Fasting, Foolishness and Faith
By Patricia Backora, author of: Tough Love in Christís Millennium
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Just for fun, letís begin with a little trivia quiz:
The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of:
a. those whose stomachs are empty for Him
b. those whose pockets are emptied for Him
c. those whose singing is perfect for Him
d. those whose heart is perfect toward Him
e. all or none of the above
Answer found in (II Chron. 16:9).
One woman I read about wanted to get healed at a special meeting. So she prayed and fasted 3 days to prepare herself to receive Godís blessing. But it didnít pan out as she expected. She didnít receive her healing at that particular meeting but some sinner who hadnít even fasted for one hour got healed. The woman got pretty steamed about it. After all, hadnít she earned her healing by fasting for it?
Paul speaks of his frequent fasting, but he lists it with other miserable things he suffers, among them beatings and shipwreck. The only Scripture where Paul mentions fasting to be done by other believers is I Corinthians 7:5 where he urges married couples not to withhold conjugal affections from each other, except by mutual consent, that they may give themselves to fasting and prayer. Not even that verse amounts to a hard-and-fast commandment to fast, no pun intended, ha! Nor does Paul lay down the law about how strictly or how often fasting is to be observed. He doesnít say: "You better fast, and take it nice and slow, or youíll fall out of favor with God.Ē
Some say your abstinence must cover at least one overnight stint before it counts as a fast. But there are occasions in Scripture when someone fasted just until nightfall, as David did in II Sam. 1:12 and 3:35. The important thing is to be obedient to God whenever you sense the need to do spiritual warfare and to put everything else in your life on hold until you feel deep down in your heart (not your stomach!) that youíve won your victory in the heavenly places and that particular season of prayer is finished. God is not standing over you with a calendar and a stopwatch. Once your assignment in the prayer room is done, itís done. God wonít chide you if you break your fast with fast food, either. Just use sanctified common sense. If your fast lasted more than a day or so, better not break your fast with a triple bacon cheeseburger with Jumbo Fries and a Jumbo Shake! If your digestive system is sluggish, itís best to ease back into eating with a bit of soup or fruit instead.
Iíve known a few to hold one big fast after another, and scarcely give their body a break in between. But such an extreme obsession with fasting begs a question: Every time some new prayer request prompts a fast, did the Lord put that burden on them, or could people occasionally be controlled by a religious spirit of bondage masquerading as the Holy Spirit?
Know what makes me 100% sure that one brother I knew crossed the fine line between godly zeal and bondage? He said something like this: "The world eats, but our food is to do our Fatherís will." He is misapplying something Jesus said in John 4:34, where Jesus has just spent time ministering to the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesusí followers have just returned from town with groceries and are begging Him to eat something (it was probably lunchtime). But He says: "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish His work."
How dangerous, designating our God-given need to eat as an activity fit only for worldly folks, as if nourishing our bodies were in the same league as snorting coke or popping Eís. Swearing off nutritious meals in favor of asceticism sounds oh, so, spiritual, but it really springs from a lying religious spirit of bondage. Satanís ministry is to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). If he canít kill us, heíll at least try to slow us down by robbing us of vitality and destroying our health. Your body stops feeling hungry after 3 or 4 days of abstinence (normally). You can easily think that your feeling of light-headedness and detachment from reality is a spiritual mountaintop which is a much better place to abide than breaking your fast and resuming the ďcarmalĒ part of living the Christian life. Satan can masquerade as the Voice of the Lord and try to make you think you never need to eat again, because ďyouíre just a bit closer to heavenĒ by weakening the body, and ďyouíre entering into the death of ChristĒ that way. But satan specializes in religious deception. He knows youíre way too smart to do drugs or commit adultery. He has to be far more subtle about destroying you. It was a religious lie satan fed to to Eve in the Garden of Eden when he told her she could enter into a higher state of awareness by eating the forbidden fruit. Beware of swallowing ďChristianĒ mysticism that can make you go off on a dangerous tangent! That is one of the signs of an unbalanced religious cult.
Jesus thrived spiritually on accomplishing the will of His Father, as all of us do. He was so intent on satisfying this womanís spiritual hunger that He disregarded for a time His own physical hunger. But that is not to say Jesus never felt the need to eat, or considered eating an unspiritual vice which spiritual giants can easily dispense with. Now hereís a shocker: One of the first things Jesus did after His resurrection was to cook breakfast for his disciples ( John 21:9-14), and it was around that breakfast campfire that Peter reconciled with Jesus after denying Him three times (verses15-19) . Jesus didnít scowl at Peter and tell him he had to fast in sack cloth and ashes and flagellate himself with chains to prove himself worthy of regaining His friendship. Wonder of wonders! Immediately after being reunited with Jesus Peter ate breakfast (which means break a fast, not begin one!). And right after his meal Peter was immediately reinstated as a full-fledged apostle of Christ.
