Slow Down and Fast
During Lent the question of fasting always comes to the forefront, and it should. We are gluttons by our fallen nature and Lent causes us to stop and repent of our sin of gluttony. There is nothing super spiritual about this time of year that causes us to ponder fasting, just like there is nothing extra sanctified about worshipping on Sundays. However, fasting is an important part of the life of a Christian just as regular worship is commanded by God. So why fast?
First, Jesus says “when you fast” in Matthew 6:16. Notice Jesus doesn’t say, “if you fast” but “when.” Fasting is a spiritual discipline just like prayer is. In fact, fasting and prayer often go together. The Old Testament is a good place to start.
The Men’s Bible Study group is studying the minor prophets in the Old Testament. In studying Jonah we saw how when Jonah preached God’s word to the Ninevites the king of Nineveh instructed all the people “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God.” Jonah 3:7-8 But the king doesn’t stop there, “Who knows whether God will relent from the disaster?”
The king calls for a fast and prayer, but notice that he doesn’t see the prayers and fasts as a way to get God to do what they want. He says, “Who knows…” The king of Nineveh leaves it up to God to spare them the earthly punishment they deserve. However, the king does know the gospel that God will save them from eternal punishment because of his mercy. He places himself and his people at the mercy of God. The fasts and ashes were to teach the people repentance.
That’s what is important about prayer and fasting. We don’t do these things to try and convince God to do what we want, but these spiritual disciplines are so that we might disdain the desires of the flesh and be conformed to live by faith. We fast and pray because we are confessing our faith in outward ways that we know that even if God doesn’t answer our prayers, even if he doesn’t break our fast, he will still take care of us. We may even die but when we fast and pray we are showing our trust in God to provide. In the case of the Ninevites, God did answer their prayer in the way they had hoped and he relented from disaster.
Then there is the example of King David in 2 Samuel 12 who fasted when he prayed that God might save his son from the death penalty for his sins of murder and adultery. God did not relent in this case and David’s son died. But David still believed in the mercy of God and his forgiveness and deliverance of his son.
Fasting and prayer go together. The one helps the other. Isn’t that when our prayer life increases, when God causes a fast of some sort in our lives? God causes a fast of good health by unexpected sickness. God causes a fast from a spouse for a single person. God causes a fast of money when we lose a job. God causes a fast of pride when you don’t get your way with things. God will cause fasts in your life and it is solely up to his discretion when that fast ends. These fasts though are good for us because they are meant to grow our trust in Jesus’ words of forgiveness. Despite how things look to our flesh we know by faith God hasn’t forsaken us.
So why do we fast and pray if it is not to try and get God to do what we want? Fasting and prayer is an outward confession that we are not God. We recognize our flesh desires things that hurt our faith and our neighbor. Fasting is the intentional spiritual discipline of telling our bellies and our schedule, you are not my God. Paul writes in Romans 8, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit…”.
Finally, Jesus himself fasted in the wilderness. Jesus fasted so that he might rely on God his father to sustain him. Even in the face of an intentional fast, ” ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Jesus was always focused on being faithful for your sake. So that finally when God brings suffering to Jesus, a fast of comfort for Christ, Jesus trusts God to end his fast. The father does end Jesus’ fast of comfort with his death. Jesus remained faithful to the end trusting in his father. Still even when God did not rescue him from earthly suffering and death Jesus confessed, ‘Father into your hands I commend my spirit.’ ”
Let that same prayer attend your Lenten fasts. Fasting will help your prayer life. The two go together. The early church in Acts 13 fasted, 2 “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting.”
Don’t fast to lose weight. Don’t fast to get healthier. Fast to grow spiritually. How does God grow us spiritually? By his word. Deny yourself something so that you would receive Christ more or do a good deed for someone else. Fast from sweet foods to remind yourself of the bitterness you’ve caused others and give that money to the church or another Lutheran mission fund. Deny yourself one hour of sleep and come to Sunday School and church. Come to Wednesday evening services. Deny yourself something so that Christ may fill you or someone else up spiritually with his word and sacrament. That ultimately is why Jesus fasted, it was for you.