My devotional tonight was inspired in one part because of lent and the other part because of an article that I read by Thom Rainer, the President of Lifeway. In this article, Thom Rainer lists the characteristics of breakout churches. Now a breakout church is a church that had either declined or plateaued in growth for five years, but then had five years of growth.
And the first part describes us: 2012 averaged 152, 2013: 140, 2014: 125, 2015: 112, 2016: 100. We are praying that we too can become one of these breakout churches and so far we are off to a good start. 106 is our current average for the year.
So when they looked at these churches to look at what they had in common, the Lifeway researchers noticed things like:
• Expository preaching (Which is what we are doing),
• Unified and clear mission statement (Which we have),
• First Baptist Church of Magnolia aims to be a family of believers in Jesus Christ that love God and love others. Together, we aspire to be a church that welcomes all to join us in becoming what Christ would have us be.
• outward based ministries instead of inward focused ministries,
• qualified and trained staff and leaders,
But what I want to talk to you about this evening is what I found on that list that kind of shocked me.
It was prayer.
All these churches had a deep commitment to prayer. Now it was a great blessing to inherit a church that has already done this. That did not say let us wait until when the new pastor gets here. I was a huge blessing to arrive and find a body of believers ready to serve, and not a body of believers spiritually exhausted and malnourished from their time without a pastor.
Today we are going to look at fasting as a way to encourage us to do something in order to heighten our prayers. It does not have to be a multiple days long. Fasting is not meant to be an exercise of our will-power, we want it to be an exercise that will strengthen our prayers for this church and this community. In his book God’s Chosen Fast, Arthur Wallis remarked,
Fasting is calculated to bring a note of urgency and importance into our praying, and to give force to our pleading in the court of heaven. The
man who prays with fasting is giving heaven notice that he is truly in earnest….Not only so, but he is expressing his earnestness in a divinely- appointed way. He is using a means that God has chosen to make his voice to be heard on high.
Therefore, since I am calling you all too fast, let us briefly answer the question, What is fasting? Fasting is probably the most feared spiritual discipline. We are afraid that it will make us suffer dreadfully and give us a generally negative experience. For some Christians, fasting for spiritual purposes is as unthinkable as shaving their heads or walking barefoot across a fire pit.
However, fasting is a Christian’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. Fasting is more than just the ultimate crash diet for the body; it is abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.
Now that we have answered what is fasting, now let us answer, why should we fast? The main reason is because Jesus both practiced and taught fasting.
In Matthew 4:1-2 we see that, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. Here we see that in preparation for His temptation with Satan, Jesus prepared himself spiritually by fasting.
And in Matthew 6:16-18 we see that Jesus instructs us to fast when he says,
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Here Jesus does not say if you fast, he says when you fast. And we can pretty much assume that Jesus wanted fasting and prayer to be connected since our instructions to fast comes right after the Lord’s prayer. We also see that fasting is important by how many times it is mentioned in the Bible. Fasting is
mentioned 77 times and Baptism is only mentioned 75. Although I would not go as far as to say it is more important than Baptism, but I would say that if God mentions something 77 times, we should take notice.
Now that we have answered the what and why of fasting. Let us answer the question, what does fasting do, or what is the purpose of fasting? It is important to have a purpose when fasting because without a purpose, fasting can be a miserable, self-centered experience. Fasting is not to be a legalistic routine, but a privilege and an opportunity to seek God’s grace that is open to us as often as we desire.
“Self-indulgence is the enemy of gratitude, and self-discipline usually its friend and generator. That is why gluttony is a deadly sin. The early church fathers believed that a person’s appetites are linked: full stomachs and jaded palates take the edge from our hunger and thirst for righteousness. They spoil the appetite for God” (Plantinga, 1988).
We see that Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights in order to spiritually strengthen Himself and to dedicate Himself to God for the beginning of His public ministry. In the spiritual strength of that prolonged fast Jesus was prepared to
overcome a direct onslaught of temptation from Satan himself, the strongest He would face until the cross.
Jesus privately dedicated Himself during this fast to the Father for the public ministry that He would begin soon thereafter. Therefore, the first purpose of fasting is to dedicate ourselves and to help us grow spiritually in order to overcome temptation. We are in spiritual warfare and sometimes it is good for us to weaken our physical bodies in order to strengthen our spiritual ones. Personally, I think that if Jesus prepared himself for his transition into ministry by fasting, it might be wise for us to go through a season of fasting since we too are preparing ourselves for transition into ministry under new leadership.
The second purpose of fasting is to strengthen our prayers. When we fast, we should be like Jesus and say that we desire God and hearing His word, more than desire fulfilling our fleshy desires. Therefore, when you feel your hunger pains use it as a reminder that 1.) that you love God more than you love food, and 2.) to remind you to pray for whatever you fasted for.
Now that we have addressed the what, the why, and the purpose of fasting, now let us look at how to fast. There are different ways to fast. A normal fast
involves abstaining from all food, but not from water. To abstain from food but to drink water and fruit juices is the most common kind of Christian fast.
