Last week we talked about how we need God’s Presence to go with us this year so we can do what He wants us to do in this community.
As we begin 2007 we are beginning to Seek God’s Presence for our church and for our lives.
This week we are going to talk about Seeking God’s Presence through *Prayer* and *Fasting*.
Now I understand that this is not a popular subject and one that there is a lot of misunderstanding about.
Please do not tune me out on this subject.
I am teaching what the Bible says about Prayer and Fasting but not demanding anyone to have to participate.
So let’s find out more from the Bible about the truth of what prayer and fasting consists of and what it is not.
First, let me say that *fasting* is a huge subject in the Bible, so we will only scratch the surface today concerning it.
Let’s look at a passage that tells us what Jesus had to say about *fasting* and *prayer*.
¨ Luke 5:33-35 (NIV) 33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”
34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while He is with them?
35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”
The Pharisees were challenging Jesus about why His disciples didn’t *fast* like they did or like John the Baptist’s disciples did.
His answer was that while He (the bridegroom) was there they didn’t need to *fast* but to rejoice.
But one day He would be gone and then His disciples would *fast*.
We are living in the time that Jesus spoke about so there is scriptural support for us to *fast* today.
So what is fasting?
*Fasting* by its pure definition according to W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary is:
*Fasting—*To */abstain (to eat; fast)/* from food for a period of time is a discipline practiced by believers, not as an end in itself */(severity),/* but as a sign of repentance or of seeking God.[i]
So *fasting* is a scriptural way of seeking God’s Presence.
But in this definition there is a broad range of application.
There are 7 different types of *fasts* in the scriptures:
1. *Normal fast*—abstaining from all food, but not from water
¨ Matt 4:2 (NIV) After fasting forty days and forty nights, He (Jesus) was hungry.
It does not say anything about Jesus being thirsty only hungry.
According to science we know that the body can normally function 3 days without water, so He must have had something to drink during that 40 days.
This is the most common type of fast.
2. *Partial fast*—limiting the diet but not totally abstaining from food.
¨ Dan 1:12-17 (NIV) 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.
13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.
16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning.
And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
¨ Dan 10:3 (NIV) I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.
Daniel obviously was a man who believed in *fasting*.
In fact he believed in it so much that he was willing to challenge the king of Babylon and the king of Persia!
3. *Absolute fast*—avoiding all food and water for a short period of time.
¨ Ezra 10:6 (NIV) Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib.
While he was there, he ate no food and drank no water, because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles.
¨ Esther 4:16 (NIV) “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me.
Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.
I and my maids will fast as you do.
When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law.
And if I perish, I perish.”
¨ Acts 9:9 (NIV) For three days he (Paul) was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
Notice in each of these scriptures the fast was only for a short period of time (i.e. 3 days).
Never assume an absolute fast for a long period of time, unless God specifically tells you to.
Then it becomes the next kind of *fast*.
4. *Supernatural fast*—God suspends the bodily functions (in this case for 40 days)—this is not normal!
¨ Deut 9:9 (NIV) When I (Moses) went up on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord had made with you, I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water.
5. *Private fast*—*fasting* in a way that others don’t know about it.
¨ Matt 6:16-18 (NIV) 16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.
I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
6. *Congregational fast*—a call to a sacred assembly to meet with God
¨ Joel 2:12-17 (NIV) 12 “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
13 Rend your heart and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows?
He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing—grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God. 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the temple porch and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord.
Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’ ”
¨ Acts 13:2-3 (NIV 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
Notice that the church in Antioch worshipped and *fasted*.
This is during New Testament times after Jesus has been resurrected.
This led to the direction of the Holy Spirit calling Saul and Barnabus to be apostles.
7. *National fast*—a nation *seeking God* in a time of crisis
¨ 2 Chron 20:3-4 (NIV) 3 Alarmed (because 2 nations were attacking him), Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah.
4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek Him.
Another example of a national fast is when Jonah preached to the city of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5-9) and the king declared a fast so that they could see if God would spare them from the destruction that He had told them through Jonah was coming because of their wickedness.
From these verses it is clear that *fasting* was a part of the lives of the people of the Bible.
The only question that can be asked is when not if they *fasted*.
The early church and other famous church leaders like John Wesley practiced *fasting* as a regular lifestyle.
Yet today, *fasting* is hardly thought about, let alone preached or practiced by the church as a whole.
In that we have lost this spiritual discipline we have also lost a great source of power in our lives and a valuable weapon to fight the flesh and the enemy.
“In giving us the privilege of *fasting* as well as *praying*, God has added a powerful weapon to our spiritual armory.
In her folly and ignorance the Church has largely looked upon it as obsolete.
She has thrown it down some dark corner to rust, and there it has lain forgotten for centuries.
An hour of impending crisis for the Church and the world demands its recovery.”[ii]
There are also some precautions that I must make in regards to *fasting*.
If you have medical problems that require you to eat a certain diet, then please do so.
Do not *fast* without a doctor’s supervision if you have medical problems that could cause serious damage to your body if you do not eat.
Drink water or some fruit juice while you are *fasting*.
Also do not gorge yourself before you start the *fast* to try to make up for the food that you won’t eat.
It does not make you any less hungry and causes other problems that are associated with over eating.
No one should *fast* to harm their body!
Now let’s talk about what *fasting* is not.
For one thing *fasting* is not a weight loss program.
You can lose weight by *fasting*, but that is not the kind of *fasting* we are talking about in the scriptures.
Secondly, *fasting* is not a way to twist God’s arm to do what we want Him to do.
Nor is *fasting* a way to score “brownie points” with God by proving how religious we are.
So why *fast*?
The reason we *fast* is to humble ourselves before God so we can better hear His voice.
Notice in the verses above that when they fasted, they were *worshipping God* (Acts 13:2), *seeking help from God* (2 Chron 20:3-4; Joel 2:12-17), or *seeking God’s will* (Matt 4:2).
So the primary purpose of *fasting* is to seek God’s guidance.