If you were preparing your first sermon in a series of sermons that would revolutionize the current and future generations of the world, what would you say? What would you not say? Jesus had to consider these two questions as he prepared His “Sermon on the Mount.” In that first public sermon, He chose to emphasize the blessedness of the Beatitudes, the way to pray, the kingdom of God, and the three hallmarks of a disciple. Those who follow Him in the manner He desires actively give, pray and fast anonymously, so as not to draw attention to themselves. We are to give without recognition for doing so. We are to pray in our “prayer closets,” unseen by others, and we are to fast without letting the world know we are doing so.
Have we in the West become so good at hiding our fasting that it looks as though we never do? I think not.
Consider the following points and the reality they may bring about as we tend to ignore the practice of regular, anonymous fasting. We live in a lost and dying world that needs a Church that is both praying and fasting before the Lord on the world’s behalf.
- Our church leaders need to teach us more about fasting and call us to fast more often. (Joel 2:15)
- Our church leaders need to learn more about fasting and call us to fast more often as well. (Joel 2:17)
- Fasting is less about abstaining from “bread” and more about consuming the Word of God. (Matthew 4:4)
- When we are slow to fast, we quickly limit the results of our prayers. (Mark 9:29)
- When we choose to ignore fasting, we are consumers rarely consumed by the Spirit of God. (Hebrews 12:29)
- Those who are slow to fast tend to have less appreciation for what they have and a greater fixation on what they don’t. (Colossians 3:16-17)
- Don’t fast without praying and “eating” the Word of God; who wants to be an anemic religious fanatic? (Matthew 4:4)
- Those who fail to fast experience a build-up of physical, emotional and spiritual toxins. Gross! (Ephesians 5:26)
- The world doesn’t fast, but the Church is called to do so. Who is conforming who? (Romans 12:2)
- Jesus told us to fast because it’s what is best for us, for others and for our friendship with Him. (John 15:15)
- When food is emotionally intoxicating, we grow out but not up. (Psalm 55:22)
- When we fail to take occasional breaks, we can end up broken. When we fast, brokenness leads to maturity. (Psalm 51:17)
- We seem to lack time to get things done or even pray. Try fasting occasionally, as Jesus said, and enjoy many hours that would normally be spent on food preparation and eating. (Ecclesiastes 3)
- Jesus “feasted” and “fasted,” and we are called to follow Him. (Matthew 4:19)
As I travel the world, I find myself in all kinds of cultural contexts. One consistent observation that I find in many church contexts is this: The Church in America is generous and exemplary in many ways. The Church outside of America often has less to work with and needs more help, but could easily teach us in America what it means to fast and pray.
A call to pray and fasting
I encourage you to encourage your pastor to teach more on fasting and call your church to pray and fast. If your church leaders are already doing so, thank God for them as you enjoy feasting on the abundance of God and as you walk in the blessedness of subtraction, simplicity and fasting.
“Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly…Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar. Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord” (Joel 2:15,17).
Dr. Gary Hewins is the President of lifepoints.org, a coaching and consulting ministry to ministry leaders and preachers and the Senior Pastor of Community Bible Church in the picturesque mountains of Highlands, N.C.