It’s Ramadan, a time of fasting for Muslims everywhere. They are called to abstain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset for a month as one of the five pillars of Islam. My friend shared that she only fasts for part of it and talked about how hard it is to fast. My friend’s husband isn’t fasting and was told by other Muslims that if he didn’t fast, he wasn’t Muslim. As a Christian, I believe you can be a Christian without fasting. It is not the act of doing or not doing something that unites us to Christ. Rather it is our faith in him.
She started asking questions about Christians and fasting. I found myself wondering how to answer her though. As Christians, it is not a requirement to fast but we are called to fast. Matthew 6:16-18 doesn’t say ‘if we fast’ but rather ‘when we fast’. It isn’t an ‘if/then’ statement. We often turn to Matthew 6 and examine the Lord’s prayer, but when we look at it as a whole and see the big picture, what amazing instruction Jesus gives us. There are three ‘when’ statements he gives us. When we give, when we pray, when we fast. There is power when we are doing all three.
We are told to do it…. but how many of us actually do? I know a number of people who will select something to give up during Lent, but is this the Biblical fasting we are called to do? I think it’s great to unplug, and think we should, but Biblically speaking fasting is defined as abstaining from food and drinks. Are we practicing this in the church though?
Will my skipping food convince God to heal someone, provide something or in any other way lower himself to my level? Absolutely not! I don’t fast expecting it to be some magic formula that if I give up this, then God will do this. I say that and yet while there may not be expectations, there is faith. God tells us he hears us when we fast and pray. There have been times I have felt the need not just to pray fervently, but to pray and fast. To give of myself as I petitioned God’s mercy.
I really like the way that Jentezen Franklin described it in his book Fasting:
“I want you to understand that you are not ‘twisting God’s arm’ when you go on a fast. You are not going to make God do anything He does not want to do. What you are actually doing is positioning yourself and preparing your heart for what is to come. If you are willing to seek Him, He will be willing to give.
Any time you fast, it is a hunger strike against hell. Fasting is an extreme in-your-face statement to the devil – that same deceiver who used food to tempt Adam and Eve to sin.”
We may think it’s just food… and yet food is the very thing that Adam and Eve were forbidden… and the very thing they couldn’t stay away from.
There are also times we are called to corporate fasting. As a body of believers, we need to come together and cry out to God. We need to unify in both body and spirit. God has given us examples of this in both the Old and New Testaments. When believers and unbelievers fasted and prayed together, things happened. Just one great example of this is seen in Jonah. Nineveh was a town so full of sin God was going to destroy it, but he sent Jonah to warn them first.
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:6-10)
I don’t pretend to understand God – His ways are so far above my own. But as a parent when my children ask for something, I’m much more likely to take notice if they also show me they’re willing to sacrifice and work for it. I’m also more likely to consider their requests if they have spent quality time with me and it’s something that will be beneficial for them. Is this the way God views it too? Maybe. God saw into the hearts of the people of Nineveh. He showed them mercy and kindness.
It is because the hearts of the people were hard and unloving that God did not answer their fast in Isaiah 58. We are not just to give up food and drink and expect God to show us favor. We must also show love and kindness in order to truly fast.
Isaiah 58 True Fasting
I challenge you this month. Fast and pray. Demonstrate the true fasting Isaiah calls for. Corporately fast as the king of Nineveh declared. Fast and pray for the unreached.
Let us remember that it is not if, but when.