see us but to get down on our knees and from the heart sincerely repent to God.
Fasting is a voluntary act but one that God delights in because it’s during this time that we have a chance to connect with the Father like never before, allows us a time to re-examine ourselves, and really dig into His Word and see what it says about us and who we were made to be.
In the Bible, fasting is a crucial part of the Jewish way of life so much that in Leviticus 16:29, God tells the Israelites that it is to become the statute forever and that while they fast; they should afflict their souls. In Leviticus 16:29, it says, “29. This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do not work at all whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you.”
Personally, when Moses says in Leviticus that, “you shall afflict your souls”; I think it means that God wants us even as Christians today to really examine ourselves and repent of our sins before the Lord and seek God’s forgiveness. This part of fasting where God calls us to fast is where I read a blog post by Sabreen Murray of Paradigm Shift called, “Before You Fast: What Does the Bible Say About It?.”
In the blog post, Sabreen asks a compelling question saying, “…what does the Bible say about fasting?” and in the blog post; she answers the question in a series of bullet points that I feel we as Christians and as people should remember as we go into this fasting season. In the blog post, Sabreen says:
- “Fasting is Not About Our Agenda”
- “… my agenda – what I wanted God to do, when I wanted him to do it, and how I wanted Him to do it.”
- “… the basic premise of how our fasting should be conducted – it should be a time in which we surrender our plans to God’s.”
- “Fasting is a Posture of Our Heart”
- “Sometimes we put too much emphasis on what we will or will not eat during a fast.”
- “Fasting is not just about how much we restrain ourselves physically – it’s about the posture of our hearts and the display of Godly charity.”
- “God was looking for them to have a complete display of holiness – not just in bodily restraint but in the way they loved their fellow-man.”
- “Fasting is a Time for Humility and Repentance”
- “…the people of God were brought to a state of extreme desire of repentance.”
- “He also instructs them not to “tear your clothing in your grief, but to tear your hearts instead.”
- “He is asking them for total surrender and repentance, and it is the same with us.”
Pastor Jentezen Franklin said, “Fasting humbles you and brings clarity, even allowing you to get unforgiveness and bitterness out of your heart.”
The purpose of fasting isn’t so we can just remove some food and pray for repentance to God, fasting is a time for us as human beings and as Christians to recognize our human frailty before the Father and appeal to His mercy. So, here’s a question we should be asking ourselves. Are we fasting for ourselves or for God? Well, in the book of Zechariah, the prophet Zechariah is trying to get us to understand that who we fast for is more important than what we fast.
In Zechariah 7:4-5, he is conveying God’s message to the people of Israel and even us Christians today about why we are fasting saying, “4. Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me saying, 5. “Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me – for Me?”
God is asking us as Christians and as His people “… did you really fast for me?”, and how will we answer? I recently watched a sermon from a renowned pastor, Doctor Myles Monroe who talked about fasting and prayer in his sermon titled, “How To Fast and Pray Efficiently” and in the sermon, he said, “Fasting means that you change your schedule, change everything you’re doing… you dedicate yourself for time with God”.
Throughout the sermon, Doctor Myles Monroe gives us as Christians a look into how God has called us to fast and that it’s not a voluntary but a duty for as Christians. In the sermon, Myles Monroe has several quotes that I feel we as Christians should use and remember as we go into this fasting season or whenever we fast.
- “Fasting includes how you act during the fast.”
- “Fasting is not just putting away food. Fasting is also the attitude you have while you’re doing it.”
- “You don’t really hunger until 40 days of fasting”
- “You are not fasting for people. You are fasting for God.”
- “When you fast, it should be unseen. Let it be a private situation.”
- “Fasting has a reward.”
- “When you obey God, you can expect His promises.”
- “Fasting creates the spirit and the atmosphere for people to move into their ministry.”
- “Your fasting prepares you for activity with God.”
- “Fasting makes you bold”
- “Fasting says, ‘Look. I’ll pay the price. God’s got to do something’”
- “Fasting is the willful abstaining from natural pleasures for a spiritual purpose.”
- “Fasting is a personal commitment to renounce the natural. To invoke the spiritual.”
