Jesus said, “Then shall they fast,” Mark 2: 20, Luke 5:35.
Let me begin this chapter by first suggesting that you not be afraid of this simple old Bible doctrine which has been neglected so long until it sounds new to the average person.
Big Jim Elliot, who was killed by the Auca Indians, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” As in everything, the Bible is the final authority for or against any subject. Fasting is no exception. Moses fasted forty days at one time and then forty days at another before receiving the wonderful Word of God. Elijah fasted forty days and Jesus fasted forty days so we see a picture of the law, the prophets, and grace, which is the fulfillment of both the law and the prophets.
Even though eating is necessary, we would all agree that eating has gotten a lot of people into trouble. Eve ate the forbidden fruit. The flood was preceded by a people that were busy eating and drinking. The children of Israel, under Aaron’s leadership, sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play and they danced around the golden calf. Isaac wanted one more meal and thereby sought to mix the carnal with the spiritual in giving the final blessing to his sons.
Eating and drinking is one of the certain signs of the soon return of the Saviour. Cafes by the thousands and even cafeterias are open twenty-four hours a day! The center of attraction in the average church is the kitchen and the dining room in spite of the fact that Paul said to eat at home. The Bible has nothing to say about eating at the church, but it has a lot to say about fasting. Yet, we practice the one that’s not mentioned and poke fun at the one that is mentioned.
Let me first give you the Scriptural illustrations in the Bible concerning fasting and then some practical suggestions about how to fast and when to fast. The great revivals that we read about in the Bible were preceded by fasting. Nehemiah sat down and wept and mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. That was the beginning of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and the mighty revival as recorded in the 8th chapter of Nehemiah when the Bible was read and the people wept and repented,which brought about a holy day and the great statement, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10.
Look at Ezra 8:21, “Then I proclaimed a fast there … to seek of Him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.” Verse 23, “So we fasted and besought our God for this: and He was intreated of us.” In Isaiah 58:6 the fast is “to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free.”
The old wicked city of Nineveh, with its teeming thousands, fell on its face to fast and revival came in less time than it would take to clean the streets of that city. The great prophet Daniel, with his long range vision, received his wisdom while fasting. “And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession.” Daniel 9:3. And then in verses 20 through 22, we find Daniel receiving the wisdom and understanding from the man Gabriel. Praise the Lord, Gabriel was caused to fly swiftly at the response of a man who would pray and fast and confess his sin!
Now remember, the theme of this book is not just to strengthen folks physically, except as it leads them to surrender their lives to Jesus for real spiritual service, which of course is reasonable. Again, let me say that the physical body has no essential importance apart from the purpose and design of God and the direction of the Holy Spirit. In the Book of Esther, we find that the entire nation of Israel was delivered from impending doom and death and destruction because Esther and Mordecai called a fast.
Now let’s see what Jesus said about fasting. He certainly left no doubt concerning this great truth in that He fasted Himself. He simply warns us against hypocritical fasting, appearing unto men to fast, or bragging about a fast. The abuse of fasting has been seen in fasting unto men instead of unto God. Let me say right here that just separation from food, even though it may be a blessing to you physically and it will be, will not achieve spiritual purposes unless we fast unto the Lord.
One of the dangers in fasting is to go a day without food and then eat twice as much the next day to catch up. Another is to worry about yourself or be disturbed about your appetite and refuse to pray and read the Bible and think in spiritual terms. It would make the average person or home over if once a week the time it takes to cook a meal and eat it would be spent in Bible reading and prayer and real dedication. And then if the money that the meal would cost would be given to missions, it would be amazing at the amount of money that would be given to missions. I’ve asked our radio friends to just fast one meal a month and send that gift to help buy food for the alcoholics and drug addicts that have spent all in riotous living.
One of the reasons I know that fasting is right is because there is such rebellion against it, even on the part of church people. The average preacher pokes fun at fasting and prefers the subject not to be discussed in his pulpit. Jesus made two statements that would convince any fair mind that fasting is right when He said, “They will fast.” And then on the other occasion, in Matthew 17: 21, He said to His disturbed and embarrassed disciples, after a stinging rebuke about their inability to heal the child, “This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.”
Look at that mighty revival book of Joel with its stirring call to repentance and the announcement of impending doom, calling the people to fast, including all the little ones – Joel 2. And then, my friend, if anybody ought to fast, the Gentiles ought to fast for these reasons: Simon Peter, a devoted Jew, was fasting when he got his call to go to the Gentile, Cornelius, Acts 10: 20.
In Acts 13, we see the origin of the mission program beginning as the church fasted and the Holy Ghost said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” And as you know, Paul became the missionary to the Gentiles and magnified his office. Paul and the mariners, as recorded in Acts 27, fasted fourteen days. It was then that the angels stood by them in the night, saying, “Fear not, Paul . . . God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” And Paul said, “Be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.” Fasting will help to carry you through the storm when it is linked with believing prayer.
We like to quote from the prince of preachers, Paul, but our flesh shrinks back when we read II Corinthians 11:23-28 in which we hear him say, “In fastings often.” In Luke 2:37, Anna “served God with fastings.” In II Corinthians 6:4-5, “Approving ourselves . . . in fastings.” My beloved, these are enough Scriptures and examples to convince any skeptical doubter with a fair mind and an open heart.
The Psalmist said, “I humbled my soul with fasting.” There’s nothing that cuts away and burns away the proud flesh like fasting. Paul went so far as to say that the belly could become one’s god and calls them the enemies of the cross. In Philippians 3:18, he said that there are many of them. Even though we may decorate, glamorize, glorify, spray cologne on this old flesh, Paul still calls it, “Our vile body.” Philippians 3:21.
