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Fasting
The delightful Discipline

by K. Neill Foster

©1995 Christian Publications Inc.
Used by permission

Fasting, the delightful discipline. Is this a contradiction in terms? Not so. Fasting can be truly rewarding in the life of a Christian. Fasting is geared for results. Far from somber truth dressed in drabness, fasting is a vibrant, radiant, yes, delightful Christian discipline.

But let's begin with an uncomfortable quotation from John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, in 1789.

It would be easy to show in many respects the Methodists in general are deplorably wanting in the practice of Christian self-denial. While we were at Oxford, the rule of every Methodist was to fast every Wednesday and Friday in imitation of the primitive church.

Now this practice of the primitive church was universally allowed. "Who does not know," says Epiphanius, an ancient writer, "that the fast of the fourth and sixth days of the week are observed by the Christians throughout the world?" So they were by the Methodists for several years, by them all without exception. . . . The man who never fasts is no more on the way to heaven than the man who never prays. (K. Neill Foster, Warfare Weapons (Camp Hill, FA: Horizon Books, 1995)).

I must hasten to say that I do not wholly agree with Wesley's statement about a failure to fast keeping one out of heaven, because it cannot be backed up biblically. Nevertheless, it is fascinating that such a great man of God should make such an extreme statement about fasting. I take it that Wesley wanted no one to be in doubt about his opinion regarding this discipline. Possibly he used an extreme statement to make a needed emphasis and was not concerned that all he said about fasting be taken literally.

I have also heard fasting described as "the quickest way to get anything from God." I think that is absolutely true, though I would like to rephrase the statement to say, "Fasting is the quickest way to get yourself into the position where God can give you what He has wanted to give you all along!"

The late Dr. A.W. Tozer put it this way, "I fast just often enough to let my stomach know who's boss."

But what of the Scripture? The Bible has a great deal to say about fasting. Some of it is exceedingly interesting - and some of it differs considerably from some popular ideas concerning this delightful but neglected discipline.

Eighty Days for Moses

First, Moses practiced fasting (Exodus 24:18; 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9,18). On two occasions he fasted 40 days without food or water, clearly supernatural fasts. The supernatural element is not the absence of food, but the absence of water. Ordinarily, a man without water will die in 10 days. In addition, in Moses' case, the fasts were back to back, which means that if there was no break, Moses went 80 days without food and water. If this is the case, then Moses' 80 days without food was certainly supernatural. If Moses' fasting had been specified as the pattern for us, we could not hope to fast at all apart from God's supernatural intervention.

The human result from Moses' fasting was the reception of God's law among men, an event without parallel and nearly without equal in all of human history. The fasting played a significant part.

I cannot help further wondering what great events never happen because of our aversion to fasting.

Variations

Elijah, too, was a man of the fast (1 Kings 19:8). Forty days and nights he went on the strength of his last meal. But the same statement, by its omission of any reference to drink, implies that Elijah did not abstain from liquids throughout the 40-day period.

And that in turn presents the possibility of variations in fasting: supernatural - like that of Moses - or natural - like that of Elijah (for it is well known that nearly everyone is able to abstain from food for 40 days and live). Also, continuing to drink water while abstaining from food clearly demonstrates that fasts indeed are varied.

Elijah's ministry was dominated by the miraculous. There can be no substitute for the miraculous in the life of a Christian and fasting will unleash the supernatural.

Do you need a miracle? Fasting could be the door through which it will come.

Daniel's Diet

Daniel's experience with fasting is fascinating (Daniel 9:3; 10:3). He fasted personally for 21 days. And apparently his fast was partial. He ate no pleasant " bread nor flesh and drank no wine. But the Scripture stops short of saying he did not eat. From other references in the book of Daniel, it is possible to say that Daniel may have continued his simple diet. But he was fasting all the same, even if he was eating. Today, we would be inclined to call it dieting.

I do not know if you have noticed it or not, but as we have probed the Scripture, fasting has become more and more understandable and feasible. About this point some of you are asking, "Is it not a little much that this writer suggests that one can fast and eat at the same time?"