How long should we fast? It is up to you and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. In the Bible are examples of fasts that lasted one day or part of a day, a one night fast, three day fasts, seven day fasts, fourteen day fasts, a twenty-one day fast, and forty day fasts. So I would suggest that if you have never fasted before, start with a one, two, or at the most three-meal fast. But start somewhere. Do not look for loopholes to avoid it. Look for ways to experience God’s grace through fasting.
Of course, for some of you a normal fast, for medical reasons, should not be attempted. However, those of you that feel like you cannot do a normal fast; you can do a partial fast. A partial fast is a limitation of the diet but not elimination from all food. For ten days Daniel and three other Jewish young men only had vegetables to eat and water to drink in Daniel 1:12. John the Baptist only ate locusts and wild honey. So for a partial fast you can either eat smaller portions, cut out all drinks except water, especially if you are used to only drinking cokes or
sweet tea. Or you could cut out a certain type of food, like Daniel did when he cut out all drinks except water and only ate vegetables.
For another example of a partial fast look with me at Daniel chapter 10 verses 1-3,
In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a word was revealed to Daniel. And the word was true, and it was a great conflict. And he understood the word and had understanding of the vision. In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.
You know what made those churches break out of their 5 year slump. They became a church that mourned. That called quits on getting angry at how dumb things where and how much the kingdom was not being advanced. And got on their knees and fasted, eating no delicacies, passing by the ice-cream after lunch praying to God and asking God to do amazing Kingdom advancing things.
They were not only praying for their church and leaders, but some of them were in places in their marriage where it seemed like it was never going to get better. It felt to big for them and they just filled their life with multiple little pleasures that sort of made it bearable, when really the lack of intimacy and the lack of kingdom growth in their marriage is driving them crazy, but they could kind of make it bearable.
What I think the Lord would like you to do is to be like Daniel and not to numb the mourning, but to intensify it for a season with fasting and prayer. And by passing by the delicacies. This is a fast that everyone can do. Some of you cannot go without eating because of health concerns. Daniel was eating food just not delicacies. Daniel was going through a time of severity to increase the mourning and pleading with God, for the advance of God’s kingdom.
If you are fighting something that you want to battle together in prayer, I will fast with you. I just want to make myself available for anyone that is battling sin; I will fast with you anytime you want. It is not just good enough to take something bad out of your life, you need to take something bad out and replace it with
something good so that when temptation comes back there is no room for it and fasting can play a role in figuring out what that is.
We have ignored prayer and fasting and we have wondered why we know and experience so little of Christ and why the kingdom does not advance with power. And I am here to tell you that the response from God will come from a response of our work, to our prayers, to our morning, to our fasting.
?As a work through which we earn his favor? Absolutely Not! The Bible does not teach that fasting is a kind of spiritual hunger strike that compels God to do our bidding. If we ask for something outside of God’s will, fasting does not cause Him to reconsider. Fasting does not change God’s hearing so much as it changes our praying.
We have been given access to God through the Spirit, we have been made children of God by the cross, and we have had our sins paid for. There is no guilt in life there is no fear in death. Now we can approach God, but when you look at this world and you see its fallen nature and how it is starting to affect the families in this community, we would be better off to let ourselves mourn than to talk about what a healthy church we are. And deny the delicacies for a season, and
to seek our God for greater display of our Lord Jesus Christ. And I have news for you, he loves to answer prayer. Our fasting will not go in vain.
So I have answered four questions for you tonight. What is fasting, Why do we need to fast, What is the purpose of fasting, and How should we fast? Now I am going to leave you tonight with three questions that only you can answer.
First, Will you confess and repent of any fear of fasting? There is something about saying, “I’m not going to eat today,” that causes anxiety in many Christians. It seems that most believers would rather give an offering of money than give up food for a day. ?Do you have a mild case of fasting-phobia? It is silly when you put it in perspective. We think about missing a meal or two for the sake of becoming more like Jesus and we get anxious.
And yet we willingly miss meals sometimes while shopping, working, or otherwise occupied. Whenever we believe another activity is at that moment more important, we will go without food fearlessly and without complaint. We need to learn that there are times when it can be not only more important, but
also much more rewarding to feast on God than food. We should not fear the blessings of fasting.
Second, Will you fast as the Holy Spirit directs? Are you willing to obey God when he prompts you to fast? Because Jesus expected that His followers would fast, I believe that from time to time His Spirit will direct you to fast. Will you determine in advance that you will be obedient to His voice?
So how do you know if the Holy Spirit is directing you to fast? One of the ways the Holy Spirit prompts you to fast is through a need in our lives. If you need stronger prayer about a matter, that is an invitation from the Lord to fast. If you need God’s guidance on an issue in your life, that is an encouragement to fast. If you need deliverance or protection, that is a time to fast. Our third and final question is, Will you determine a time this week to fast and pray for this church and this community?