Scripture Reference: Genesis 2:7, Genesis 3:6, Psalms 16:11, Psalms 34:8, Psalms 73:26, Matthew 4:1-4, Matthew 6:1-6, Matthew 6:16-18, John 4, John 6:35, John 15:4, Romans 7:19, Galatians 5:16-24
When You FastRev. Philip Miller | June 19, 2022
Scripture Reference: Genesis 2:7, Genesis 3:6, Psalms 16:11, Psalms 34:8, Psalms 73:26, Matthew 4:1-4, Matthew 6:1-6, Matthew 6:16-18, John 4, John 6:35, John 15:4, Romans 7:19, Galatians 5:16-24
Selected highlights from this sermon
Right after The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus discusses fasting—an ancient practice, and something more common around the world than here in the US.
As Pastor Miller walks us through these verses, he shows how fasting is a cultural blind spot, a biblical paradigm, and a helpful practice to embrace. But he also shows us how Jesus is using this example to warn us about falling into the trap of religious hypocrisy.
Fasting is not just about food. It’s about a pattern of living to decrease our obsession with the physical so that we might attend to the spiritual.
Well, we’re shifting gears today. We threw it into low gear as we went through The Lord’s Prayer sort of phrase by phrase, attending to every detail in the text. But now we’re going to gear back up and pick up the pace as we continue our series in The Sermon on the Mount.
In some ways, The Lord’s Prayer, as beautiful as it is, is actually a little bit of an aside within the larger argument of what Jesus is doing here in The Sermon on the Mount. If you’ll recall, Jesus has been calling out the scribes and Pharisees for their religious hypocrisy.
In Matthew 6:1, this is what Jesus says: “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.”
Jesus is saying, “Look, God can tell the difference between the good things you do simply to please Him, and the good things you are doing in order to get noticed by other people around you.” He says, “Beware! If you’re using religion to get human recognition, human approval, human applause, then what you are doing, your righteousness, your religious behavior, is actually chock–full of ego. You’re doing good to look good, and that’s selfish, and it’s fake, and God sees right through it.
“You’re like the hypocrites,” Jesus says. It’s the word from the Greek theater, the actors who wore the masks in the Greek theater, because you’re like an actor. You are play acting. You’re a stage performer. You’re a mask wearer. To drive the point home, Jesus has given us a couple of illustrations, three in total.
The first one is about giving, alms giving to the poor. Verses 2 to 4, this is what Jesus says: “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward [in full]. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
The second illustration (example) is in verses 5 to 6. It relates to prayer: “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward [in full]. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
And then Jesus has a brief aside in verses 7 and 8 about not praying like the pagan Gentiles do either, you know, with their torrent of empty words. Don’t pray like that either. And then He gives The Lord’s Prayer as a model, a template as a counter example. And then He gives us a couple of verses reminding us about the importance of forgiveness all the way down to verse 15, and now we finally come to the third example, which is fasting.
In Matthew 6, verses 16 through 18, our text for today (Page 811 in your Bibles), this is what Jesus said: “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 in full. 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 sees in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Thanks be to the Lord for the reading of His Word.
Now these three spiritual realities that Jesus is talking about, spiritual practices: giving, praying, fasting...they’re all supposed to be about loving the Lord our God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Right? And yet they can be twisted. They can be twisted into being about us. “Look at me,” you know. And “Notice me, applaud me.” And then all of a sudden it’s not about love of God or neighbor that’s motivating us. It is love of ourselves. And Jesus says, “Beware. Be wary. Be warned. Don’t fall into this deadly trap called religious hypocrisy.”
But notice that He doesn’t say, “You know what? Just forget about giving, praying and fasting. You know those spiritual practices, they really don’t matter. God cares about your heart. That’s what really matters. It doesn’t matter what you do. That’s just religion.” No, He doesn’t say that. He says when you give, when you pray, when you fast, just because these practices can be misused doesn’t mean they don’t have a proper use. Sure you can twist giving and praying and fasting into self-promoting religious acts, but that doesn’t mean they have no proper role to play in the spiritual life of disciples of Jesus, led by the Spirit of God in the kingdom of heaven.
He does not say, “If you give, if you pray, if you fast.” He says “When. When you give, when you pray, when you fast! So Jesus is reminding us, He’s saying, “Look, I don’t want you to give up on your spiritual practices altogether. Follow me, and I will give you a new heart that is alive by the Spirit of God in the kingdom of heaven, so that when you pray, when you give, when you fast, you’ll be able to do it in a way that pleases your Father; a way that’s quiet and secret, without fanfare, that’s genuine from the heart, the kind of righteousness that looks to the audience of One. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. Three times He says that. That’s the point.
