by: Dick Brogden
FASTING & FEASTING
Fasting initially means to give us something…so that we can feast on Jesus. Muslims (and Christians) often fast for the wrong reasons. As we consider fasting we always want to remember that it is connected to feasting, fasting is giving up something GOOD for what is BETTER. Fasting is not giving up something bad (we shouldn’t be doing bad things anyway), nor is it dieting (though there is a time and a place for that), fasting should ever be linked to feasting on Jesus and turning our attention to Him and His will. When we fast, we are asking God to give us a simple, greater hunger for Himself, a delight in His word, and a longing for His presence. As Jesus becomes our craving He becomes our reward.
Fasting is not without effort and discipline. The basic premise is that intimacy with Christ empowers everything and is vitally linked to abiding in Him. If we give Jesus the best of our strength, the first fruit of our time, He takes the fewer minutes that remain, and indwells them. By function, a person who abides in Jesus by fasting is more disciplined and than either the sluggard or the work-a-holic. Fasting, when properly approached, is living smarter, is living centered in Jesus, it is for many of us counter intuitive.
1. Fasting is Feasting (Matthew 4:1-11, 5:4)
To start with the obvious, fasting is a good thing. Jesus did it, we should do it too. In fact, Jesus said that we would do it: “When the bridegroom is taken, they will fast….” This incidentally is my favorite reason for explaining to Muslims why I fast. I tell them I am hungry for the return of Jesus the Messiah because the world is irreparably broken and there is no solution to the problems in the world except Jesus the Savior and King coming again to restore all things under His authority.
When Jesus fasted, the devil came to Him and tempted Him with food and Jesus replies: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” Jesus directly quotes Deuteronomy 8:2-3:
“And you shall remember that the Lord your God lead you all the way these 40 years in the wilderness [note parallel to wilderness and 40] to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, AND FED YOU WITH MANNA WHICH YOU DID NOT KNOW NOR DID YOUR FATHERS KNOW…that HE might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.”
Oh Hallelujah! I hope you see the wonder of it all: By implication, Jesus has been fasting food and feasting on the word. His first, his only response to temptation is the word because in the time of fasting, He has been feasting on it. We can assume this because of the context of His quotation: “He allowed you to hunger” (fasting) “… and fed you with manna” (feasting). Here then is the purpose of fasting….it is the removal of a good thing that we might unhindered experience a better thing! “Fed with a manna which you did not know….nor did your fathers know!”
Some of you have been in Christendom a very long time. Some of you have been doing devotions for years . Some of you have heard a prior call to “Abide”, internally shrugged: “nothing new” you thought, “I have heard it all before”. Well, in one way you are right.
The most revolutionary things are very, very simple. They are also very, very difficult.
Jesus has something more for you. Jesus has a manna for you that you have not tasted.
Your Dad and Mom did not know it. But in order to get it….you have to hunger…you are going to have to give up something, something good! If you are not hungry – if you do not fast – you can not feast. Fasting is intended to bring us to the place that we FEAST on Jesus.
2. Fasting is Giving Up What You Want….Not Getting it. (Matthew 5:7)
The Devil returns to Jesus and says “Throw yourself down!” and Jesus returns to Deuteronomy, this time 6:16 which says: “You shall not tempt the Lord as you tempted Him in Massah.” Following the clues back to Exodus 17:1-7 we find that Massah was a water problem. The people are thirsty “Moses did you bring us here to die?” The commentary of verse seven reveals that the tempting of God revolved around the question: “Is God among us or not?” Essentially the people were saying “My God is a good God, because He gives me what I want! I am not getting what I want, therefore God must not be with us, because if He was, He would give me what I want. This fasting is useless. I did not get what I want.”
The people did not get what they desired in the natural, so they got upset and wanted to go back to Egypt. This exposes a common fallacy of fasting: Most Muslims and Most Christians approach fasting as a means to getting their way. Muslims want sins forgiven….we are way too smart for that (!) after all, all we want is healing for a loved one, money for a need, guidance for a decision, answers to a problem. We are altruistic in our fasting, Muslims are legalistic we proudly differentiate. But unfortunately, most Christians approach fasting in the very same way Muslims do: to get what they want. Fasting is not about getting what we want. Fasting is about feasting on Jesus.
