“And when you…” These three words are central to the teaching of Jesus recorded in Matthew 6. This is the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, a sermon that most – even secular scholars – recognize as the greatest sermon ever given. The sermon focused on moving the listeners from a focus on behavior to emphasizing the heart. After all, man looks on the outward appearance, but God is most interested in the heart! (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7) The emphasis on the heart does not dispel behavior or remove its importance. In fact, chapter 6 highlights 3 “behaviors” which Christ expects will be disciplines of His followers. One of them is a discipline most acknowledge and do their best to to live: “prayer.” The second most will at least acknowledge with a wry smile – even if they themselves struggle with implementing: “giving.” The third has all but crawled off the table of discussion within the 21st century church: “fasting.”
I know that is a pretty dogmatic statement. So, let me qualify and say that those observations are more based on my own experience than the weight of statistics. As I scroll through the Rolodex of my memories, I can only remember two circumstances (prior to entering the Harvest Training Center in Chicago) where I entered into a formal fast. Both were situations I wanted a certain outcome, and while I hope that my motives were not entirely fleshly, I must confess some of the expectation was that this “extra” spiritualness (is that even a word?!?!) would somehow solicit favor from the Lord!
It wasn’t until that year in Chicago that I saw fasting lived out as a discipline in some individuals’ lives. I won’t get in to the in-depth discoveries I have found over the years regarding the biblical principles surrounding the discipline of fasting (if you have 40 minutes and want to dig in to it yourself, feel free to listen to the sermon on fasting from 2012).
In summary, what characterizes the discipline of fasting in Scripture is that it is often motivated by a few specific contexts: 1) sorrow (2 Samuel 1:12); 2) the consideration of major decisions (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23); 3) spiritual renewal or special focus (1 Corinthians 7:5); 4) seeking the Lord’s favor (Esther 4:3). Of course, this is not exhaustive. However, the categories do provide a summary.
In an effort to equip (cf. Ephesians 4:12) one another, our annual fast is designed to: 1) place fasting on our radar; 2) intentionally seek the Lord through fasting corporately and individually; 3) prepare ourselves for the year ahead through intentional vertical focus.
1. Is there one of the four summary categories above in which you find yourself as we enter into the week of fasting?
2. Will you put the Lord to the test through your obedience in following this discipline (cf. Malachi 3:10b)?
3. Ask the Lord to respond to your obedience in the way He promises (cf. Malachi 3:10c)?
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17)