Why should I, a child of grace, to whom all good things are given to enjoy, expose myself to hunger, headaches and dizziness by fasting?
1) “While they were worshipping and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke…” (Acts 13:2).
The teaching staff at Antioch (including Paul and Barnabas) were fasting. Why? The only clue the text gives is that a dream is in the offing. They have caught a vision for frontier missions. But what should they do? Send some of their own? Who? How shall they know the mind of the Spirit? Answer: fast and worship! Then God spoke.
Lesson: When you need to hear the voice of God more clearly, fast and worship. And who doesn’t? A thousand voices compete for our attention. Many are voices directed to our appetites. Fasting says: Lord, I have stopped my ears to the cry of the body. Speak! I long for you to speak. Open the ears of my soul to the degree that I have stopped the ears of my stomach.
2) Jesus said, “As long as [my disciples] have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Mark 2:19-20).
The bridegroom has gone on a long journey. He is preparing for us a place. We can have great confidence that we will one day see him face to face. But for now we are not “home with the Lord.” Our lives are shot through with longings. Fasting is an expression of our conviction that it is sin to be satisfied with ourselves as we are. Our hunger cries out to the Lord: This much, Lord! This much I am not content with the measure of my holiness and the power of my witness. Come! Change me! Fill me! Enlarge my capacity for joy in you even as you shrink the capacity of my stomach for this world.
Lesson: The Christian life between the two comings of Christ is a wonderful mingling of joy already and fullness not yet. Every new taste of Christ’s fellowship sparks new yearnings. Fasting says: “I’m glad the wedding has happened. But, O, that the bridegroom would return, and even now that (by his biblical love letters) he would show me more of himself.”
3) “And when you fast, do not look dismal…that your fasting may not be seen by men; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).
Jesus assumes we will fast and tells us how. Do it toward God and not men. Fasting is good for us because it makes us real with God. No strokes from men. No spiritual accolades. What a thrill to endure secretly just for God. O, how this tests the reality of our secret dealings with the Almighty!
And your Father will reward you! If you do not care about points with men God will fill the void of your longing. Reward! That’s why we fast! Reward! You betcha I want reward! Pressed down, shaken together, overflowing! I want all of God a mortal, short of heaven, can know and feel. Don’t you?
Lesson: Christian hedonists fast.
4) “I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
Fasting reveals how severe is our bondage to food. Gluttonous Christians are a disgrace to the gospel. Fasting is a thermometer under the tongue of our appetite to measure the fever of our own gluttony. “Self-control” is a fruit of the Spirit. Self-gratification is a fruit of American advertising. O how much spiritual weakness there is due to our slavery in this area.
Lesson: Strive to say with Paul, “I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).
In training with you,