FASTING - Isaiah 58:1-12

Due to technical difficulties, this sermon was not recorded. Here are some of the notes:

Fasting is the voluntary abstinence from food (or other legitimate needs or activities) for spiritual purposes.

I. THE PURPOSE OF FASTING

In Isaiah 58:1-2, God calls his people out for their sins. Verse 3 shows us that they expect God to reward them for their religious practices (such as fasting). ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ God tells them that they are using their religious to cover up the true state of their hearts, which are far from him. Jesus has similar words of rebuke in Matthew 6:16: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward."

The irony is that fasting, like the other spiritual disciplines, is actually designed to expose our hearts, not cover them up.

Fasting reveals the things that control us. It reminds us that the things of God’s creation are meant for our enjoyment, not our enslavement. Food, money, sex - God made all of those things, and he gave them to us as gifts to be enjoyed in their proper place and context, and their proper priority in our lives. But in our sinfulness we have a tendency to make these lesser things into primary things, and when we do, they take over. They can enslave us. And they make poor slave masters. Whatever consumes us will eventually control us.

Here are some diagnostic questions to consider:

  • Have you ever missed out on a conversation or event with a loved one because you couldn’t look away from your phone, the TV, or some other distraction?
  • Have you ever tried to silence the shame of your lust by diving into porn?
  • Have you ever tried to ease the pain of your financial struggles by going shopping?
  • Have you ever eaten your way out of feeling bad about overeating?
  • Have you ever doused your regrets over addiction by getting drunk or high?

Fasting is the opposite of all of that, and it’s actually the gospel in action.
It’s God’s gift to us, in order to snap us out of those lies that we tell ourselves.

On the show FIXER UPPER, Chip gets into the house on "demo day" and as he starts peeling back the layers he often finds a deeper problem that needs addressing that couldn't be seen before. Fasting is like that. It can be hard, it can be painful, and it can expose some ugly realities about our hearts. But it’s so wonderful when the Great Rehabilitator gets in there and starts uprooting what’s there in order to rebuild us into something much more beautiful: the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

2. THE PRACTICE OF FASTING

The Bible shows us different types of fasting:

  • There are “partial fasts,” where you restrict your diet in some way.
  • There are “normal fasts,” where you go without food (solid or liquid) but still drink water.
  • There are “absolute fasts,” where someone in the Bible goes without food or water for a short period. (Some of these were clearly supernatural, such as when Moses went without food or water for 40 days.)

Here are just some of the examples of fasting in the Bible:

  • Abraham's servant fasted when he was seeking a bride for Isaac
  • Moses fasted on several occasions
  • Hannah fasted as she prayed for a child
  • David fasted on several occasions
  • Elijah fasted after his victory over Jezebel
  • Ezra fasted when he was mourning Israel's faithlessness
  • Nehemiah fasted when he was preparing the trip back to Israel
  • Esther fasted when God's people were threatened with extermination
  • Daniel fasted on numerous occasions
  • The people of Nineveh fasted, including the cattle, in response to Jonah’s preaching
  • Jesus fasted when he began his public ministry
  • Paul fasted at the point of his conversion
  • The Christians at Antioch fasted when they sent off Paul and Barnabas on their mission endeavor
  • Paul and other apostles and church leaders fasted when they appointed elders in all of the churches

Here are some steps to help you get started:

  1. Start small (perhaps a partial fast of 2 meals, such as skipping dinner one night and breakfast the next morning - a 24-hour lunch-to-lunch fast).
  2. Plan what you'll do instead (prayer and meditation on God's Word, serving others, etc).
  3. Try different kinds of fasting (personal or communal, with others; occasional or regular).
  4. Fast from other things besides food (smartphone, social media, etc).
  5. Look for the deeper rewards (it's not about calling attention to your hunger, it's about God using this discipline to work in you and through you).

Listen to this example of a woman who started fasting regularly and journaled her way through it: 

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  1. I felt it a great accomplishment to go a whole day without food. Congratulated myself on the fact that I found it so easy…
  2. Began to see that the above was hardly the goal of fasting. Was helped in this by beginning to feel hunger…
  3. Began to relate the food fast to other areas of my life where I was more compulsive… 
  4. Reflected more on Christ’s suffering and the suffering of those who are hungry and have hungry babies…
  5. Six months after beginning the fast discipline… For the first time... I began to think about what it meant to surrender one’s life.

– Elizabeth O’Connor, Search for Silence

3. THE PROMISE OF FASTING

  • Fasting helps to align our hearts with God's heart.

Isaiah 58:6: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?" As you fast, you will have a growing concern for the things that God is concerned about. 

Charles Spurgeon , pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, wrote: “Our seasons of fasting and prayer at the Tabernacle have been high days indeed; never has Heaven’s gate stood wider; never have our hearts been nearer the central Glory.” What could happen in and through Cross Creek if we were to truly become a fasting and praying church?

  • Fasting reminds us that it is God alone who satisfies.

Isaiah 58:11: "And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail." When we fast, we are resetting our hearts on God in an intense way. We are saying to God, God, 'may I never look to the things of this world to satisfy me as only you can!'

Jesus loved food. He began his ministry with a fast, but his ministry was characterized by feasting. The gospels are filled with stories of him at dinner parties, turning water into wine, dining with friends, with strangers, with enemies, with religious people, with sinners and prostitutes and tax collectors. Why?

He wanted us to know where we could find true satisfaction. Where we could find the bread of life, and the water that will never run dry. It’s in him, the one who, on the cross cried out “I thirst!” The one who emptied himself in order that we would be made full.

And when he rose again, one of the first things he did was make breakfast for his friends. And one day, he tells us, we’ll dine with him at the great Wedding Feast, the most wonderful, beautiful, feast of all time!

This is who our Savior is, and this is what his Kingdom is like! Come to Jesus and may your hungry heart be satisfied to the full.