Friday, May 31, 2013

To Fast, or Not to Fast

One aspect of pre-expedition training that our team members go through in preparing for ministering internationally includes fasting. Frankly, it’s not one of the parts most team members look forward to. Yet, I’m reminded of why our Lord loves children when I think of a nine-year-old girl whose mom told her that team preparation included fasting. Her response must have delighted God: “Can we do it today? I’ve never done that before; it’ll be fun!” Oh, out of the mouths of babes.

As we prepare our teams for one the most important parts of our expedition training – four days of prayer and fasting (no, not in a row), we share with them about this discipline of the faith.

Food, Glorious Food

So, what is biblical fasting?
The basic root meaning of the Greek word for fasting, nesteia, simply means “not to eat.”  Why did people in the Bible “not eat”?  Leviticus 16:29 says that fasting is synonymous with “afflicting one’s soul.”  For the Hebrews, fasting was more than afflicting one’s body, but also one’s soul. 

Biblical fasting is “not eating” with spiritual communication in mind.   In the Bible, fasting always occurs together with prayer. Biblical fasting is deliberately abstaining from food for a spiritual reason: communication and relationship with the Father. It should not be done with the mindset of attaining things, but rather of drawing closer to God Who has shown mercy and grace to us.  We fast to subdue our fallen flesh, so we can commune closely with our Lord.

Not Commanded, but Expected
When Jesus spoke of fasting, he did not say, “if you fast,” but “when you fast” (Matthew 6:16).  Our Lord assumes that Christians will fast. 

God said, “When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you” (Jeremiah 29:13-14).  When you are willing to set aside the legitimate appetites of the body to concentrate on the work of praying, you are demonstrating that you mean business, that you are seeking God with all your heart.

Fasting puts things in proper focus.  It is a physical way of saying, “Food and the things of this life are not as important to me right now as __________________.”

Getting Right with God First
We cannot fast and pray expecting God to bless when there is known sin in our lives.  Fasting does not impress God with our spirituality to the point that He ignores our disobedience.  Genuine fasting will always cause us to examine our hearts to make sure everything is right with Him. Also, fasting does not serve to change God’s mind, speed up His answer, or manipulate His will.

Fasting Specifics
Our team fasting is a time of connecting with the Lord, not legalism. Therefore, we provide guidelines for the team and encourage them to keep whatever commitment they make to the Lord. This liquid-only fast is from from 7am-7pm, but some team members chose to do a 24-hour fast. Some have health issues or are training athletically, so we suggest protein shakes. Again, the purpose is to seek God; to spend the time praying when you normally would be eating; to pray, and hunger reminds you to pray; to die to our own desires; to rely on God to do whatever it is you committed to do before the Lord.

Because it’s a corporate fast, we send an email to team members with the prayer focus for the fast. We encourage team members to invite their support team to join them in praying and/or fasting on the prayer/fast days. They can forward the prayer focus email to their supporters. 

Preparing for Fasting Success
Because fasting is a new experience for most team members, we provide tips for success. We caution them to be prepared for some dizziness, headaches, or nausea in the early going and encourage them to break their fast gradually with a light and easy meal to digest. They are encouraged to enter fasting with a positive faith that God will reward those who fast with the right motives. Jesus promised that “when you fast, your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:18). Of course, we need to avoid the temptation to grumble; when tempted to complain about being hungry, take a “heart check.” Sometime during the fast, it is good mix fasting with prayer, time in Scripture reading, singing, or devotional reading. Remember, fasting is not an end in itself. Seek the Lord, not the experience of fasting. Check your motives concerning your fasting. Hypocrisy and spiritual pride can easily creep in. There is a reward for fasting, but only for fasting done with the right motives: “Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28).

Will You Join Us?
We have two more prayer and fast days before we depart for Uganda June 20. We would be honored to have you partner with us by fasting and praying. If you would like to do that, send us an email, and we will send you the prayer focus for the day.

Remember, God wants to use this precious prayer and fast time to intensify our desire for Him, reveal His will, and grant understanding and peace.  

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