Prayer and Fasting (part 2)

Yesterday I posted about the source of our deepest hungering and desire. What do we truly desire and what does it say about our heart? You can read about that here: Prayer and Fasting (part 1). Today I want to spend more time explaining the biblical idea of fasting and prayer and then look at some practical consideration for fasting.

Jesus’ general principle regarding how to be blessed or ruined by spiritual disciplines is found in Matthew 6:1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”

Then Jesus gives three examples of ways that we can be found guilty of practicing our faith for others to see us and admire us:

  1. Giving (vv. 2-4) or our outward conduct
  2. Praying (vv. 5-15) or our upward conversations
  3. Fasting (vv. 16-18) or our inward cravings

Matthew 6:16-18 reads, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

What Is Biblical Fasting?

Simply defined, fasting (for all reasons) is to refrain from food for a period of time. Biblical fasting is always accompanied with prayer. I am speaking of biblical fasting here, because several religions practice fasting, and people fast for medical and other purely non-religious reasons.

Fasting in the Bible is required only in the Old Testament, for the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29-34; 23:26-32). This “self-affliction” was to accompany the offering of sacrifices for the nation of Israel. It was a national day of mourning for their sins. As such, eating was inappropriate.

Since Jesus Christ has become our final sacrifice (Heb 10:12), we do not need a Day of Atonement. Therefore, the only obligatory day of fasting has been removed for Christians. So, fasting is not required by God.

Why did people in Bible fast?

Although there was only one obligatory day to fast, voluntary fasting was(and is) acceptable to God if done with the right heart attitude. Some examples of the reasons people fasted in the Bible were:

  • When Mourning: 2 Samuel 3:35 tells us David fasted after the death of Abner.
  • When in Grave Danger: Esther 4:16 shows us that Esther asked for prayer and fasting before she approached the king.
  • When Repentant: Jonah 3:5, 7 explains how the Ninevites repented before God in sackcloth and ashes for their sins, and God forgave them.
  • When Facing Important Decisions: Acts 13:2-3 says that before the church at Antioch sent away Paul and Barnabas for their mission trip they prayed and fasted.
  • When Facing Intense Trials: Matthew 4:2 tells us that as Jesus prepared to begin his ministry, he was led into the wilderness where he fasted and prayed for forty days and was tempted by Satan.

How should Christians approach fasting?

First, remember that fasting is not obligatory, but voluntary. We are nowhere commanded to fast, although we may do so when we desire. The Pharisees fasted two times a week (Lk 18:12), but this was a tradition of men, not a requirement of God.

Also, remember this important truth if you become puffed up in your fasting: of the two men in the Temple that day that Jesus spoke of in Luke 18, one fasted, and the other went home justified! Fasting does not justify us!!

Second, we must fast with the right intentions. Matthew 6:16 shows us that there are some who practice religious activities to be seen by others.

  • If you fast, ask yourself why you are doing it?
  • If you fast, are you letting yourself look tired or haggard so people will ask you about it? The Pharisees loved the attention they received. They even went so far as to rub ash on their faces to look more sullen and sickly. It’s the same with all our spiritual disciplines. Do you do them to be seen by men?
  • If you fast, are you trying to earn God’s favor? Fasting is not a bargaining chip for God. It’s not “I skipped food for three days Lord. YOU HAVE TO HEAR ME NOW!” Fasting doesn’t mean that if I give up meat, God will do what I say.

Finally, when we fast, we should see it as an opportunity to put all of our focus upon God, and not as an opportunity to pull attention to ourselves. Jesus pointed out that the Pharisees drew attention to themselves with their sullen look. Instead, fasting ought to be seen as a time to look at the Giver of every good and perfect gift. We can forget about God sometimes, and when we fast, we take our eyes off of the gift of food and cast our eyes toward heaven to find communion with our Lord. This is why the Pharisees were such hypocrites. They took something which should have given God attention and used it for their own attention.

Some final considerations regarding fasting:

Fasting does not need to be a fast from food only. Some of you may not be able to fast from food for medical reasons. Perhaps you are weakened from sickness or you need to take medications or your doctor has said, “No fasting.” That is ok. God knows how weak our frame is!

