|Original Photo by Wikimedia user Jean Fortunet|
Jesus fasted (Matthew 4:2)
He taught about fasting assuming its role in the life of a disciple (Matthew 6:16-18)
He stated that his followers would fast after his departure (Matthew 9:15; Mark 2:20; Luke 5:35)
He stated that some demons could only come out by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29)
Anna fasted often (Luke 2:37)
Fasting and prayer as a church was practiced by the early church (Acts 13:2-3)
Paul and Barnabus prayed and fasted as they appointed and installed elders (Acts 14:23)
Those are just a few of the examples of fasting being mentioned in passing and being explicitly taught about in the New Testament. Fasting is all the way through the Old Testament. My question is this...
If Jesus talked about and taught how to fast...
And if He made statements assuming his followers would fast...
And if we have several examples of the early church fasting both together and individually...
Then why have I never heard a single sermon or sat in a single class on fasting?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not exactly complaining. After all, I have been a full-time minister for over 8 years. I have been teaching at least 2 Bible classes a week almost every week for that period of time. I have had ample time to both study, and begin teaching about fasting. I am a grown man and have been a Christian for long enough that I ought to have at least somewhat of a level of Christian maturity and discipline by now. And yet, in 8 years of ministry, I have only mentioned fasting a handful of times and have not dwelt on it much when I did. What's worse, is that my personal fasting has been at about the same track record.
Is it possible that over the years, when the church has fallen into error with Jesus' teaching about practicing righteousness before God instead of men, it fell a different direction with fasting than it did with prayer and with almsgiving?
Think about it...most of our giving is typically done through the church and we refer "benevolence cases" to the church office instead of helping people privately. It seems that all too often, we fall into patterns of rote prayers in public because we are not comfortable with prayer in private. Yet when it comes to fasting, we have soaked in Jesus teaching about it being a private manner so much that we NEVER talk about it in the assembly of saints and we most certainly never practice it together as a body. Why is public prayer any more acceptable when Jesus said to go into your room and pray in secret? Why can we preach and teach on the importance of giving? The structure of the teachings about giving, prayer, and fasting are very close to identical in Matthew 6 and yet we have treated the first two subjects very differently than the last.
Because of that, I fear that we now have generations of Christians who are completely unaware of the mechanics, the necessities, and the blessings of fasting...and I am including myself in that.
But how are we supposed to talk about it when Jesus stressed privacy so much?
Well...I'd say we are at least free to talk about it the same way Jesus and the early church did, wouldn't you!? We can teach how it's done in a God-honoring and soul-benefiting way. We can let others know that not only are we praying for them, but we are fasting for them as well. We can fast together just as we pray together, knowing that both praying and fasting are sometimes strengthened with the power of unity and strength in numbers. The early church did all those things...can we?
I think what it boils down to is the same thing everything else in the Sermon on the Mount boils down to...the heart. It doesn't matter how many people know or don't know that you are praying, giving alms, or fasting...what matters is that you are doing it to please God and not to impress people!
Here is my plea to those of you who are like Anna, and Paul, and Barnabus, and Peter, and the early church and are spending time in prayer and fasting and are reaping benefits from it...teach me. And teach the rest of my generation. Share it with your own generation that has not found the blessings that you have found in it possibly for years. Call the rest of us on the carpet and encourage us to join you so we can share in the blessings and then teach future generations.
There is a chance our children will learn how to pray and study the Bible on their own even if we never teach them how to use the tools for study, and we never kneel at their beds with them. But we all know that it is a much slimmer chance than if we share the practical tips we have learned and we model it for them, and we go through it with them until they figure out how to do it on their own and then share it with someone else. And then we find incredible joy by being peers in study and in prayer with them instead of teachers! May we view fasting the same way we view prayer and Bible study.
I'd like to open the comments below to start the conversation. What have you learned about fasting? How has it benefited you? How have you found to overcome the struggles associated with it? How did you begin the practice? What do you do when you are fasting? You can feel free to post the comment anonymously in order to ensure that you are not sharing for the wrong reasons...but I beg you...for myself...to share it.