September 28, 2012
A Diet in Jesus’ Name?
By Skip Heitzig
We focus a lot on food. Eating is one of our favorite pastimes, and we talk a lot about food. There are even place names that are foods. There’s Two Egg, Florida… Bacon, Delaware… Pancake, Texas… Hot Coffee, Mississippi.
One thing you don’t hear a lot about today is fasting. But did you know the Bible mentions fasting more times (nearly 60!) than even the “important” subjects like baptism?
Fasting is not a “diet in Jesus’ name.” It’s not a way to lose weight and be blessed. Fasting is done for spiritual motives.
In the Bible, fasting was done in times of danger, like when Esther was preparing to approach the king of Persia (see Esther 4). It’s a part of repentance: Both Daniel and Ezra fasted in response to the sins of the people, and the king of Nineveh ordered a fast when that city repented (see Jonah 3). Fasting was done in preparation for an important task or ministry. Jesus fasted 40 days and nights before He began His preaching ministry, and the apostles fasted before they sent Paul and Barnabas out (see Acts 13).
Fasting is a time when we take the focus off of ourselves, and put it on God and His will. (And that’s hard, in a culture where we worship self-reliance, self-determination, and self-worth!) Fasting reminds us that we belong to Him and that He owns us (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.). It’s a time when we discipline the body, and make our appetite our slave rather than our master.
In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus speaks of hypocritical motives for fasting. Note that he says “when you fast,” not “if.” Fasting is not to be for some group in a monastery; it’s to be the norm!
Jesus’ point was that God never fails to notice fasting that is heartfelt and genuine, and that He will reward it. (Note: We don’t fast to gain God’s favor or “twist His arm” so He will do something!) But how would God reward a fasting saint? Through deeper intimacy with Him. By letting us know His will. By giving us clarity of understanding in a difficult situation, or a new strategy for ministry.
There are benefits to fasting (and here I’m going from less to more spiritual):
Fasting is good for our health. During a prolonged fast, the body lives on surplus fat. It renews the body and the mind. It helps the body control weight and dispose of wastes.
It teaches us self-discipline. Many of us are slaves to habits, but fasting makes desire our slave rather than being our master. It reminds us we can live without a lot of things. The prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” will be more meaningful.
It helps us appreciate God's gifts more. Fasting helps us feel our dependence upon God in this affluent, self-sufficient society.
It helps us see the needs of others: Going without food gets us in touch with people who live that way every day. That will make our prayer life more effective as well as activate us to help.
Fasting is always accompanied with prayer, and it will boost your prayer life. It’ll sharpen our praying—it changes the way we pray…and perhaps the results.
The pleasures of eating are fleeting, but the pleasures of fasting are lasting!
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