Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Power of Fasting

“And then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” Luke 2:37

There has been a lot of press recently about the benefits of fasting.  The Fast Diet is a new book about the value of intermittent fasting.   People are losing weight and feeling great.  Even movie and TV stars like Jimmy Kimmel and Hugh Jackman think that this is a great way to lose weight.  I also learned that we lose our appetite when we are sick to let our body focus on fighting the sickness rather than digesting food. 
It is obvious to me that fasting can have physical benefits but it is even more powerful in the spiritual realm. I’ve been thinking about fasting as a spiritual practice while I was writing a chapter in Embracing Change Learning to Trust God from the Women of the Bible about Anna, an 84 year old widow who never left the temple but worshipped day and night fasting and praying.    
Anna’s home in the Temple wasn’t like a modern day church, a building that people visit weekly to worship God through songs, giving offerings or listening to sermons. From now on when you read about the Temple, you need to imagine something closer to an all-you-can-eat steak buffet or the smells and excitement of a Texan’s annual whole steer BBQ. Imagine the smell of steaks grilling, spices sizzling on the flames and the excitement of a meal with friends and family. Since the Temple was the place that sin offerings, guilt offerings and fellowship offerings were offered to God, the scent of well-done beef, lamb and dove continually filled the air. Faithful worshipers of God would bring their sacrifices to the Temple and give a portion of it to the priest and then depending on the type of sacrifice; they could have a cookout with their friends and family. After making the sacrifices, it was a time of celebration. Sins were forgiven and people were in a right relationship with God. Time to kick back and enjoy some grilled meat.
Fasting is a spiritual practice that involves refraining from food. I can hardly imagine how hard it was for Anna in this environment. She was too poor to buy food; so she depended on the generosity of the people who came to the Temple to share their sacrifice with her. On days that no one shared their sacrifice with her, she responded with prayer and fasting. It would be like living in a steakhouse and being a vegetarian!
Anna was called to a lifetime of intermittent fasting but most fasting typically lasts for a certain amount of time. Fasting was done in various ways throughout the Bible. When Jesus fasted, he ate nothing[1] for forty days to prepare for being tempted in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry. Paul, Esther and Ezra fasted for three days and did not eat or drink.[2] Esther fasted and had all the Jews fast before she approached the King to seek deliverance for her people from Haman’s decree.  The Israelites fasted in the face of a battle. As a sign of repentance, the Israelites turned back to the Lord, fasted, confessed their sins and put away false gods. Daniel participated in a partial fast when he abstained from the meats and items from the royal table. One of my friends goes to a church that has a “Daniel fast” every January to refocus the leadership and members of the church. I have several friends who participate in Lent- which is a partial fast for forty days before Easter. I believe that fasting has immense physical and spiritual benefits but if you have health problems, please make sure to talk with your doctor before beginning any fast.
Fasting is done to experience God more fully and to draw near to God. Fasting provides an avenue for seeking God’s will in a specific matter. Fasting is also combined with repentance to draw us closer to God. Fasting takes our focus off of physical things like food and our bodies and helps us to refocus our energy and mind on the things of God.
In my life, God has used fasting to break through addictions and unhealthy habits.   I have seen that some of the most powerful benefits from fasting in healing broken marriages. Friends who were told by their husbands that their marriages were over took to heart the wisdom of 1 Corinthians 7:5(KJV) which in my words says, “The only reason for depriving your spouse of sex is prayer and fasting.” Since their husbands didn’t want to be intimate, my friends got serious with God and fasted for their marriage. Why would we sit around feeling hopeless and sorry for ourselves when we have the God of Hope on our side? Don’t trade the comfort of food for the presence of the Comfortor. Prayer is powerful but combining it with fasting adds another level of depth and focus.
 One important note- Fasting is not a quick fix. I have several friends who see fasting as a diet of sorts or a “cleanse.” While eliminating things from your diet may have physical value- spiritually, it is a bad practice. In fact, thinking that you could lose weight on a fast is only going to send you down a slippery slope of focusing on yourself rather than on God.  Isaiah 58 records some of the dangers of going through the motions of fasting and praying but missing the heart of seeking to know God and do His will. We go through the motions of seeking God when we are really seeking our own will. God told His people in Isaiah 58, they were fasting and dressing in sackcloth and ashes as an outward sign of repentance, but they weren’t doing what He wanted. "This is the kind of fast day I'm after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I'm interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own family.[3]
Let me know what you think.  Have you tried fasting for spiritual breakthroughs?

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