I had been asked by my pastor to teach a couple of sessions out of one of the books from which he was yet to pick. When he named off the potential authors, I cringed internally as my pastor can turn anything into legalism. He settled on The Discipline of Fasting by Richard Foster.
Considering my understanding of discipline and the belt my father used to administer that obedience, my stomach was turning. Add to that a verbal image portrayed by the pastor, in which he told us that the shepherd would snap the leg of the sheep which kept running astray. I can’t remember anything about that story that would help to give it a redeeming quality. However, in relating this story to a friend recently, I pointed out how it was the shepherd’s purpose and intent to sale unblemished lambs to the surrounding Jewish community, a necessity for sacrifices. Having broken the lamb’s leg, it was now a cripple and unable to survive on its own. The shepherd was now responsible for this offending little one and would have to carry it to water, food, and set it down to do its normal business as all lambs do. In the process of holding and caring for this lamb, the shepherd and the lamb build a tight bond, one in which the lamb becomes fondly and permanently attached to the shepherd. I image that the shepherd could develop a strong attachment for that particular sheep. You should not have to dig that deep to figure out that the shepherd is Jesus in the larger picture, and, the pastor in the smaller picture. We are the “offending” sheep. I can remember thinking that this is not the God that I have come to know, and, I did not want this pastor to ever get that close to me, and yet he has. Most recently, he asked me to lead this book study.
Under the pretense of discussing the lesson that I was to teach, the pastor asked me a question that he did not want an answer to. The question was: Why do you teach on Eschatology so much, and where do you get your conclusions. (I suppose it is important to note that pastor has never heard me speak, nor does he know what I teach, therefore these questions were really based upon things I shared with him personally in a previous meeting.)
Considering that he never gave me the chance to refute his assertions I will defend my actions now. I teach on end times and eschatology because (1.) I have always wanted to understand. (2.) Having sat under a false teacher for about three years, during which time, he would focus on one thing for as much as six months. I would make notes and then go home and research his assertions to find out if they are in scripture; I could rarely find anything he claimed to be the truth. (3.) Having spent the majority of my life in churches, I became thoroughly disgusted with religion. The solution was to take my bible and read it for myself. I started doing this with a strong determination in 2007 when I started working for a building materials store. I cannot remember a day when I did not spend at least 30 to 45 minutes each day reading and writing. In writing I would make notes; challenge what I read, and ask God questions. Not surprisingly, God began to speak to me. In addition to reading my bible, I ran across an author named Joel Richardson. He had written a book called the Islamic Antichrist. After reading that book the bible just started to come alive; there was not a book of the Bible that gave me trouble after that. My friends, perhaps sarcastically, began to call me the expert on end times things. I don’t buy into that, but I am not afraid to answer questions, although some questions require a little research.
As to the concept of only teaching on Eschatology, my pastor, was himself in a semi-retirement, as I taught for almost a year on the book of John at another church.
So, with that introduction, I was supposed to lead the group discussion on Chapter 4, The Discipline of Fasting this last Wednesday. When I walked into the room pastor is the only one there. He had taken the seat at the center of the table, and I could not help but notice that he had notes on the same topic. An aspect I failed to mention, I gave him a copy of my notes, to which he blurted out, you can’t teach this, it’s too much. Again, he had no interest in asking my intent. He repeatedly said he was worried about what I was going to say and would I offend everyone. Apparently, he took actions into his own hands and pushed me out; blindsided, I said nothing.
Here is what I believe I would have taught.
On the subject of Fasting, can I speak from experience?
Yes, but for only three days.
In the second paragraph of chapter 4, Richard Foster tells us one of the reasons why there is a disregard of fasting.
“With the decline of the inward reality of the Christian faith, an increasing tendency to stress the only thing left, the outward form, developed.” Foster goes on to say, “And whenever there is a form devoid of spiritual power, the law will take over because law always carries with it a sense of security and manipulative power. Hence, fasting was subjected to the most rigid regulations and practiced with extreme self-mortification and flagellation.”
There is another aspect of this world that has distracted us from fasting, and that is Hedonism. Hedonism, according to the dictionary, is the pursuit of pleasure – sensual self-indulgence. It is the ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life.
Food falls into this category.
It almost sounds like I am advocating the law. However, operating under the law or laws is not what we are trying to convey.
Jesus, speaking to men under the law, said in Matthew 6:16-18
“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17) “But you when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18) so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. [NASB]
As Richard Foster explains, “these words of Jesus do not constitute a command. Jesus was giving instruction on the proper exercise of a common practice of his day.”