Now, today’s passage is laser-focused on the spiritual practice of fasting. Now my mouth is already watering for the steaks that we’re going to grill this afternoon, but let’s talk about fasting first, shall we? (chuckles) My aim this morning is to show you that fasting is a kind of cultural blind spot. It is, nevertheless, a biblical paradigm, and it is quite a helpful practice that we ought to embrace.
It’s a cultural blind spot, a biblical paradigm and a helpful practice. That’s our outline for this morning.
Let’s bow our heads and pray, and we’ll jump in. Okay?
Father, we hunger for you. We need more of you. Would you be our portion, our everything this morning as we open your Word. Let us hear your voice that we might live. In Christ’s name, Amen.
First of all, fasting is a kind of a cultural blind spot, a cultural blind spot. I don’t know about you but I never really learned that much about fasting when I was growing up in church. Oh, we read about fasting in the Bible. We read [about] people like Moses and Elijah and David and the apostles and Jesus, how they fasted, sometimes for a ridiculously long time like forty days (Wow!) but that was for spiritual giants, you know, and not for little people like us. Fasting always seemed like advanced spirituality for super saints. You know? Monks, missionaries, pastors of The Moody Church in Chicago, but not an average guy like me. Okay?
And I have to confess that, over the course of my life, I’ve done very little fasting, so I’m preaching to myself this morning. Oh maybe I fasted when I had a big life decision to make, or when something really bad happened and I wanted God to change things. But day to day, on average, it’s pretty easy to neglect. And I think because, in my mind, fasting was old-fashioned or kind of a bonus activity, sort of an extra credit for the spiritual overachievers out there, it was easily just passed over for someone like me.
Now here’s what’s strange. Jesus is talking about the big three core spiritual practices of a faithful life of devotion to God: giving, praying fasting. That’s the list. The big three!
Now would anyone argue that giving is like optional? No! Would anyone argue that prayer is sort of optional? No! Well, why does fasting...why is it not equal on the list in terms of our habits and the way we live? That’s a good question. Am I the only one? What happened?
In Jesus’ day, the religiously devout fasted twice a week. We know it was on Mondays and Thursdays. Twice a week fasting. The whole nation of Israel fasted together as a nation on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
The early Christian church continued this pattern of biweekly fasting, although they shifted it to Wednesdays and Fridays. We know that from a book called the Didache, the teaching of the early church. It’s an early second century document. But they shifted it so it would be a little different than the Jewish practice, so Wednesdays and Fridays. But regular fasting has been a pattern throughout church history, especially in monastic religious orders. In fact, Lent...you’ve heard of Lent, right? We don’t celebrate that in the way that other people maybe do, but Lent is the period leading up to Easter, and it has, historically for the church, been a 40-day fast leading up to the resurrection of Jesus.
As recently as the late 1700s, John Wesley...do you know that name? John Wesley, the great revivalist? John Wesley bemoaned in writing that American Christians, in particular, were abandoning the traditional practice of biweekly fasting. That’s not that long ago.
Fasting, friends, is historically practiced. Fasting is historically practiced. I just want you to see it’s normal in terms of church history. In fact, also, if you were to zoom out and broaden your horizons, globally...if we went to the global south, or the Far East we would find that fasting is far more common around the world in Christian circles than it is here in the United States. Many of our global brothers and sisters would find our normal practice of prayer without fasting to be odd. They would say, “Wait a minute. Prayer without fasting...That’s like a peanut butter without jelly sandwich.” Right? It’s like trying to mail a letter without stamps. Why would you even try to do that? Prayer and fasting, they go together.
So why has fasting fallen out of use in our circles, in our tradition? Well, I think one of the factors goes all the way back to the Reformation. The Protestant church has always been wary of anything that’s a little too Roman Catholic. And since spiritual disciplines haven been a hallmark and strength of the monastic life, which has been strongest in the Catholic tradition, it’s not hard to see how Protestants maybe have swung to the other extreme.
But even within Protestantism, fasting is fairly common around the world, but uncommon here in the United States. Why? Why would that be? I do wonder if there’s a connection because, here in America, we’re pretty obsessed with food. Amen? We’re pretty obsessed with food. We love our gourmet restaurants, our sumptuous meals, our chef-inspired culinary delights. We Instagram our food because you are what you eat.
