The Way to Spiritual Growth-


Spiritual Lunchbox

Fasting is an often neglected key to drawing closer to God. Here's how you can effectively use fasting as a powerful spiritual tool.

By Robert J. Millman

Since ancient times, fasting has been an intregal part of worshiping God!  

Humanity, however, has been misled and confused about the true meaning and purpose of fastiing.

Pagans associated fasting with penance and self denial. First-Century Judaism turned it toward ritual and public display. Modern Christianity, for the most part, has discarded it as unnecessary.

The Church of God,  however recognizes that fasting continues to be important, not just on  the  Day of Atonement, but throughout the year.

Just what is fasting? According to the Bible, to fast means to abstain from all food and water for a certain period of time (Jonah 3:5-7). Juice fasts, health fasts and the like may offer physical benefits, but they are not appropriate for the Day of Alonement oe other times set aside for a spiritual fast. Notice that  everyone is commanded to fast on the Day of Atonement  (Leviticus   23:29) Our Creator knows that it is possible for us to live without food and water for at least one day.

Why fast?

God, in both the Old and the New Testament commanded His people to fast (Leviticus   23:29,   Matthew 6:16-18). He, as our Creator, says that fasting  is good for us. He should know! He intends us to learn  valuable spiritual lessons from fasting.

"What spiritual good could missing three or more meals possibly do anyone?" you  may be asking.

Intellectually, we may confess to God tlat we are weak sinful and desperately in need of His strength, guidance and correction. But saying something in prayer and actually understanding it in the depths of our being are two different things.

Job testified after his long trial: "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,  but  now  my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor my self and repent in dust and ashes" {Job 42:5-6).

We may kneel and pray daily for the strength to live God's way. We we may pray for the faith to depend on God to work out our problems, and for help in
conducting ourselves in total harmony with His law. Yet we rise from prayer, go our way and tackle the day in a manner not quite that ideal.

Why do we fall short?

Our minds are constantly struggling against God's guidance (Romans 8:7). Even after the Spirit of God enters to enlighten us and allow understanding to flood into our minds, a battle still rages within us, as Paul so eloquently   explained   in   Romans 7:16-18.

Jeremiah understood the human capacity for self-justification and self-deception when God inspired him to write. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).

God understands us. And, if we will draw closer to Him through fasting, as He directs. He can help us to understand ourselves more fully.

When we fast, our hunger is a sharp reminder that we are just human desperately dependent on God's good earth, with it's soil and rain, to sustain our existence. Denied these necessities, we would soon die and degenerate into mere dust.

How unimpressive we are, feeling light-headed and suffering from bad breath and fatigue afterjust one day of fasting! How humbling to realize that without nourishment from the soil beneath our feet, our minds quickly become disoriented.

Deprived of nourishment for any substantial length of time, our minds would become incapable of rational thought. Yes. we may admit to God in prayer that we're not really very impressive, but when we fast, we feel it.

Getting the right perspective

Just how may we keep a godly perspective on life? How can we avoid the pitfalls of self-reliance, self-confidence and self-rightcousness?

David said. "I humbled myself with fasting" (Psalm 35:13). Could you profit by following the example of a man whom God said was  "after  His  own   heart"   (I Samuel 13:14)?

The situation is urgent! James warns and exhorts that "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:6-8).

How do we draw near  to God?

James continues: "Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up" (verses 9-10).

James prescribes tasting.

Compare the use of the words afflict (Leviticus 23:27), mourn (Matthew 9:14-15), weep (Zechariah 7:1-5) and humbled (Psalm 35:13). They all indicate fasting.

Read the fourth chapter of James and note how James links the process of drawing closer to God with the need to fast.

The right attitude in fasting

Although people have fasted for many reasons, there is only one purpose God accepts. That is to "rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God" (Joel 2:13). Our motive in fasting must be to humble and submit ourselves more fully to God.

God respects those who set their hearts to seek His will and direction in their lives. He respects those who want to bring themselves more fully in line with His way of thinking and living (Isaiah 66:3).

However, fasting to get God to side with us or take our part in an argument just won't work. Fasting just to get His attention is also futile (Isaiah 58:3-4).

Jesus explained the great purpose for fasting. We read in Matthew 9:14-15:

"Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bride groom  will  be taken away   from them, and then they will fast."

While He was on earth, Jesus" disciples enjoyed close daily communication with Him. His teaching,  inspiration and encouragement were readily at hand.

But once He returned to heaven, it became more difficult for them to be in harmony with His thinking and clearly understand His will for their daily lives.
 That is why Jesus foretold their need for diligent fasting. Fasting provided the closeness and understanding they had achieved when He had been with them
in person.

We should be fasting for that same reason. It is appropriate that we are directed to fast on the Day of Atonement, which pictures the time when Jesus and all His disciples will finally be brought together in complete harmony (at-one-ment).

God responds when we fast

Make no mistake — fasting is something God notices and takes seriously. He does respond!

God hears all our prayers, but He takes particular notice of our fastings. Daniel fasted for 21 days before he received an answer, but God assured him that his petition had been considered from the very beginning of his fast (Daniel 9:23). Ours can be. too, because our fasting shows God we are sincere about seeking Him.

Consider the story of Ahab. The prophet Elijah spent many years witnessing to Ahab and the kingdom of Israel Ahab didn't respond. In fact: "There was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the Lord" (I Kings 21:25).

Elijah's final warning about what was to happen to Ahab's household, though, did produce some results. Ahab "tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his body and fasted and lay in sackcloth, and went about mourning" (.verse 27).

When he began fasting, God saw  that Ahab was sincerely  repentant. The promised punishment was postponed until after Ahab's death. If God had mercy on Ahab. He will certainly respond to our coming before Him in heartfelt, contrite fasting and prayer.

Ahab's contemporary in the southern kingdom of Judah was King Jehoshaphat. When faced with an invasion, Jehoshaphat tried something unique in the annals of military strategy; "And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord" (II Chronicles 20:3-4).

Men, women, children — everyone fasted. God's answer came quickly, They were told to go out to meet the invaders, trusting in God to settle the matter for them (verses 16-17).

When Jehoshaphat led his people  out  the  next  day,  they came  upon  a  strange sight.  The invaiders had turned against each other, and   the  entire  army   lay dead before them. The citizens of Judah gathered up the spoils and returned home. What a spectacular answer to their fast!

Fasting shows God that we, like Jehoshaphat. are willing to rely on His strength and not our own physical resources, because we understand that our own resources will quickly fail us.

Dedicated to God

Fasting is a powerful testimony to God that we want to turn from our own sinful, vain ways and give our lives to Him for His use (Romans 12:1). Fasting shows that we urgently want to be dedicated to God, and not to the things of this world.

Paul speaks of a fast as a time to "give yourselves to fasting and prayer," even breaking off normal marital relations (I Corinthians 7:5), thereby showing our intent to turn from everything physical to all that is spiritual.

God responds to attitudes like this! Notice God's promise of spiritual  blessings: "Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing  shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you. .  . The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones, you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail" (Isaiah 58:8,11).

by Robert J Millman  reprinted from the Good News Magazine May 1984

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