When we start to emphasize a discipline, a common argument heard within the church might be, we are not under the law and therefore have no clear mandate to fast. And yet, Richard Foster makes a good point when he says, “Our freedom in the gospel, however, does not mean license; it means opportunity. Since there are no laws to bind us, we are then free to fast on any day.”
Then what Biblical direction and encouragement do we have?
Jonah – The prophet eventually delivers a prophetic word to a hated people, hoping that they will be destroyed by God. God, however, had other plans.
Jonah 3:4-10 NASB Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5) Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. 6) When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. 7) He issued a proclamation and it said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. 8) “But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. 9) “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” 10) When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.
Richard Foster told us of Britain in 1756. The King of Britain called for a day of solemn prayer and fasting because of a threatened invasion by the French. John Wesley tells us “that every church in the city was more than full, and a solemn seriousness sat on every face.” That invasion wrote Wesley in one of his footnotes, was averted.
Look up the word fasting in the New Testament, and you will find instances such as this:
Matthew 17:21 Where Jesus said, “..this kind (of demon) does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
Whether the act of fasting makes you fearless, gives you power, or perhaps an insight into what is going on in peoples lives, or merely the knowledge that God has your back, I don’t know.
What gave the disciples the skills or abilities to cast out demons; perhaps Jesus had been schooling them in prayer and fasting. The evidence for this comes from Mark’s gospel, chapter 6, where we see Jesus sending out the disciples with the instructions that they had power over unclean spirits. What we don’t see is the fasting. However, we can safely assume that those who went out were equipped by example, for upon their return, they reported that the demons responded to their commands.
Mark 6:13 And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.
Luke 10:17 KJV And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.
Acts 13:2 While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
While fasting may have been a standard within the Jewish community from which they came, it still played a part in the clarity of decision, and prophetic word, that caused Barnabas and Saul to be sent out.
I want to point out 1 Corinthians 7:5 independently because translations have become part of the problem as we try to understand and perhaps integrate fasting back into our lives. The context of the verse is an admonition for marriages. In this case, the separation, perhaps under the guise of fasting (a Jewish tradition,) has been used to deprive the other of some relational aspect of the marriage. Paul, who knew too well that this takes place, instructed that in doing such, with the intent of punishing the other, opens the door to Satan because of their lack of self-control. Self-control? Yes, as this would push you to overflow your own rivers banks into areas that you should not go. The problem is that you do not get the word fasting when you use most newer translations.
1 Corinthians 7:5 NASB “Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
The King James version, as well as several literal translations, used the word fasting.
From the Word Study Dictionary – The Greek word is nēsteía; to fast. A fasting, fast, abstinence from eating, generally for want of food (2Co_6:5; 2Co_11:27). In a religious sense of the private fastings of the Jews (Mat_17:21; Mar_9:29 [TR]; Luk_2:37) to which great merit was attributed, the Pharisees practiced often, sometimes twice a week (cf. Luk_18:12; Sept.: Isa_58:3 ff.; Dan_9:3). In their longer fastings, they abstained only from better kinds of food. The Jews used to call such a fast “The great annual public fast of the great Day of Atonement” which occurred in the month Tisri, corresponding to the new moon of October.
Now, look at the KJV which did include the word fasting.
1 Corinthians 7:5 KJV Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.
The point is that we do have an example of fasting in the New Testament, although with a negative spin.
Richard Foster, under the heading of “The Purpose of Fasting” states, “It is sobering to realize that the very first statement Jesus made about fasting dealt with the question of motive.” We are given Matthew 6:16-18
“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17) “But you when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18) so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. NASB
Foster goes on to say,
Fasting must forever center on God.
- It must be God initiated, and God ordained.
- Every other purpose must be subservient to God.
“Our avoidance of fasting has much to do with the condition of the heart; the heart, therefore, needs to be firmly fixed before you go there.” There are secondary purposes in fasting, and fasting, according to Foster, reveals the things that control us. We are very good at covering up what is inside of us. We do it with food and other “good” things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately.”
Things you might expect to find:
If they are within, they will surface during fasting. Foster explains, “At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we will realize that are angry because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice even with this knowledge as we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.”