Jesus was practical as well as spiritual. He fed hungry multitudes with literal bread, as well as with spiritual bread. He said in Mark 8:3: If I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way, for divers of them came from far. Now, if as the aforementioned preacher implied, spiritual food is all we need, then why didnít Jesus just dismiss the crowd to walk home solely on the strength of the spiritual bread He had been feeding them for three solid days? Why did He bother to feed them barley bread also? Because Jesus provides for the total needs of our total being. He is the Redeemer of our body, not just of our soul (Rom. 8:23). If God feeds the sparrows, He will feed us also (Matt. 6:26). Our Heavenly Father knows we need food, drink, and clothing (verses 31-32). If natural food were unnecessary Jesus never would have said our Father knows we have need of it!
Jesus taught His followers to pray: Give us this day our daily bread, (not our occasional bread!) Again in James 2:15-16: If a brother or a sister be naked and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Some supersaints think the body is nothing but a crude cocoon which will someday be shed, so it should be neglected anyway. A selfish believer might cop out of his responsibility to show compassion to the hungry by saying: "Rejoice, brother, thatís a sure sign God wants you to fast." Then his eyes might rake up and down the body of the poor saint and then he might go on to say: "It wouldnít hurt you to shed a few pounds anyway. And fasting is such good discipline for the flesh. So count it all joy, brother."
Or, that Scrooge in sheepís clothing could twist the words of Jesus by saying that heís under no obligation to help him, since all the food a believer really needs is to do the will of His Heavenly Father. And once the door is shut on the hungry saint, the smug dispenser of wisdom can hurry back to his own dinner.
Perverting the practice of fasting is satanís way of sanctifying anorexia and turning our basic biological need to eat into a base act of carnality, laced with guilt. But I donít buy that lie. I am just as close to the Lord at the dinner table as I am at the church altar, because at both places I feel great thanksgiving for Godís faithfulness to provide for me both materially and spiritually. I see food as a gift God gives His children, not as a vice. I am not called to the ascetic life. If I were, God would not have helped me become a fairly decent cook. He has given me many good recipes to bless others with. I am called to glorify God in the kitchen, just as I strive to glorify him when I speak or write of His wondrous goodness.
Once Jesus fasted forty days and nights in the wilderness, to prepare Him for greater challenges to come. But Jesus did not stay in that wilderness. His cousin John the Baptist lived in the wilderness and he fasted all the time. He was called by God to that life, but not everyone has the same calling (Rom. 12:4). John ate only enough grasshoppers and honey to keep himself alive. The eating habits of Jesus and John the Baptist are contrasted in Matt. 11: 18-19 and in Luke 7:33-34. Jesus was accused of being a winebibber and a glutton by his enemies. I think they said that because they compared Jesus, Who ate and drank in moderation at wedding feasts, with John, who never went to parties, hardly ever ate, and never touched wine. Next to John, just about anyone would look like a glutton! Now if fasting were the thing that makes us righteous, John the Baptist would have been more righteous than Jesus, because John did much more of it. Instead John says to Jesus in Matt. 3:14: I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?
A very few of Godís dearest children cannot fast at all because of physical infirmity. The closest they could come would be to eliminate tasty foods for a time as Daniel did (Daniel 10:2-3). Hypoglycemia is a case in point. Failure to eat when blood sugar dips to a certain level can cause fainting (or worse). But God looks upon the contents of the heart, not the stomach. He will still answer prayers prayed by devout saints unable to fast, even though that one weapon of spiritual warfare is unavailable to them. God is well able to overrule the weakness of the flesh and answer prayer simply because He is gracious and wants all the glory to go to Himself. God doesnít say to those hindered by hypoglycemia: "If you canít pay, donít bother to pray." God is far more merciful than we give Him credit for!
Even under the Old Law there was only one day of the year when God said His people were obligated by law to fast, except for times of national emergency: the Day of Atonement, a time of national sorrow for sin. Other annual fast days were added later by commandment of men, such as the fast on the 9th of Av. Jews still fast and mourn on this particular day because it is the anniversary of many terrible national tragedies, including the destruction of both the First and the Second Temples. Whenever God called the nation of Israel to fast and seek Him, He expected them not only to appear in His Presence to pray, but to set aside during that time their daily occupations. How many hard-working Christians have felt pangs of guilt just because they had to relax the rules of their fast in order to keep from collapsing on the job! And if you have to operate heavy machinery at work, it can be downright dangerous to you or your co-workers to compromise your mental alertness with severe fasting!
Fasting is associated with mourning (Matt. 9:15). There are times we pour out our heart in sorrow or desperate prayer to God, and it is then we forget about food and its preparation. It is possible to receive strength from on high during a fast, because it is then we are more aware of our own emptiness and great need of God. But unless the Lord shows each individual otherwise, eating properly is to be the norm, not the exception. Nehemiah 8:10 says: The joy of the Lord is your strength. This was spoken on a holy day when Godís Law was being read to the people. Some Christians think all eating is a very unspiritual thing, and in order for a day to be holy they must fast upon it. But Nehemiah doesnít tell his listeners to fast. Instead he instructs them: Go your way, eat the fat and drink the sweet, and send portions for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.