I guess if we haven’t eaten in like two hours we get “hangry.” Right? Between our meals we prop ourselves up with coffee and pop and snacks. And of course, right before bed we’ve got to have a night shack. Right? We even stream shows about food we can’t even eat. That’s so weird. We just like to watch food. That’s weird.
The average American eats 4.2 commercially prepared meals a week. This is before COVID. The restaurant industry in the US is $50 billion a year, again pre-COVID. Three out of four Americans are obese and overweight, thirty percent of children.
I think it’s fair to say we have a love-hate relationship with food. We love how it tastes, but we hate how it pads our bodies. Right?
The paradox is never more clear than the grocery aisle checkout. Right? You’ve got models, chiseled models (Chris Hemsworth, right?) next to a food magazine, just decadence right there. “Buy one of each.” There you go. That’s America. There’s so much pressure in our culture to look a certain way. Right? We’re chasing the latest fads. We Keto, Whole-30 and Paleo. We have rampant body image issues, eating disorders, anorexia, bulimia. And we find ourselves swinging between extremes, between the worship of food and over-indulgence, and the worship of body image and over-restriction.
And in many ways (Listen!) our bodies have become our masters. Our bodily appetites must be indulged on one hand, and our body image must be maintained on the other. And friends, is it any wonder that in a culture of self-indulgence, something like fasting, which is all about self-denial, would sort of fall out of use? Could it be that this has crept into even our worldview within the church? And to us fasting feels weird. It’s like why would you regularly give up food when you have so much good stuff around you? Why would you even think that fasting? And if we do think about it, it’s all about weight loss and body image? That’s the reason we skip meals. It’s about us!
Now, despite all of this cultural baggage, I want to show you this morning that fasting is nevertheless a biblical paradigm. It is a biblical paradigm. Fasting honors our created design. In Genesis 2:7 the Lord God forms the man of dust from the ground and breathes into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man becomes a living creature. Right? Remember this, this creation text? And if we are dust and breath, dust and breath, we are physical and spiritual beings. Animals are just physical. Angels are just spiritual, but human beings are both physical and spiritual beings. We’re amphibians like that. We can swim in the water of the spiritual, and we climb out on the land of the physical. We live in both realities. Both dimensions of our being require attention, so our physical side needs nourishment. It needs exercise. It needs hygiene. We have to attend to our physical life to flourish. And in the same way, our spiritual life needs nourishment, needs exercise, needs hygiene, and we have to attend to our spiritual side to flourish in life.
And we’re holistic beings, which means we are not compartmentalized. There is interplay and interdependence between the physical and spiritual dimensions of our being. Everything we do on one side affects the other. So just look at the Fall. Okay? When Satan wanted to take down humanity, the human race, when he wanted to inflict a deadly spiritual wound, how did he do it? With food! With fruit!
Genesis 3:6, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Now the deep reality of what’s going on in this text is that Adam and Eve chose to do what they wanted to do instead of obeying God. They didn’t trust Him. They sinned and the world fell apart. But notice: At the very heart of the downfall of humanity is the inability to say “no” to our appetites, the inability to say “no” to our appetites. She saw it was good. It was delightful to the eyes, desirable to make one wise. Do you see all the language of appetite there? She and Adam indulged their appetites, and then the world unraveled, physically and spiritually.
Now in some sense, from that day on, our bodies have ruled over us. We find ourselves unable to resist our appetites when it comes to food or drink or sex or impulse shopping or binge watching shows or mindless scrolling on our phones. We are dominated by our desires. We’re ruled by our bodies. We are slaves to our appetites.
But then comes Jesus, the new Adam, as Paul calls Him, and He faces the temptations of Satan in the wilderness head on. Right? Face to face with Satan! And how does he do it? Fasting! And what is the first temptation of Jesus? Food!
Matthew 4:1-4, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came to him and said, ’If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’”
You see, Jesus succeeds where Adam failed. Where did Jesus get the strength to face this moment? Did He carb load to get ready for the big moment? No, He was fasting. It took Him forty days of fasting to have the strength to face the devil head to head. That’s amazing.
Just like with Adam and Eve, the temptation surrounds food. It’s not really about the food. It’s not about the bread. That’s why Jesus responds, “Man shall not live by bread alone (physical), but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (spiritual).” Dust and breath again. “Unsustained,” Jesus is saying “body and soul, by my Father. I will trust His Word. I will live from the spiritual nourishment that My Father provides, even though my body is crying out in hunger.”