When I began to notice this possibility in Daniel, I went scurrying to a Bible dictionary. The definition was simple and clear. Fasting is a partial or total abstinence from food and/or water. Daniel and others in the Bible understood this.

Perhaps you cannot fast for many days. How about a few hours? Perhaps a partial fast will exactly meet your needs.

When you discover that it is possible to eat and fast at the same time, you are beginning to discover just how versatile fasting really is as a spiritual weapon. If fasting really is a spiritual weapon, anyone should be able to pick it up at any time and wield it in his own circumstances. And that is exactly the case.

Grass-roots Fasting

The book of Jonah teaches about fasting as well. First, observe that the people proclaim a fast and the king supports it. Evidently the initiative for fasting can come from the grass roots as well as from those in authority. In the case of the Ninevites, the fast was total and even the animals were included. It lasted for three days and three nights and it was linked with repentance. Perhaps the greatest revival recorded in Scripture follows. The result was the salvation of a nation. And these Ninevites were not even acknowledged followers of Jehovah!

Can fasting be effective even when practiced by unbelievers? The Bible implies that it is possible. And if God answers the prayers of unconverted people (compare Acts 10 and 11 in the life of Cornelius), then why should God not honor the fasting of a repentant people?

National Deliverance

The story of Esther demonstrates that a leader may also call a fast (Esther 4:16). Queen Esther called for a fast and all the people were obligated to cooperate. The fast was total for three days and three nights. But the Jews were delivered; the massacre of a nation was averted through the discipline of fasting.

Something similar to this may have happened in the 1973 overthrow of Salvador Allende, the Marxist president of Chile. One missionary was fasting daily during the breakfast hour for divine intervention in the affairs of the nation. On September 11, 1973, she felt the burden lift. (On September 11, 1973, the military coup took place.) And for the first time in many days the missionary began the day with breakfast. In my view, the events were related.

In the New Testament we read that Paul was in fastings (2 Corinthians 6:5). Note the plural. It is not surprising that our Christian experiences are not like those of Paul. Our fasting is not like his, either. Paul also said he was in fastings often (2 Corinthians 11:27). Frequent fasting has an obvious connection with spiritual power. But for most of us it is a connection that has been broken.

Fasting without Hunger

In 2 Corinthians 11:27 (". . . in hunger and thirst, in fastings often") a fascinating truth about fasting comes to the fore. Paul distinguishes between hungerings and fastings. And if there truly is a difference between being hungry and fasting, then one of the most common objections to fasting is circumvented.

I recall looking forward with anticipation to a break in my evangelistic schedule. I wanted to fast for a few days. And can you imagine my delight when I discovered that from the very first there was no hunger?

Going hungry is one thing. Fasting is another. And once we learn that, fasting becomes an even more attractive and practical discipline. On the other hand, sometimes I find that I want to fast but cannot because I am too hungry, possibly because the Holy Spirit is not prompting the fast. But there are other times, when God wants me to fast, that it becomes to me the wholly delightful discipline that it is.

Our Lord and Savior, like Moses and Elijah, also fasted 40 days. It is significant that He did this before His ministry began and before the miraculous began to occur. The absence of the miraculous among many of today's Christians could be traceable to the lack of this forgotten discipline.

I think it is also safe to assume that although Jesus did not eat for 40 days, He did drink water. An indication of this is that Satan tempted Him on the point of eating, not drinking - on the point of hunger, not thirst.

Fasting Alone

In Matthew 6, three fascinating promises are given (6:4, 6, 18). Christ says, "Pray, give and fast in secret and God will reward you openly" (paraphrase). Fasting is here presented as a spiritual force in its own right. Praying brings results. Giving brings results. And fasting, by itself, brings results too.

Apart from prayer? Yes, apart from prayer. The promise which accompanies fasting is not hinged to prayer. It is hinged to fasting alone. Mind you, prayer and fasting are repeatedly linked in the Scripture. They are powerful twins in the spiritual warfare, but they are not Siamese twins. Together they multiply the release of spiritual power. But alone as well, fasting brings results.