That example is Old Testament, some will say, and the Way to Life demands greater sacrifice. Itís true that the early Church had to suffer much and sacrifice much. But they were also full of the joy of the Lord. Some folks think fasting is the one and only key to Godís power, just because it causes considerable discomfort. But God lives in the praises of His people (Psalms 22:3). I believe that when you are full of the joy of the Lord it is a sure sign Godís Holy Anointing of Power rests upon you. Personally I have found two other practices even more powerful in obtaining answers to prayer: Praying in the tongues of the Spirit and praying the Word of God (tailoring my English prayers according to what the Bible has to say about God meeting my particular need). When God breathes life into His written Word through the unction of His Holy Spirit, itís dynamite!
God spoke to my heart two examples which were confirmed later by something someone else shared. A child works so hard on a special project to please his beloved father he forgets to eat and drink for many hours (not necessarily days). The father is very pleased by his childís single-minded devotion. But the father would not want his child to do without his food and drink every single day. He would not want him to think he must suffer in order to earn his love. That is bondage, not faith.
The other example God gave me in my prayer closet was confirmed by the same believer: Itís in I Kings 18:28, where the priests of Baal are so desperate to make their god Baal hear them and answer their prayers they cut themselves with knives till they bled. Some saints think that God wonít pay any attention to them unless they suffer enough to earn it, so thatís why they fast so much it affects their health. If we must suffer to get a blessing out of God, nothing is more convenient than fasting. Itís much more civilized than whipping or stabbing yourself. But I am persuaded that everything I have is through the grace of God, not because I suffered to earn it.
I read one article which smugly stated: You read about lots of fasting in the early Church, but no eating in the early Church. Wrong! Acts 2:46-47 says of the early Church (who, by the way, spent much time in the Temple, like Anna!): And they, continuing daily with one accord in the Temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the Church daily such as who should be saved. Paul, who suffered through many fasts, declares in I Timothy 6:17:God gives us richly all things to enjoy (not abstain from to paint ourselves as being more spiritual than everyone else!).
Some Christians think that you must fast to get people saved, but the early believers, who ate together often, won plenty of people to Christ. Why? Because the glorious Love and Joy of Jesus drew those people like a bee goes for honey. If the early Christians had gone around looking like theyíd subsisted on nothing but sour lemon juice, how many sinners would have been drawn to join them and get the blessing they had? Precious few, I think!
There will be eating in the Millennium, and lots of it. In Luke 22: 28-30 Jesus commends those who have stood by Him during His trials. He promises them a great reward for faithfulness. A kingdom has been appointed for them in which they will eat and drink with Him at His table in His Kingdom. If eating were nothing more than a necessary evil, to sustain temporal life, why would Christ promise them that they would dine with Him at His own table once they are resurrected to everlasting life in immortal bodies? Bodies which, by the way, will not require natural food to keep them running!
All true believers are invited to the great Marriage Supper (not Marriage Fast) of the Lamb spoken of in Revelation 19:9. Those who attend will be present in their resurrected, immortal bodies, not their old carnal ones. And I donít expect to sit at Jesusí table with just a glass of water and a toothpick.
Another Scripture passage which points to Millennial eating done as an act of worship is Ezekiel 44: 1-3. This passage speaks of a gate of the Holy City which has been sealed shut and is only for the Prince (the Holy One) to enter (Who other than Jesus could this refer to)? This prophecy of the sealing of the Eastern Gate in Jerusalem was fulfilled in 1517 by Suleiman the Magnificent. This Turkish ruler was certain he could prevent the Jewish Messiah from entering the Holy City by doing this. For added measure the Muslims also placed a cemetery in front of the Eastern Gate, thinking that this would surely deter the Promised One from entering in. But that will be no problem for Jesus. Either He will order His angels to unseal the Eastern Gate or He will simply pass through it the same way he was able to penetrate solid walls and locked doors to visit His disciples after His resurrection (John 20:19, 26).
But what does this passage have to do with eating? Plenty. None other than Jesus, our Supernatural Prince of Peace, Who is infinitely more spiritual than the rest of us, will sit in that City Gate and eat bread in the Presence of the Most High (Ezek. 44:3). So eating is an activity fit only for carnal saints and unbelivers?
One church I know of does loads of fasting but precious little loving. If you as a visitor go to that church, why, theyíll hardly even speak to you. After the meeting theyíll just gather in their tight little cliques and ignore you. Then they wonder why their church doesnít grow much, and visitors quit coming after two or three visits. You can starve yourself to death and even give your body to be burnt in the service of Christ, but if you donít have love in your heart, brother or sister, it will all come to nothing (I Cor. 13:3).
God is far more concerned with the content of a personís heart than the lack of contents in his stomach. Even if your stomach is as hollow as the Grand Canyon your prayers will get no answer if your heart is empty of faith and love.
To sum it up: Is your faith in Christ Jesus and His Grace, or is your faith in fasting?
It isnít the emptiness of our stomach that moves God to act on our behalf, but the faith in our heart.
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