It’s just the opposite of the first Adam, you see, who was overruled by his body, who was enslaved to his appetite. Jesus, the second Adam, is overruling His body, mastering His appetite. Jesus succeeds where Adam failed. And Jesus is showing us what it means to live from the spiritual sustenance that God provides. Even when there’s no food around, He is nevertheless metabolizing spiritual resources for life. He’s physically famished and yet spiritually full. Do you see He’s living from a deeper set of spiritual resources?
It’s just like in John, chapter 4, when the disciples left Jesus at the well and went into town to buy food, and they come back and they find Jesus ministering to the woman at the well. And they say, “Here, Rabbi, is some food,” and He says, “I’ve had food to eat that you know nothing about.” And they looked at each other and say, “Could somebody have brought him lunch?” And He says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me.”
In other words, Jesus is showing us that saying ‘no’ to pressing physical appetites actually enables us to say ‘yes’ to deeper spiritual nourishment. Fasting, it turns out, is biblically expected. It’s biblically expected. It’s just assumed. It’s a routine spiritual practice. If you model all the way through the pages of Scriptures, Moses fasted, David fasted, Elijah, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Paul. The apostles fasted together in Acts 13 and 14. Jesus fasted.
Jesus expects His disciples to fast. He says, “When you fast.” Not if! When! And friends, this turns out to be quite a helpful practice that we ought to embrace. It’s a helpful practice we ought to embrace. Not only is fasting immensely beneficial to your physical health...Did you know fasting is really good for your body? Did you know that? It helps with weight loss. I looked all this up. It helps with weight loss, insulin sensitivity. It speeds up your metabolism. It promotes longevity and life. It improves your brain function. It boosts the production of a protein called BDNF which is brain-derived neurotrophic factor. I have no idea what that is but I want more of it. (laughter) It improves immunity. Listen, if you’re in student ministry, this must be...it improves acne. Yes, and Amen! Right?
All right! So it’s really good for your body. But I want to show you that fasting is spiritually beneficial. That’s the main reason we’re here. It’s spiritually beneficial three ways.
First, fasting is helpful to us in attending to the soul. Attending to the soul! The practice of fasting, that is cutting ourselves off from food for a period of time—hours, days, sometimes weeks, is not just about saying “no” to the physical. It’s about saying “yes” to the spiritual. We’re diminishing our reliance on physical nourishment in order to increase our reliance on spiritual nourishment. We’re weaning off to have more.
Remember we’re amphibious creatures. Remember this? Physical-spiritual beings! But far too often we live as if the physical is all that really matters, don’t we? That this is real and it is the most satisfying dimension of all of our lives. It’s where real happiness lies. But it’s not true. The real and deeper world is the one that we too easily ignore, and it’s the realm of the spiritual. It’s where God is.
In fasting, we are decreasing our dependency and preoccupation on the physical in order to focus our full attention on the spiritual. Back in the first century, meal preparation took a major portion of the day’s hours, some as much as five or six hours a day just making meals for the family. But when you, as a community, fast, and also those meals don’t need to be made, do you realize it frees up an enormous amount of time for everyone to refocus their energy and time on God, to read the Scriptures, to pray, to worship, to reflect and sit in solitude and stillness, to give ourselves to the unrushed attention to the spiritual side of life. That’s what fasting is for, and you can broaden the principal out. It doesn’t have to be about food necessarily. You can do a screen fast. (chuckles) Oh man, you can put this away. (Holds up cell phone.) Did you know you can put this away? Did you know you don’t have to bring this to the restaurant? (applause) (laughs). Talk about a love/hate relationship. Right?
Do a phone fast, a media fast, a social media fast! Oh, you’re meddling now.
If you think about Sabbath, Sabbath is a day of rest. It is a fast. Sabbath is a fast from work. It is a moment to slow down and attend to our souls. Fasting is not just about food. It’s about a pattern of living to decrease our obsession with the physical so that we might attend to the spiritual. That’s the first thing it helps us do.
