Life In the Fast Lane (ATP)
Question: Would you please explain fasting? How do we properly fast according to the Word and for what reason?
In the Old Testament, fasting was a religious ritual. A public fast was prescribed by the Mosaic Law and kept yearly on the day of atonement. Look at Leviticus 16:29-30 (AMP), “It shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month [nearly October] on the tenth day of the month you shall afflict yourselves [by fasting with penitence and humiliation] and do no work at all, either the native-born or the stranger who dwells temporarily among you. For on this day atonement shall be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord.” It seems this annual fast was similar to water baptism, in the sense that it was an outward symbol of an inward transformation. We must remember though that as Christians we are not under this Levitical law of the Old Testament. Jesus already made atonement for our sins.
Recently, while in conversation with some other ministers, we were discussing medical conditions that are the result of consuming too much or too little of any one thing. The key to life and this walk with the Lord is balance and moderation. Keep this in mind when you consider the concept of fasting.
Let’s look first at Matthew 6:16, “And whenever you are fasting, do not look gloomy and sour and dreary like the hypocrites, for they put on a dismal countenance, that their fasting may be apparent to and seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full already.” If fasting is so that you can have brownie points with God or man, you’re doing the same thing this scripture warns about. Don’t fast just to say you’ve fasted. In fact, a fast is more of a private sacrifice than a public accomplishment.
In the Old Testament, we see an example of fasting in Ezra 8:21, “Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions.” Ezra declared a fast for the purpose of humbling oneself and seeking God for direction. The word humble means, to bow down, to submit, to weaken oneself, or to lower the estimate of self. Ezra knew that fasting would help to weaken the flesh and that the act of fasting would allow him to gain direction. Ezra did this because it was only through the direction of God that he would make it safely from Babylon to Palestine. Notice the fast was specific and didn’t last forever. In fact, the Bible doesn’t say how long the fast lasted so we can infer it was for as long as Ezra needed to be able to know the direction.
Another example of fasting is found in, 2 Samuel 12:16-17, “David therefore pleaded with God for the child, and David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. So the elders of his house arose and went to him, to raise him up from the ground. But he would not, nor did he eat food with them.” In this incident the son David bore with Uriah’s wife, through adultery, had become sick unto death. David fasted as a last ditch effort to save his son, but it didn’t work. David was fasting believing if he did he would earn his son’s life. Skip down to 2 Samuel 12:21-22, “Then his servants said to him, “What is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” And he said, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?” Was it wrong that David fasted? No, sometimes if you don’t know what to do, you’ll try anything to get your help, but ultimately we see that the fast didn’t change anything in his circumstance.
Let’s look at the testimony of Jehoshaphat, one of the most prosperous and Godly kings of Judah. 2 Chronicles 20:2-3, “Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar” (which is En Gedi). And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.” Skip down to 2 Chronicles 20:12, “…For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” In 2 Chronicles 20:15 we see the Lord’s response to this fasting and seeking His direction, “…Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” Then God proceeded to give them direction specific to the battle at hand. I highly recommend reading this entire chapter and seeing the divinely orchestrated victory, provision, protection and peace that God delivered to His people.
Did the fast move the hand of God? No. The fast helped God’s people to hear from Him. Look at Psalms 109:24, “My knees are weak through fasting, And my flesh is feeble from lack of fatness.” There’s a key truth we can see here. As we fast, our flesh becomes feeble, or weakened. Most of us could use to put our flesh under sometimes so it doesn’t scream so loud at us! The flesh and mind is what gets in the way of us being spirit led.
Now let’s look in the New Testament. Matthew 17:17-21, “Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?’ So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” In this particular circumstance, the disciples needed to know what to do. This was something man on his own wasn’t going to “figure out” but needed God’s direction. Fasting would help them get out of their heads and hear from God and as a result fasting helped them stay in faith in their situation.
In the book of Acts, we see fasting for the same purpose again and again. Look at Acts 13:2, “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Separate now for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Acts 14:23, “And when they had appointed and ordained elders for them in each church with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in Whom they had come to believe.” The direction from the Holy Spirit on who was called to become leaders and ministers came after prayer and fasting.
Even Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. The devil came to tempt Him with food but Jesus refused. Jesus was endeavoring to put His flesh down so His spirit could lead. His flesh and mind wouldn’t have allowed Him to be crucified, but His spirit knew the truth and the direction of God.
If our motivation for anything we do for the Lord is to be seen or to fulfill an obligation, we’re doing it all for the wrong reasons. Fasting is always associated with prayer and is meant to help us hear from God. It’s not a requirement but in these many examples you can see how putting the flesh under this way allowed for the people of God to hear and know what to do. Generally, we must endeavor to live a fasted lifestyle. We should recognize areas of our life that we have allowed to quiet the voice of God and move towards eliminating those things so we can be in constant fellowship with Him, always knowing His plan and direction for our lives.