Biblical Fasting in a New Year
Here we are between two of our most celebrated holidays.
One holiday is based on a holy day, the birth of Christ.
Another holiday is based on the last day of the calendar year, New Years Eve.
This is the time of the year where we usually reflect on the year past and focus on the year ahead. The idea of a new year brings a sense of a new beginning. The new calendar inspires many to make resolutions to change their character.
While there has been a lot said about 2020, what transpired in the last twelve months will shape our families, our churches, our nation and our world for years to come.
Not just the political and economic fallout of the virus and subsequent lockdowns, but also the preeminent place the internet and social media has taken in our lives.
Social Media and YouTube are two of the greatest shepherding forces on the planet right now. We make “Friends” online, we “Follow” people online, and we “Subscribe” to teachers and their doctrines online. These are not just ways to connect to others, they are ways we get shaped by others.
Pastors can effectively and passionately teach the Bible for a half hour on Sunday, but its impact is minimized throughout the week as many Christians spend dozens of hours getting shaped and guided by social media.
If the internet is the “shepherd” then the cell phone is the internet’s “Bible,” a source of seemingly endless information, stories, history, connection, all at our fingertips.
If the internet is the shepherd than Social Media is the “prayer.” Any time we get a free moment, prayers to God are not offered, communion with God is not longed for, “Being still and knowing the Lord is God,” as Psalm 46:10 says, is forgotten. Instead we naturally turn to our phones for the newest headline, the newest outrage and the newest gossip.
We are so quick to judge online when we would be less likely to do so in person.
We are so quick to condemn online when we would be less likely to do so in person.
We are so quick to lash out in anger online when we would be less likely to do so in person.
When there is violence in the streets, images and videos pass through social media faster than any virus and cities burn down.
It is powerful!
I am not against Social Media, the Internet, or YouTube, but I am seeing its power over me unless it goes unchecked.
By God’s grace, how can we keep it in check? By God’s grace, how can we live a life of greater spiritual vitality in the year ahead? Even as the challenges of 2020 overflow into 2021.
Instead of resolutions, I encourage you to fast and pray more in the year ahead.
JOEL 2: 12-13 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster."
The historical setting for the book of Joel is when the land of Judah was devastated by a vast horde of locusts. This invasion of locusts destroyed everything— fields of grain, vineyards, gardens and trees. Joel symbolically describes the locusts as a marching human army and views all of this as divine judgment coming against the nation for her sins.
The book of Joel is highlighted by two major events: One is the invasion of locusts and the other the outpouring of the Spirit (Joel 2:28-29).
One is God bringing his right, just judgment against His people.
The other is not only offering forgiveness to His people, but also pouring out His Spirit with power! May be so for the church in 2021! May our desire not be for more church programs, but a full reliance on the Holy Spirit’s power.
JOEL 2:12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
In this verse we God’s desire is not for exterior, external, vane, superficial fasting motivated by tradition, but true repentance and fasting that comes from our hearts. The heart of the problem is the problem of our hearts!
It begins and ends with heart. Return our hearts back to God so we could know the God’s heart for us! Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
Why have we always rendered our outer garments and not our inner desires to God? Because it is easier to seek religious praise from men than to pursue the inner holiness that comes from true trust, dependence and passion for God.
Sam Storms in his book, “Pleasures Evermore: The Life-Changing Power of Knowing God,” wrote: I want to insist that, contrary to popular opinion, fasting is not the suppression of desire but the intense pursuit of it. We fast because we want something more than food. We say “No” to food for a season only to fill ourselves with something far more satisfying.
This is why Jesus would say to Satan after fasting for 40 days and nights in the wilderness, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
This is why Job would confess after unimaginable suffering and trials, “I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food” (Job 23:12).
This is why David would proclaim at the height of his wealth, power and prestige, “More to be desired are the commandments of God than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 119:10).
Fasting’s true purpose is not to punish the flesh or starve the stomach, but to grow in greater dependency, greater hunger for and greater focus on God.
Fasting is not just CEASING, but INCREASING.
Ceasing from someTHING, so we can grow closer to someONE.
Daniel 9:18-19 begins with Daniel fasting and pleading with God for God’s people. His prayers ends with these words, “O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”
Daniel knew fasting and prayer go together: Prayer is reaching out to what is physically unseeable and untouchable. Fasting, on the other hand, emphasizes on what is seeable and touchable (our body, our stomach, our tastes and our touch). Fasting is a reminder we have a hunger deeper than our stomachs. We have a hunger for something we cannot see or taste.
This realization is painful and slow. Ironically, fasting does not seem fast at all! They should call it “slowing” or “painful-ing.”
So when fasting is painful, turn that hunger into a prayer and turn that growl into praise. When the fast is over, not only with the physical food taste sweeter but so will the Word of God!
In MATTHEW 6:16-18 Jesus gave us instruction and a warning regarding fasting,“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."
It is hunger that leads to both gluttony and to religious vanity.
The Bible clearly teaches both eating and fasting can magnify Christ.
ECCLESIASTES 3:13 Everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.
1 TIMOTHY 4:4-5 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
While eating and fasting has its appointed place and each has its danger:
The danger of eating is that we fall in love with the gift more than we love the gift-giver. Our stomachs become our master.
The danger of fasting is that we belittle the gift and exalt our will. Self-righteousness becomes our master.
Sam Storms gives examples on how to to avoid hypocrisy in fasting: If at any point, while fasting, you find yourself thinking, “God will love me more… God will surely be impressed with me now!” get in your car and go eat a McDonald’s Quarterpounder!
If you are the least way tempted to believe, “God will bless me more…He will have no choice but to regard my righteousness!” go eat the biggest greasiest pizza you can find!
If it crosses your mind, “I’m better than others who don’t fast, and I sure hope they recognize it as clearly as I do!” go to an all-you-can-eat buffet!
Fasting reveals the measure a created thing’s mastery over us – whether it be food, money, entertainment, politics, sex, etc.
Fasting can be both our testing ground and God’s healing ground.
Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
God created us in His image not to be mastered by any created thing but by our Creator. Immediately after giving us this “Creation Mandate,” God goes directly into the food he has given us to consume.
Then in Genesis 3 it is not enough for us to be made in the image of God, we wanted to be God! Sin inverted everything. Instead of the serpent serving us, it deceives us. Instead of food becoming a gift, it becomes our master.
Jesus, the Bread of Life, came to save us when we could not save ourselves, but also satisfy us when nothing else can.
Whatever we submit to again and again to becomes more and more our master. The more we gladly submit to Christ, the more we will sense the Fruit of the Spirit. The more we stubbornly submit to the flesh, the more we will taste of the world’s bitterness.
Ultimately, all of this instruction is useless unless we have been born again!
MATTHEW 9:14-17 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
Jesus came eating and drinking because this was the great Jubilee of the Lord. The Lord had come! – “to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Why did Jesus come? To be our substitute and pay the full penalty of our sin on the cross; to reconcile us to the Father; to give us new life! Fasting in old garments and old wineskins cannot and will not lead to deeper worship and true transformation.
Fasting without knowing Christ is like trying to starve a corpse. In the corpse’s current state, no amount of physical food will bring it back to life. Only a soul brought to life by Christ, nurtured by the Bread of Life, filled by the Spirit of God, and directed by the Word of God, will come to fasting and prayer with the right motive – to experience more of God’s reign and God’s love in our lives. Let us rend not just our garments to our Good God, but our all of our hearts as well.