Now any Christian would be foolish indeed to argue against praying. Far from it. But a word in favor of fasting needs to be spoken. A telephone operator, for example, who talks in her work, could be occupied completely with her job and could still apply tremendous spiritual force to a personal problem through fasting. And if she can maintain an attitude of prayer throughout, all the better.

Missionary Fasting

Fasting in the book of Acts played a vital role in the commissioning of missionaries and in what we might now call church business meetings (Acts 13:1-4). Today we tend to schedule banquets when the church's business is to be done. Could that be why it is so poorly done sometimes? Could our lack of fasting have any relationship to the lack of missionary candidates?

Probably the greatest text on the subject of fasting is found in Isaiah 58:6. After a five-verse description of the type of fast God does not like, the prophet says, "Is not this the fast that I have chosen, to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?"

Fasting will loose the bands of wickedness. And there are plenty of those.

Fasting will undo the heavy burdens. And there is no shortage of burdened people.

Fasting will free the oppressed. And to me this is a clear reference to the liberation of those bound by Satan. Occult bondage is shattered by fasting. Sometimes nothing else will break through.

Every Yoke

Fasting also will break every yoke. Thank God for that "every." For example, an invisible yoke is often formed between a young couple, one a believer and the other not. Concerned parents talk and cajole. But arguments only push the young people together. Fasting is what is needed to break a yoke like that. And fasting can be applied to a problem without the participation or even the knowledge of the principals involved. Why, oh why, have we allowed the ruin of so many of our homes and families without ever once unsheathing the yoke-splintering fast which God has given us? The answer is not easy.

Christ made it clear that while He was present on earth His disciples would not fast, though the followers of John the Baptist, of course, did fast. But Jesus also made it clear that after He departed, His disciples would fast (Mark 2:19-20). I believe at Christ's return fasting by the church will be terminated. But now, in the meantime, fasting is God's order. A non-fasting church is out of order!

In any discussion of fasting some reference needs to be made to 1 Corinthians 7:5, "Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer."

The context clearly indicates that a temporary abstinence from sexual relations within marriage is a fitting and proper self-discipline.

One of my friends in the ministry describes fasting this way: "Fasting is a disciplined abstinence from all that gratifies or satisfies the flesh in order to give one's self totally to seeking the Lord in the Spirit. This is the ultimate. Anything less is partial."

A fast may be undertaken in secret, as in Matthew 6, or it may be public, as in Acts 13. It may be initiated by a leader, as in Esther, or it may come from the grass roots, as in Nineveh. It may be done carnally, with wrong motives, and without effect. But if Christ truly lives in the Church and in us, He is the same Savior who fasted 40 days. And He wishes to express His fasting nature through us today so that He can hone the spirituality and discernment of His Church.

Some say, "I believe in fasting, but I don't feel led." It is true that we should be led as God's children. But why is it that so few Christians are led to fast when it is so obviously a vital part of Christianity? Usually, we fail to fast because the whole concept of fasting has remained uninviting and uninspiring.

Fasting has not been presented as a wholly delightful discipline. But that is what it is!

Always Results

At this point I would like to say I have never fasted without seeing some result. When I shared this fact with a friend who is a pastor, he countered with, "But when I fast, nothing ever happens."

However, we fasted together one day during a campaign and that evening the church was full. A film was shown which had a very ordinary impact. My message was ordinary enough, though evangelistic and clear. But God was there. There were many inquirers - men, women, young people and children. So many went to the inquiry room that we lost track of how many had responded.

The next day I asked my pastor friend, "Can you still say that God never does anything when we fast?"

With a smile, he answered, "No!"

A Last Word

Enthusiasm for fasting is understandable. But the pitfall of regularly scheduled fasts should probably be avoided. All biblical fasts were issue-oriented. A determination to fast every Monday or the third Thursday, for example, may lead present-day believers into the kind of fasting the Bible consistently condemns. It is far better, I think, to apply the awesome power of fasting to specific issues at specific times. The results are certain to be gratifying indeed.


This booklet is an excerpt from the book Warfare Weapons
by K Neill Foster (Camp Hill, PA: Horizon Books, 1995).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, AUTHORIZED KING JAMES VERSION.