- “Fasting is that transfer from natural to spiritual.”
- “Fasting is the dedication to a period of time to devote yourself to the spiritual priority to prayer without food.”
- “Fasting is not just missing a meal.”
- “Fasting is not dieting.”
- “If He is not the focus. The fast is useless”
- “Fasting requires spending much time in the Word”
Doctor Myles Monroe said, “Fasting purifies your body… Fasting puts you under the protection of God”.
This sermon, I feel truly dives into the meaning of fasting and what God requires of us to do while we are fasting. Jesus Christ even mentions in the Gospel of Matthew that we are not too fast like the hypocrites or the Pharisees in Matthew 6:16-18.
In Matthew 6:16-18, it says “16. Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18. so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
In the Bible, many prophets and people fasted in order to repent of something or to get closer to God and we should be like these people like Esther; who fasted for 3 days and didn’t eat or drink along with all the Jews and her maids in order to get closer to God and even the prophet Ezra; who called the Israelites to a fast in order to humble them before the Lord. However, it’s the prophet Joel who tells us that what God wants us to do regarding fasting with family and fellow Christians.
In Joel 1:14, he says, “14. Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land, into the house of the Lord your God, And cry out to the Lord.” God wants us to fast corporately either as a family or as a church and set aside a time for fasting, prayer, and reconciliation. This leads me to another sermon I watched by Pastor Jentezen Franklin called, “Spiritual Keys to Fasting”.
In the sermon, he said, “Your faith will begin to explode as you fast” and I think that is a great statement. I feel that it not only takes the heart of the person to fast but also the faith to say that ‘I don’t know what the outcome of my fasting will be but I know that I will begin to experience things I never did before” In the sermon, Pastor Jentezen Franklin has several quotes that I feel we should keep in mind as we go into the fast.
- “Fasting never manipulates God.”
- “It’s so important that when you go into a fast, you don’t go into it… thinking you will earn God’s blessings, God’s favor, God’s miracles in your life”
- “Fasting gets you ready for God’s answer.”
- “Fasting prepares your heart to say, ‘not my will thy will be done.”
- “Fasting breaks you down.”
- “Fasting gets you into a position of total obedience and humility and brokenness before God.”
- “Spiritual Keys of Fasting”
- “You must prepare spiritually to fast.”
- “How does He speak to you.”
- “… when you sense God telling you to do that. That’s spiritual preparation.”
- “You must determine what kind of fast and how long you will fast.”
- “Write down your fasting plan.”
- “Sometimes you have to say food you can wait… God, I need answers.”
- “Fasting increases our sense of humility and dependence upon the Lord.”
- “It’s saying, ‘God I need you God alone.”
- “Fasting allows us to set aside time for prayer. If you don’t pray then you’re not fasting.”
- “Fasting and prayer; it will heighten your spiritual alertness.”
- “You must prepare spiritually to fast.”
- “Fasting expresses our own earnestness and our urgency in prayer to God.”
Jentezen Franklin said, “Fasting is a constant means of renewing yourself spiritually.”
Fasting isn’t a time for exploiting other people and finding pleasure in material wealth, it’s a time that God has called us to set aside and have humility before God. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah spoke on this in Isaiah 58:3-9 where He admonishes the Israelites for using the time of fasting as a time for finding pleasure then seeking repentance for their sins and wickedness. Isaiah 58:3-9 says:
“3. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’ “In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, And exploit all your laborers. 4. Indeed you fast for strife and debate, And to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, To make your voice heard on high.
“5. Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the Lord? 6. “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke?
7. 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 not hide yourself from your own flesh? 8. Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’”
In each of the verses, Isaiah is trying to tell the people of Israel that their “fasting” isn’t fasting but just an attempt to exploit the laborers that work under them. Also, in the verses, Isaiah is speaking as God’s prophet telling them about how God views fasting that they are twisting the purpose of fasting in order to find pleasure. In verse 5, Isaiah is not only speaking to the Israelites but to us as Christians today that God wants us to fast in order to “afflict our souls” specifically have us repent and draw closer to Him.