Secondly, fasting is spiritually helpful in starving the flesh, starving the flesh. In fasting, we’re learning to say no to our appetites. We’re learning to say no to our appetites. Just think of how many of our problems in life relate to our inability to say “no” to our appetites:
- Sexual temptations
- Anger problems
- Credit card debt
- Impulse buying
Friends, if we could learn to say “no” to our appetites, to gain mastery over our own bodies, to show our bodies who’s boss, it would change everything, wouldn’t it? And in fasting, don’t you see what we’re doing is we’re training ourselves to say “no” to our appetites, to our desires. And if we can learn to say no to pizza...this is Chicago. If we can learn to say “no” to pizza, maybe we can learn to say “no” to anger. Maybe we can learn to say “no” to lust. Maybe we can learn to say “no” to the things that have us wrapped around the things that are wrapped around our neck. (applause)
Friends, fasting is like going to the gym. You’re building spiritual muscles, to gain mastery in one area, which will then help you gain mastery in another area. When you start with food, one meal, and then you learn to say “no,” then it helps you in other areas.
In Romans, chapter 7, verse 19, Paul describes the conflict of desires. We understand how this looks. He says, “For I don’t the good I want to do and the thing I don’t to do I keep on doing.” I mean, how many of us can relate to that? All the good intentions that we can’t execute on, and the stuff that we know we shouldn’t do, we keep going back there. And then we think, “Why did I do that?” Here’s the reason. Our strongest desires are not always our deepest desires. Our strongest desires are not always our deepest desires.
We might have a deep desire to be healthy and fit, but our strongest desire is for ice cream. Right? We might have a deep desire to spend time with Jesus in the morning, but our strongest desire is to sleep in. Our deepest desire may be to live holy under the Lord, but our strongest desire is to feel happy right now.
Friends, so much of our lives hinges right here in the world of desires. Which desire do we feed? Which desire do we cultivate? Which desire do we satisfy? And it compounds.
Galatians 5:16 to 24 says this: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Do you hear that language?) For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
So part of the Holy Spirit’s job is to live in you and cultivate new desires so you learn to not do what you want to do. This is why you have the Holy Spirit. If you don’t have the Holy Spirit, you can’t do this. It’s why you go to Barnes and Noble, or wherever books are sold today, and the self-help section is huge, and people buy twenty of them and they keep buying more because they don’t ultimately work. You cannot ultimately change the deep desires of your life until the Holy Spirit drops in and comes alive and gives you new desires and teaches you to walk with Him. (applause)
Paul keeps on going.
“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: (This is a long list of bad things) sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, division, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. (What are all of those things? Things that we desire. We run amuck. They’re out-of-control living.) I warn you (Paul says) as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (That’s not what the kingdom of God is, friends.) but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And all those who belong to Christ Jesus (Listen!) have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Paul says if you follow Jesus, you will “crucify the flesh with its desires in order that you might live to the Spirit, walk with Him in the new desires and a new heart of the kingdom of heaven.”
Now do you do that? Crucify, put to death, starve it, put it away. Apart from Christ, friends, we are dominated by our desires, we’re ruled by our bodies, we’re slaves to our appetites. We just live from one appetite to the next. But then Christ, by the power of the Spirit, sets us free to die to sin, to live to Christ, to crucify the desires of our flesh that we might live for the desires of the Spirit. And don’t you see, fasting is all about leaning into this spiritual reality. We starve the flesh. We’re regaining mastery over our bodies so that we might live in the freedom of the Spirit of God, free from the tyranny of our appetites because fasting is spiritually helpful in feasting on God.
That’s the other part of this—starving the flesh and feasting on God. And when we fast, friends, we’re not knocking out the supports that food, comfort and satisfaction normally provide in our lives. It’s amazing how quickly we become “hangry,” isn’t it?
Am I the only one that gets hangry? It’s like a thing. My wife sometimes says, “You know, you need to go eat something.” “Okay, fine.” We get all stressed out when we don’t have our food and our comforts. And we say, “That’s not really me. I was just hungry.”
Do you realize that is who you are? If you strip away all your comfortable life, that’s the monster that you are. Right? That’s really us. It’s amazing how much of our goodness isn’t. It’s just comfortable. It’s not sanctification. I was just full. I was satiated. Not Christlike! I was just comfortable. I’m not Spirit filled. I’m just full.
Friends, fasting knocks out all those supports so that we learn to rest on God, to feast on Him.
- In our hunger to look to Him who satisfies.
- In our aching to look to Him who is our comforter.
- In our desperation to look to Him who is our provider.
- In our emptiness to look to Him who is our portion.
- In our weakness to look to Him who is our strength.
Fasting is a redirection of our appetites, away from the temporary things that never satisfy us in the end, and attaching onto the eternal, infinite, and all-satisfying delights of who God is. But better yet, fasting really isn’t about appetite suppression at all. It’s about the cultivation of our appetites, the right appetites, not the trivial appetites for sex and drink and food, but the deep appetites for glory and majesty and beauty and holiness and splendor and love and goodness.