Concerning direction and instruction, few passages speak more clearly than Isaiah 58:1-14
Yes, I get it, the generalized idea is that the Old Testament represents the law, and some act as though it should be avoided, but do not forget that our freedom sets us free to fast. It is not, therefore, a law to us, but an addition to our lives which are increasingly beset with troubles. I might also add that fasting is a tool and a weapon, as we are that thing that restrains in the last days, and if fasting assists in that battle, then so be it (Amen.)
2 Thessalonians 2:7 AMPC For the mystery of lawlessness (that hidden principle of rebellion against constituted authority) is already at work in the world, [but it is] restrained only until he who restrains is taken out of the way.
I am convinced that this is the faith-filled church, standing against the enemies onslaughts. You do not have to look far to see how this is playing out around you. On a daily basis, our freedoms are progressively being stripped away, even to the point where your thoughts, expressed on social media, can and will be used against you. All someone has to do is say, that offends me, and you can find yourself in handcuffs for hate speech. Can you see why we need every arrow in our quivers; fasting is one of those arrows, and, as you will see from Isaiah, it is a powerful one.
Isaiah 58:5, in the NASB, begins with:
“Is it a fast like this which I choose,
a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?
Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD? 6)
“Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
The word flesh means just that in the Hebrew but can also mean blood relations. Albert Barnes commentary explains, To hide oneself from them may denote either, first, to be ashamed of them on account of their poverty or humble rank in life; or, secondly, to withhold from them the just supply of their needs.
Values and benefits of Fasting (from Foster’s book.)
Fasting helps us keep our balance in life. “How easily we begin to allow non-essentials to take precedence in our lives. How quickly we crave things, we do not need until we are enslaved by them.” Paul wrote, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything” 1 Cor. 6:12.
Foster again, “Our human cravings and desires are like rivers that tend to overflow their banks; fasting helps keep them in their proper channels.” Others, according to Foster, have written that fasting gives us an increased effectiveness in intercessory prayer.
- Guidance in decisions
- Increased concentration
- Physical well being
Let’s camp here for a minute. What do we ingest in our bodies? A few ingredients from an instant macaroni and cheese product: Glyceral monostearate; Calcium carbonate; Sodium triphosphate; Sodium phosphate, and medium chain triglycerides. Perhaps the occasional purging of some of these cryptic products would be a benefit to us.
- RevelationIn this case, Revelation is primarily referring to Godly insights, but it could mean other things as well.
The Practice of Fasting
We are admonished by Foster to walk before we run. With that said, I cannot imagine trying to take on a water or juice fast for seven days, while continuing to work as a high voltage electrical worker. Having fasted for three days, I know how those three days felt. On day two, I can assure you that no one needed to be around me; and on day three, I was so weak I felt like all I could do was lie in bed and rest; everything exhausted me. In no way was I in any condition to deal with the outside world, let alone my wife.
Could I accomplish much if I merely fasted a meal? With purpose, of course, I could. I do it frequently with television and now the cell phone. You have to keep in mind that the body is, as Foster puts it, like a spoiled child, and a spoiled child does not need indulgence. So, perhaps then, you can understand Paul a little better when he says, “I pommel my body and subdue it. 1 Cor. 9:27.
Foster states, “If family obligations permit it, devote the time you would normally use eating to meditation and prayer.”
Let me end with some wisdom from Richard Foster.
“Although the physical aspects of fasting intrigue us, we must never forget that the major work of scriptural fasting is in the realm of the spirit. What goes on spiritually is much more important than what is happening bodily. You will be engaging in spiritual warfare that will necessitate using all the weapons of Ephesians 6.” Foster goes on to say, “I do not want to leave the impression that all fasting is a heavy spiritual struggle.”
“Fasting can bring breakthroughs in the spiritual realm that will never happen in any other way.”
We all seem to understand that Jesus would get alone, in the garden, apparently for the purposes of finding the nature, and character of the Father; and to, commune with Him. In so doing he could come to know the Father’s heart. Some would argue that Jesus, whose relationship with the Father has always been, would have known the Father’s heart already, and merely drawn from that knowledge. The problem with that is that we forget that Jesus set aside the glory he had with the Father to become a man. Another way of putting this, Jesus willingly stripped himself of heaven’s advantages and continued to remain in that state, as a man. That would mean He had to sort this out, just as we have to. He had one small advantage that we don’t have, no Monday night football to distract him.
While changing the world around us is a good thing, I need to seek to learn His voice. You see, in Proverbs, we are told that wisdom cries aloud in the streets. The impression I get from that is, the Holy Spirit/the Father is talking all the time. If I am not hearing Him, then I need to get in tune.