"FASTING"

INTRODUCTION
1. In a previous lesson we have defined spiritual disciplines as...
    a. Spiritual exercises that bring one closer to God, to become more
        godly in character and behavior
    b. Spiritual activities such as prayer, meditation, fasting, singing,
        giving, etc.
2. Previous studies examined the disciplines of...
    a. Prayer - especially the value of secret, simple, and steadfast
        prayer
    b. Meditation - contemplating on God, His works, His words, and
        things worthy of virtue
3. A discipline closely tied to prayer in the Scriptures is that of
    fasting...
    a. Practiced by men of God - Ezr 8:21; Neh 1:4; Dan 9:3; Mt 4:2
    b. Observed by the early church - Ac 13:1-3; 14:23; 2Co 6:5; 11:27
4. But some questions may come to mind...
    a. What exactly is fasting?
    b. Why would Christians fast?
    c. When would Christians fast?
    d. How should Christians fast?
5. This study will simply summarize the answers to such questions...
DISCUSSION
I. FASTING IN THE BIBLE
A. IN THE OLD TESAMENT...
     1. Only one fast was commanded in the Law of Moses - Lev 16:29;
         23:27-29; Num 29:7
         a. The phrase "afflict your soul" refers to fasting - cf. Psa 69:10
         b. Note also Ac 27:9 (where the Fast refers to the Day of
             Atonement)
     2. But the Israelites (and others) fasted on many other occasions
         a. In war, or at the threat of it - Judg 20:26; 1Sa 7:6
         b. When loved ones were sick - 2Sa 12:16-23; Ps 35:11-13
         c. When loved ones died - 1Sa 31:13; 1Ch 10:12; 2Sa 1:12
         d. When they sought God's forgiveness - Jon 3:4-10; Dan 9:3-5;
             Neh 9:1-3
         e. When faced with impending danger - 2Ch 20:3; Ezr 8:21;
             Neh 1:4; Es 4:3,16
         f. To commemorate certain calamities - cf. Zec 7:3; 8:19
     3. The purpose of fasting
         a. Some fasting was a natural reaction to grief over the loss
             of a loved one
         b. More often, fasting was done purposely to "afflict the soul"
              - Lev 23:27-29
         c. The purpose was to "humble" or "chasten" the soul
             - Psa 35:13; 69:10
         d. By so humbling themselves, they hoped to incur God's favor
             - Ezr 8:21-23; cf. Isa 57:15; 66:1-2
         e. Because they sought God's favor, fasting usually was
             accompanied with prayer
     4. The nature of fasting
         a. Fasting generally involved abstaining from food but not
             water
         b. Sometimes the fast was partial - a restriction of diet, not
             total abstention - cf. Dan 10:2-3
         c. On rare occasions there was the absolute fast - Jon 3:5-10;
             Es 4:16; cf. Ac 9:9
         d. The absolute fasts of Moses and Elijah must have been
             miraculous - Deut 9:9; 1Ki 19:8
     5. The length of fasting
         a. A fast was often for one day, from sunrise to sunset, and
             after sundown food would be taken - Judg 20:26; 2Sa 1:12;
             3:35
         b. A fast might be for one night (hence the term, "breakfast")
             - Dan 6:18
         c. The fast of Esther continued for three days, day and night,
             which seems to have been a special case - Es 4:16
         d. At Saul's burial, the fast by Jabesh-Gilead was seven days
             - 1Sa 31:13; 1Ch 10:12
         e. David fasted seven days when his child was ill - 2Sa 12:
             16-18
         f. The longest fasts were the forty day fasts by Moses, Elijah,
            and Jesus - Exo 34:28; Deut 9:9; 1Ki 19:8; Mt 4:2; Lk 4:2
     6. Warnings regarding fasting
         a. Fasting can easily turn into an external show and ceremonial
             ritualism
         b. When it did, God and His prophets spoke out against it
             - Isa 58:1-9; Zec 7:1-14
     -- Though subject to abuse, fasting played an important role in
         the life of Israel
B. FASTING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT...
     1. In the life of Jesus
         a. He fasted forty days in the wilderness - Mt 4:1-2; Lk 4:1-2
         b. He taught concerning fasting in His sermon on the mount
             - Mt 6:16-18
         c. He implied His disciples would fast after His death - Mk 2:
             18-20; Lk 5:33-35
         d. He spoke of the combined power of fasting and prayer
             - Mt 17:14-21
     2. In the life of the early church
         a. Members of the church at Antioch served the Lord with
             fasting - Ac 13:1-2
         b. Elders were appointed in the churches of Galatia with
             fasting - Ac 14:21-23
     3. In the life of Paul
         a. He fasted prior to his baptism - Ac 9:9
         b. He fasted as part of his ministry - 2Co 6:4-10; 11:23-28
         c. He described how fasting might be appropriate for others
             - 1Co 7:5
     4. In the lives of others
         a. Anna - Lk 2:36-37
         b. Cornelius - Ac 10:30-31
     -- Through both precept and example, the New Testament has 
         much to say about fasting
[Both Jews and Gentiles, Christians and non-Christians, practiced the
spiritual discipline of fasting in Bible times.  Should Christians fast
today?  I believe there is a place for fasting today...]