Much of the confusion on fasting comes from verses like Matthew 17:21, commonly read as “This kind cometh not out except by prayer and fasting”. The most reliable manuscripts do not have the word fasting, that was added in later. The literal words of Jesus:“This kind cometh out only by prayer” simply means that some things only God can do. When fasting becomes something we can do, something we do to get what we want – no matter how good that thing – we have missed the point of fasting and indulged in a subtle form of syncretism – a manipulation of the spirit world in order to get what we want. Fasting is not to get anything Fasting is to Feast on Jesus. Fasting is giving up what we want…food, or some other good thing, it is not getting what we want. Fasting is all about feasting on Jesus
3. Fasting is All About God – It is Not About You. (Matthew 5:10)
The devil returns to Jesus, and offers Him kingdoms. Jesus one last time goes to Deuteronomy. (6:12-13) “Beware lest you forget the Lord….You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, You shall take oaths in His name.” This is a very interesting context, because the temptation in fasting IS TO FORGET THE LORD, to make fasting about you, or anything else but Jesus. Jesus was very careful to keep the focus of fasting, only on God. Fasting is not about us – fasting is about God.
Do you know how to recognize a true fast? A growing disgust with yourself. This is what usually happens when you fast: mortification of the flesh. The longer you truly fast, the more disgusted you will became with yourself. The longer you fast the more junk will came up and out of your innermost being. The longer you fast, them more aware you will become of how sinful and ugly you are. The longer you truly fast, the more humiliating it will be; petty, silly, foolish things will manifest in you and fasting will lead you to greater repentance
Fasting is about God, it is not about you. You step away from good things, you feast on Jesus, you are blown away by His beauty, you are not trying to get anything, and the twin conviction comes upon you like a thunderclap: “I did not realize how stupid I am.” “I did not realize how wonderful Jesus is!” And you take that to Jesus and find clemency, cleansing, and calm.
If you are proud of your discipline, the fast has become about you, and you might as well go get deep dish, stuffed crust pizza. If you are drawing attention to your self, call it off for heavens sake…and go straight to your local ice cream parlor – do not pass go, you will not collect 200 brownie points, you might as well scarf down some calorie laden brownies.
It is always interesting to see a whole nation, a whole community of faith, miss the point. Living in the Muslim world you get to experience Ramadan every year. The longer Ramadan lasts, the more it is exposed. More fistfights in traffic. More sleepiness at school and the work place. More hypocrisy. More legalism. Less efficiency. More spiritual attack!
Be on your guard. Marriages, relationships, team dynamics all seem more strained in Ramadan. There is a measure or spiritual openness in Ramadan, but it is of the free market variety – all kinds of junk as well as treasure on the stands. Ramadan is a great time for witness, a great time to share fatuurs (fast breaking meals), but all kind of spiritual activity is unleashed as a result of more seeking. In a heightened spiritual atmosphere, demonic and angelic forces are at work. Satanic Dreams and temptations and frustrations are as common as angelic visitations, hard hearts as common many as open doors. Be very careful in all of this about your approach to fasting. Fasting is not about you, it is about Jesus. If you make fasting about you, it just gets ugly – nationally and personally.
Am I simplifying Fasting for clarity? Yes I am. Fredrick Franson says:
“If you are sick, fast and pray;
if the language is hard to learn, fast and pray; if the people will not hear you, fast and pray, if you have nothing to eat, fast and pray.”
We do indeed turn to the Lord for help in times of prayer and fasting, but the central point remains the same: The essence of fasting, is feasting on Jesus. Fasting is giving up, not getting. Fasting is all about Jesus and how wonderful He is. The only place for self in fasting is mortification. As our ugliness is exposed it allows us to gladly, and quickly, focus again on Jesus.
The name Jesus comes from the Hebrew “Jehovah is Salvation” There are two Hebrew forms of the Greek “Jesus”: Joshua….and Isaiah. Isaiah 58:1-14 is an excellent Bible passage on fasting. Read it and notice how these themes are repeated: Fasting is Feasting on God. Fasting is not about getting, it is about giving. Fasting is not about attention on us and our goodness …other than conviction leading to repentance…fasting is all about God.
New King James Version (NKJV)
“Cry aloud, spare not;
Lift up your voice like a trumpet;
Tell My people their transgression,
And the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek Me daily,
And delight to know My ways,
As a nation that did righteousness,
And did not forsake the ordinance of their God.
They ask of Me the ordinances of justice;
They take delight in approaching God.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’ “In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure,
And exploit all your laborers.
Indeed you fast for strife and debate,
And to strike with the fist of wickedness.
You will not fast as you do this day,
To make your voice heard on high.
Is it a fast that I have chosen,
A day for a man to afflict his soul?
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast,
And an acceptable day to the Lord?
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
“If you take away the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
Those from among you
Shall build the old waste places;
You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach,
The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.
“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.”