Oh, at the time we spend, and unnecessarily so, trying to pacify the flesh and the older the flesh gets, the more it takes to pacify it. When a baby is born, after a few weeks, any little old toy or rubber pacifier stuck in its mouth will make it happy. But as it grows older, it takes a little train, a tricycle, a wagon, a bicycle, a scooter, an automobile, and then instead of a rubber pacifier, it takes a cigarette or a cigar. No wonder Paul said, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing.”
Now let’s look at the practical side and make some suggestions. When should a person fast? How long should they fast? Should they drink anything while they fast? How should they break the fast? What should they do while they are fasting? These are good questions. Now let me try to answer them to your satisfaction. First of all, when should I fast? Well, I believe that is a personal matter. I would suggest that you fast one day a week. However, this would be altered by the burdens that come, the leadership of the Spirit, and the spiritual needs you may face.
Many times one needs to go on a semi-fast or maybe a fruit fast or natural food fast for a week just to tone up his physical system and give his body a chance to clean house. If I were to feel a sore throat coming on, I may fast three or four days. If I have an affliction of some sort that comes unannounced, I will fast and pray and read my Bible until it’s gone and have God’s people, of course, to pray for me and pray with me.
If God leads you to go on an extended fast, don’t be afraid of it. Fasting does not cause weakness primarily, but it is the poison in the system that rises forth. For instance, if you go without your cup of coffee or cola drink, you begin to get a headache. That’s your system crying out for what it has been used to getting. A Christian has no need to be a slave to a habit like that when Jesus breaks every fetter and sets the captive free.
John Wesley and other great Christians of all the ages have practiced fasting. He said when he felt his power waning and a coldness coming over his heart, he fasted and prayed a few days and God heard and answered. You know, it’s strange, but we quote these great men of God as though they were some super duper creation when actually, they were made out of the same kind of dirt we are made out of, except they just lived surrendered and kept the flesh humble by fasting and prayer and obedience to God.
A complete fast is going without any sort of food or liquid, including water. Nineveh did that. Most of the time, I think it is good to drink plenty of water and by that I mean pure water. Sometimes unsweetened fruit juice is good for our systems and at other times a little taste of honey which is so pure and such a natural sweet that it does not interfere with the cleansing process of the system. Personally, I think it would be a very healthy thing for one to go on a juice fast for a number of days every once in a while, drinking fruit juices first and then going on to vegetable juices. At least, I’ve found it to be very helpful to me.
Again, let me say, it is not the amount of food that you eat, but the kind of food and the condition of your body when it receives it. I find that one meal a day is ample when you have the right kind of juices and fruits. I think it is well to rest and relax when fasting, especially on an extended fast. Walking in the sunshine with deep breathing is very helpful.
The question is raised, “What about my children?” Begin to teach them at an early age to fast and when hunger becomes acute, give them a piece of fruit or a glass of juice. Teach them what the Bible says about it, but don’t give them milk when they are fasting. I found out after the age of thirty that I could learn to like anything if it was good for me. It is a matter of disciplining your appetite.
Let me remind you again that white flour makes a good paste. The devil has sought to take everything that was a symbol of Christ and corrupt it. For instance, bread. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” Look at the condition of the bread today. Jesus said, “I am the light.” And so the beer company says, “Get the light idea.” Even the liquor stores have lighted themselves up with plenty of light. The Word of God is pure. Now there is a beer put out that claims to be pure. Also, the Gospel is certified. There’s a beer that is put out that says it is certified. No wonder Paul said that the devil appears as an angel of light.
When breaking a fast, be careful not to overeat. Eat a fruit salad or a vegetable salad. Vegetable salads can become the broom to sweep out the stomach. It makes fasting a lot better if the whole family agrees on it and would set up a time when they fast. But if the whole family does not, just exercise your will power and fast anyhow. Don’t fuss and argue about it and certainly steer away from a self-righteous attitude or the spirit of condemnation upon those who will not fast because you certainly miss your blessing. When fasting becomes Pharisaical, it becomes sinful.
I think it is a sin to eat when we are not hungry, in spite of the old-fashioned suggestion, “Well, eat to keep from getting hungry.” Eating when one is not hungry is like putting gasoline in the tank when the tank is already full.
In closing this chapter, let me urge you to pray about it and to begin to practice it and then notice the blessings, physically, mentally, financially, and spiritually that will be yours. Isaiah says you can fast and get the heavy burden loosed. Daniel fasted for wisdom. Nehemiah fasted for the rebuilding of the walls and a revival in Jerusalem. Nineveh fasted and was saved from destruction. I believe Pentecost was preceded by ten days of fasting and praying. The missionary program was launched after fasting. Jesus said there is a certain kind of ministry that can only go out by prayer and fasting. Paul fasted often. Two hundred seventy-six mariners were saved through the fasting and praying of one man. All of God’s men of deeper experiences fasted – why don’t we?
I believe there is no disease known to man but what the right kind of food, fasting, and faith, along with the Word of God, could heal. Disease feeds on the wrong kind of food. If cancer does not get its food, it will die. In our body are two kinds of germs – bad and good. If the bad are not fed, they cannot live. That’s why I say you never catch colds – colds catch you. If these other faithful soldiers (good germs) are strong and properly fed, when the bad germs make the attack, they don’t have a chance. We call this resistance against disease. Weather has nothing to do with your sickness or disease if your body is strong. It may precipitate a cold or spell of sickness, but it is never the cause of it.
In conclusion, let’s practice what Paul talked about in I Corinthians 9:27, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”