II. WHY WOULD CHRISTIANS FAST?
A. PEOPLE FAST TODAY FOR VARIOUS REASONS...
     1. Some purposefully, for health reasons
     2. Some without thinking, in times of grief and sorrow
     3. Others, in an effort to gain some kind of self-control
     -- But these are not reasons Christian should fast in their
         service to God - Col 2:20-23
B. CHRISTIANS SHOULD FAST TO SEEK GOD'S HELP...
     1. This is consistent with the majority of fasting in the OT
         a. In times of war or at the threat of it (Israel)
         b. When loved ones were sick (David)
         c. When seeking God's forgiveness (Ahab, Daniel)
         d. When seeking God's protection (Ezra)
     2. This is consistent with the examples of fasting in the NT
         a. When dealing with temptations (Jesus)
         b. When serving the Lord (Antioch)
         c. When beginning a work for the Lord (Antioch)
         d. When selecting and appointing elders (Galatia)
     -- There is certainly apostolic example for Christians to fast
         today
[If fasting has a place in the Christian life, then let's look more
closely at...]
III. WHEN WOULD CHRISTIANS FAST?
A. WHENEVER CIRCUMSTANCES REQUIRE GOD'S HELP...
     1. These may be occasions on an individual level
         a. When faced with difficult temptations
         b. When faced with the serious illness of a loved one
     2. These occasions might be on a congregational level
         a. As when appointing elders
         b. As when sending out missionaries
     -- Not as some ceremonious ritual, but when appropriate for the
         occasion
B. WHENEVER CIRCUMSTANCES CALL FOR MUCH  
     PRAYER...
     1. Is not God more likely to answer our  prayers if we are
         persistent? - cf. Lk 18:1-8
     2. Is not God more likely to respond if we fast in the proper
         manner? - cf. Mt 6:17-18
     -- This may be why fasting is frequently joined with prayer in 
         the Scriptures
[Whenever there are matters requiring much prayer, fasting along with
prayer is appropriate.  Finally, let's take a look at...]
IV. HOW SHOULD CHRISTIANS FAST?
A. SOME BIBLICAL WARNINGS...
     1. Not to be seen of men - Mt 6:16-18
     2. Not as some regular ritual - cf. Mt 9:14-17
     3. Not without true repentance - cf. Isa 58:3-9
     -- To be effective, fasting must take such warnings seriously
B. SOME PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS...
     1. Don't fast just because it sounds like a neat thing to do
         a. Take the subject seriously
         b. Fast only when the occasion is a serious one
         c. One in which you deeply desire God's help
     2. If you have never fasted before...
         a. Start slow, fasting only for brief periods of time
         b. End slow, gradually breaking your fast with fresh fruits and
             vegetables in small amounts
     3. Fast when you have time to spend in prayerful meditation
         a. Remember the purpose for fasting
             1) To humble oneself in God's sight
             2) To seek favorable answer to prayer for some important
                 plea
         b. Thus fast when you have time
             1) To pray
             2) To meditate
         c. Remember fasting can be:
             1) Partial abstention from food, not necessarily complete
             2) Just for one day or night, not necessarily for days and
                 nights
     -- Fasting is not an end, but a means to an end; a way to humble
         oneself before God
CONCLUSION
1. Views about fasting have often been extreme...
    a. "Some have exalted religious fasting beyond all Scripture and
         reason, and others have utterly disregarded it." - John Wesley
    b. Some consider fasting unnecessary, therefore to be ignored; 
        others think fasting is to be bound as a matter of faith (like
        baptism)
    c. For the Christian, fasting is left primarily to individual
        discretion
2. When properly understood, fasting can be a valuable spiritual
    discipline...
    a. A way to humble oneself before God
    b. When joined with prayer, a way to solicit God's help
3. As we seek to exercise ourselves unto godliness (2Ti 4:7), consider 
    the practice of fasting as an appropriate complement to prayer and
    meditation...