Fasting, although primarily abstaining from food for a time of dedicated prayer and worship with the Lord, is not only described in terms of food. If you look at 1 Corinthians 7:5 it refers to a different kind of fast for married couples. Notice that this fasting referred to here is for a set time and for the purpose of prayer. It should be short and purposeful by agreement of both so as not to give an opportunity for temptation for either the husband or the wife.

Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Fasting if we conceive of it truly, must not … be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose. There are many bodily functions which are right and normal and perfectly legitimate, but which for special peculiar reasons in certain circumstances should be controlled. That is fasting.

This means that food may not be a big deal for you, but perhaps TV or internet distracts you from the Lord and prayer. Maybe its sports or something else.

RememberAbraham? In Genesis 22:1-2 what does it say Abraham loved? What did he hunger for? He longed for the promised son Isaac. And God gave him a good gift in Isaac. But now God asks him to sacrifice what he loved. Did he love God more than Isaac?

Abraham set his eyes to obey the Lord. He took Isaac up the mountain and he bound him and took the knife to slay his beloved boy. But look at vv. 11-12. “now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son…” Abraham’s love for God was greater than his love for Isaac.

Now let me ask you, what do you hunger for most? Who’s in charge? Is it your hunger or God? It is easy to say that it’s not food, like the drunk who says he can give up his liquor anytime he wants, but he just doesn’t want to. What controls you so that you don’t want to give it up?

Dear friend above all else, hunger and thirst for Christ.

Don’t Envy the Temporary Success of the Wicked

Sometimes it is so hard for Christians to see the unabated success of the wicked in the face of some significant trials and struggles. If the troubles weren’t bad enough, it is made worse when the unbelievers around us point out how foolish we are for clinging to hope in Jesus when we could simply make it easier on ourselves and do what it seems like everyone else is doing to get ahead.

In Psalm 49, the sons of Korah wrestled with this very issue and want to help us to endure by clinging to the Lord. To do this, they inject a massive dose of truth that we can easily forget. To begin with, they need to get our attention:

Hear this, all peoples! Give ear, all inhabitants of the world, both low and high, rich and poor together! My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding. I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre.” (Psalm 49:1–4, ESV)

With the false health-wealth and prosperity gospel out there, many people all over the world are convinced that they can have all the wealth and riches that this world offers and heaven too. With Joel Olsteen, Hillsong Church, TBN preachers, and other snake-oil salesmen selling a false gospel for profit, it seems as if you are losing out if you don’t get a piece of the action. It’s not that the Lord is against wealth, but those that would seek to do anything to gain it, or who make it their god and driving desire in life become shipwrecked in their faith.

To address this tendency to seek pleasure and success apart from God, the psalmist slaps his readers with the truth to awaken us from the stupor that can overcome us. He writes:

Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit. For he sees that even the wise die; the fool and the stupid alike must perish and leave their wealth to others. Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they called lands by their own names. Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish. This is the path of those who have foolish confidence; yet after them people approve of their boasts. Selah Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah

(Psalm 49:5–15, ESV)

Below are 4 Great Truths that We Can Take to the Bank Regarding those Who Have Made Success and Money Their God.

  1. Great Wealth Cannot Buy Spiritual Freedom.Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.” (Psalm 49:7–9, ESV)
  2. Great Power Cannot Stop Death.
    • Everyone dies.For he sees that even the wise die; the fool and the stupid alike must perish and leave their wealth to others.” (Psalm 49:10, ESV)
    • Everyone is buried.Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they called lands by their own names. Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish. This is the path of those who have foolish confidence; yet after them people approve of their boasts. Selah” (Psalm 49:11–13, ESV)
    • Everyone is raised up: The wicked to eternal death, and the righteous to eternal life.Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah” (Psalm 49:14–15, ESV)
  3. Nobody Will Take Anything With Them.For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him.” (Psalm 49:17, ESV)
  4. The Wicked Rejoice in Temporary Pleasures. For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed —and though you get praise when you do well for yourself— his soul will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never again see light.” (Psalm 49:18–19, ESV)

Therefore, Get Understanding! With this truth and clarity comes the reality of where we need to focus. “Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.” (Psalm 49:20, ESV). Do not be like a dumb beast that simply lives for its next meal. Instead seek the living God who is worth more than silver or gold.