Fasting is, in fact, feasting. Feasting!
- It’s delighting ourselves in the Lord.
- It’s gorging upon His goodness.
- It’s imbibing His presence.
- It’s rejoicing in His love and light.
- It is exulting in His glory.
Psalm 16:11: “In your presence, oh God, are fullness of joy, and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” That’s appetite language.
“Oh taste and see that the Lord is good!” Psalm 34:8
“Jesus said, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.’” John 6:35
“Abide in me and you will bear much fruit.” John 15:4
Friends, fasting is feasting. It is the unleashing of our soul’s endless appetite upon the infinitely satisfying entrée of God Himself:
- Our Father who is our Life,
- the Son who is our Sustenance, and
- the Spirit who is our greatest desire.
The triune God, friends, is the source and substance and satisfaction of our souls.
In fasting we learn what David meant in Psalm 73:26 when he said, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Amen?
So what’s the takeway? I worked very hard on this. I kind of massaged the words. I think it’s pretty good! Okay?
Just do it!
(laughter) Just do it! Yeah. That’s mine. I came up with that. (applause) But seriously, why not? Why not? Why not just do it? Jesus said, “Do it!” Let’s just do it! Yeah, seriously! What are you waiting for? Just come up with a plan. Pick a day. When are you going to do it? Do it in a medically wise way. Some of you have blood sugar issues you need to pay attention to. Use juice. Do a juice fast. Don’t get legalistic about this.
Start with dinner. This is how I do it. Start with dinner. Don’t eat after dinner, because when you wake up in the morning you’re halfway done. Right? Twelve hours, baby! Look what I just did. Yeah! You need to strip one meal at a time. You skip breakfast, and then you kind of go a little bit. Oh! Skip lunch. Oh! And skip dinner. Ah, you did it! You did it! It’s that easy.
Some of you might want to try multi-day fasts. I wouldn’t start there though. Start with one meal. Just start skipping breakfast. If you do that routinely, skip lunch. Just start small. If you haven’t been doing this don’t try to go whole hog on day one. That won’t work.
When the hunger pangs rise, use that as a prompt for prayer to redirect your attention to the spiritual dimension of who you are.
“God, be my sustenance, my strength. You are my portion, my deeper and greater desire. Help me to long for you like I long for this meal.” Feast like Jesus. Open God’s Word. Drink it in. Let God’s Word be the source of your strength, and you find yourself getting hangry. One of the things fasting does, is it teaches us the things that control us. So let that help you see yourself.
Why am I so cranky right now? Why am I so dependent on food for my Christian behavior when I ought to be reliant on the deep character of Christ that the Spirit is birthing in me?
Pray that God would give you the strength to have power over your appetites, to have self-control in these moments, to find spiritual reserves of strength in the hardness of the moment.
And if you find yourself like you just can’t do it, like you just...like I’m so mad and cranky and I’m being awful to everyone around me, and it’s just...I’ve got to eat something. Listen. Listen. Treat yourself compassionately, just like Christ treats you. It’s baby steps.
When my little kids were learning to walk, they took like one step and fell down. And I never scolded them because I was just proud that they were making the effort. That’s your Father. He’s just glad you’re making the effort. If you’re trying to walk in obedience, He’s delighted. Don’t be hard on yourself. The goal is not guilt. It’s freedom.
Now, here’s what’s amazing. We have an opportunity this week. This Wednesday is our Day of Prayer and Fasting. Ho, ho, how coincidental is this? So, you have no excuse. You get to do this Wednesday. Okay? So it starts like Tuesday night. Go through Wednesday. Pick your zone of how much you’re going to do. We’re going to have a prayer meeting at 7 a.m. online to start the day. If you want to join us that would be great. At noon we’re going to be back online praying, just about half hour each. And then in the evening at 6:30, we’re going to have prayer meeting right over here. You are all welcome to come, and it’s from 6:30 to 8:00. We’re going to pray through The Lord’s Prayer, and then we’re going to have a big meal and break the fast together.
So if you want to learn this practice and learn to follow it the way of Jesus, you’re in luck this week. What an opportunity! Just do it!
Sound good? Can we do it? Let’s do it! (applause)
Would you pray with me?
Father, we love you. We thank you for your goodness to us. We thank you that you are our portion and our strength forever. Help us to learn to walk in obedience in this area. Lead us, we pray for Jesus’ name and His sake. Amen. Amen.