God wants you and I to show humility when we fast by bowing our heads similar to a bulrush; which is a branch meant to signify humility. During this time of fasting, I want us as Christians and as a church to really look deep within ourselves and find the chains that are keeping us from God’s potential for our lives and ask God to help us break free from the bonds of wickedness like verse 6 says, “… To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke?”
It’s only when you and I fast the way God wants us to that our light can shine and God’s glory can become our defense. As we go into this fast, I want to remind you that we should fast like Jesus did in the wilderness allowing ourselves to draw closer to God. Pastor Jentezen Franklin had several quotes in his sermon that can give us a reminder as to why we fast and the purpose of fasting.
- “Fasting is an invitation.”
- “I am voluntarily giving this up. Showing you that as a sacrifice… I’m coming after you and I’m giving up this food.”
- “Fasting is a grace.”
- “… there is a mystery connection between the Holy Spirit and fasting.”
- “God will truly give you grace to fast if you listen to Him and be led by His spirit.”
- “Fasting is humbling yourself before God.”
- “it’s saying, ‘Lord, I need you. I humble myself before you.”
- “When you fast, you’re taking an invitation from God.”
- “Fasting is a Spiritual discipline that is a physical act.”
- “The only way to fast is to fast food.”
- “It’s a time of spirit-led self-examination.”
Pastor Jentezen Franklin said, “When we begin to spiritually fast, we increase our receptivity to the Lord’s voice and to His Word.”
In the end, though, the purpose of fasting is so that as Christians, as a church, and as human beings; we can draw closer to God and dive deeper into His Word. Fasting is a time for rending our hearts to the Father and letting Him take the lead in our lives, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us in truth, and a time for reflection on not just the Word of God but a time to reflect on our past sins.
So, here are some questions for you to ask yourself as we go into this fast.
Am I doing the fast out of a heart of seeking God or for self-indulgence?
Am I ready to turn to God and let Him speak to me?
Am I ready to let God help me break chains that are binding me and set me free?
Why am I really fasting?
Stay tuned because next week; we will be discussing how to pray during our fast in Part 2 of the Purpose of Fasting series.
“Dr. Myles Munroe – How To Fast and Pray Efficiently”, YouTube, uploaded by Motivational Guru, 15 Feb 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3kKSsUwUOI . Accessed 4 Jan 2018.
Franklin, Jentezen. “Fasting humbles you and brings clarity, even allowing you to get unforgiveness and bitterness out of your heart.” azquotes.com, http://www.azquotes.com/quote/778722 . Accessed 25 Dec 2017.
- “Fasting is a constant means of renewing yourself spiritually.” azquotes.com, http://www.azquotes.com/quote/778716 . Accessed 22 Dec 2017.
“Spiritual Keys to Fasting – Jentezen Franklin”, YouTube, uploaded by Jentezen Franklin, 17 Feb 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QDJNWecmdk . Accessed 3 Jan 2018.
Author Unknown. “Isaiah 58:3-9” https://biblia.com/bible/nkjv/Isa%2058.3-9 . Accessed 5 Jan 2018.
Author Unknown. “Matthew 6:16-18” 9 Feb 2013, http://thedailyverses.blogspot.com/2013/02/matthew-616-18.html . Accessed 5 Jan 2018.
Author Unknown. “Leviticus 16:1–18:30” https://biblia.com/bible/esv/Lev%2016.1%20%E2%80%93%2018.30 . Accessed 3 Jan 2018.
Gibbs, Susan. “The Righteousness of Those Whose Live ’ s Are Ruled By God – 5:17- 7:12.” http://slideplayer.com/slide/8681189/ . Accessed 2 Jan 2018.
Glass, Jon. “Day 12 – Joel 2:12-14” 8 Aug 2015, https://jonglassonline.com/ , https://jonglassonline.com/2015/08/08/day-12-joel-212-14/ . Accessed 5 Jan 2018.
Lesley, Michelle. “Wednesday’s Word ~ Joel 1”, 16 May 2016, https://michellelesleybooks.com/ , https://michellelesleybooks.com/2016/03/16/wednesdays-word-joel-1/ . Accessed 5 Jan 2018.