Our Great Resurrection Hope (part 2)

On this Good Friday, we have a wonderful opportunity to meditate not only upon the death of Christ, but upon the hope of his resurrection. Yesterday I posted the first of Four Assurances that Jesus’ Resurrection Gives Those Who are Followers of Jesus Christ: Christ’s Resurrection Guarantees the Christian’s Resurrection. You can read that post here: https://always-reforming.com/?p=1859

Christ’s Resurrection Reverses the Curse of Humanity (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:21–22, ESV)

In these next two verses, Paul reviews for the church what they already knew, but needed to connect to the resurrection of Jesus. Paul addressed the reality that all people die, and that is why there is a need for resurrection.

Paul lays down two parallel ideas—first, that death came to all of humanity through a single man, Adam, in the Garden of Eden, when he disobeyed God.

Then, secondly, resurrection of the dead has come to humanity through another single person, Jesus Christ, who on the cross obeyed God by dying in the sinner’s place.

Verse 21 gives a profound truth that the world we live in simply cannot grasp as it should. We find that people in general think that they are good people, maybe a little flawed, but good at heart. Nothing serious. Of course, there are a few bad apples that mess things up for the world. But most people are good.

But in the Garden, there was one law given by God. Don’t eat the fruit. That was it. One law. And Adam and Eve broke it. One law. And what was the penalty? Death. A broken relationship with God and death.

Now look at verse 22. It gives more detail regarding verse 21. It uses names here. “As in Adam all die.” Paul is assuming we all know this. Why did my grandparents die, even though they were super sweet people? Because Adam sinned, and all his children sin and the penalty of sin is death.

So, what does that say about my sweet grandparents? They were sinners. And no matter how good you think you are, you will show that you are a sinner in God’s eyes because all sinners die. Death isn’t natural. God didn’t make men to die. He made them to be immortal. Sin brought death. All sinners die.

We all associate with the first man, Adam, who represents us as the human race. He is our head, or leader.

But the second part is true as well. Verse 22 says, “so also in Christ shall all be made alive!”

Here, Christ is described as being a representative just like Adam is. Adam represents the human race. Jesus represents his followers, those who forsake everything and follow Christ. Those who place their every hope and trust in him. Those who are truly children of God and have attached themselves to Christ. Is that you? If it is, then this speaks to you!

Paul is speaking here of the reversal of the curse of sin and death that was brought upon the human race by Adam’s disobedience.

In Romans 5:12 Paul wrote, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—” (Romans 5:12, ESV) 

And in 1Corinthians 1:18, Paul wrote, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Those who don’t trust in Jesus Christ for salvation see the death of Christ as foolish, and we as Christians are foolish too. But these are the ones that are perishing in their sins. 

Have you ever gotten yourself in a jam that you simply couldn’t fix? That’s what the human race did when Adam disobeyed God and sinned. It reminds me of when we have gone fishing when my girls were much younger. Sometimes they would get their fishing line all tangled up and the reel looked like a bird’s nest of fishing line. Sometimes they tried to fix it, but soon realized it was too tangled, so they’d give it to me or my wife. Sometimes it was so bad all we could do was cut the line and start over.

Some people approach their tangled up sin-filled lives like that. They pridefully say its not that bad, and they try too “fix” it themselves. Sometimes they take it to others who claim to be experts for help. But these “experts” have a mess in their own sin. Some take their sin-filled lives to Jesus Christ. He alone can fix it. 

On the outside it looks like we are all the same. We are all heading toward death—both Christian and unbeliever. But there is a difference. The Christians identifies himself with Christ, and in doing so he joins Christ in the resurrection that will come one day.

But the unbeliever is still identified with Adam. In Adam all die. We are all in Adam and so we all feel the effects of the curse of death. But in Christ those who identify with Christ in faith shall be made alive because Christ’s Resurrection Reverses the Curse of Humanity.