The benefits of pursuing and obeying God are always worth the cost. The Word says in Hebrews 11:6, “[God] rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
Jesus taught His disciples this simple and powerful truth in Matthew 10:39, “…whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
One of the great paradoxes of Scripture is that we find life when we willingly lose it by giving it up to God. This doesn’t mean that we earn our salvation or God’s favor, but it does mean that we experience His favor more fully when we align ourselves with God by earnestly seeking Him and faithfully obeying Him.
Every good thing we have in our lives is because of His goodness and grace, but if we disobey Him or follow Him with a lukewarm passion, we’re going to miss out on some of that “goodness” He has for us.
This is why God sometimes rebukes and disciplines us. It is because He loves us and wants us to know and experience everything He has designed for us and destined us to become. That’s why I believe the benefits of pursuing God and obeying Him are always worth the cost. When we say yes to God, we experience more of the adventure and His abundant life.
So let’s consider Lent and the issue of fasting . . .
First, I’ll be honest, I hate to fast; it makes me furious! (I love food and food loves me!) But what makes me even more furious is the brokenness I see all around me in this city and in our world.
• I am furious about people being consumed by materialism and greed because they’ve forgotten that Jesus said in Mark 8:36, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?”
• I am furious about sickness, disease, and poverty that destroys so many whom God so deeply loves.
• I am furious about how many people don’t understand yet that God is good and gracious and merciful and how much He longs to be in relationship with them for eternity.
Fasting makes me furious, but what if it’s what God wants?
Fasting is one of the most feared and most misunderstood things in the Bible. It’s feared because we all love food, and it’s often misunderstood because we think only fanatics fast. It’s feared because we think if we don’t fast we might go to hell. It’s feared because it flies in the face of our culture that is all about satisfying our needs and desires with very little (if any) concern for denial or self-sacrifice.
I know how hard it is to read about fasting. Some of you are looking for the UNlike button on this post.
BUT before you stop reading . . . let me define fasting and give you a few reasons to consider fasting during this season of Lent.
1. Fasting is willingly sacrificing something of value (i.e. something that gives us life) as a spiritual discipline. Strictly speaking, fasting in the Bible is generally voluntary abstinence from food for a spiritual purpose.
2. The word “fast” in both the Hebrew (tsom) and Greek (nesteia) refers to the practice of self-denial. An author, Richard Foster, defines it as “the voluntary denial of a normal function (such as eating) for the sake of intense spiritual activity.” So, again, the key concept is abstinence for a spiritual purpose. You can fast to lose weight, but that doesn’t make it a spiritual exercise of faith!
3. In the Old Testament, sometimes people fasted when they were brokenhearted and in grief (such as Jonathan in 1 Sam. 20, and David and his men in 2 Sam. 11).
4. In the New Testament, there are examples of leaders and the church fasting when in need of divine guidance or facing a new ministry challenge (Acts 13 & 14). Jesus Himself fasted prior to the beginning of His public ministry (Matthew 4).
I like to describe fasting as prayer on steroids because fasting enhances the intensity of people’s heart-cry to God! It almost always is an act of desperation for the intervention and manifestation of God in their midst.
That being said, let me make sure that you understand what fasting is not:
1. Fasting is not a means to manipulate God or to somehow twist His arm. It is not a spiritual hunger strike!
2. Fasting is not penance (self-punishment) for our sin because our debt is paid in full. For Christ-followers, it is not a way to placate the anger or wrath of God. God’s not mad at you; He’s mad about you!
3. Fasting is not self-sacrifice as a way to earn God’s love or favor. There is nothing you can do to make Him love you any more or less than He already does.
4. Fasting is not a religious ritual done to impress others or ourselves with how spiritual we are (Jesus addressed this in Matt. 6:16-18).
5. Fasting is not a “divine weight loss program” either! (Sorry.)
Fasting is a humble and voluntary act of self-denial where we willingly sacrifice “something of value” as a spiritual discipline for a spiritual purpose.
Again, quoting Richard Foster from his book The Celebration of Discipline, “…the very first statement Jesus made about fasting (in Matt. 6) dealt with the question of motive. To use good things to our own ends (so that we look good or to impress others) is always the sign of false religion. Fasting must forever center on God.”
Simply put: Fasting is about God and for God. And it’s important to understand that fasting is not so much about us getting His attention as it is about Him getting ours. (Click to tweet the last line, and go back and read it again.)
Here’s a little truth about humans: What we focus on we drift toward, and fasting helps us focus on God and His Kingdom. Fasting is one way of reorienting ourselves toward God. It is a way of refocusing our attention on Him.
To reorient toward God is to adjust our lives and our hearts (what we do, what we believe, and how we live) to God, His purposes, and His ways. When we fast, we become more aware of our need for God. We become more aware of our inadequacies and absolute dependence on Him. We become more attentive to His Word, His ways and His will. And that’s why through fasting we better position ourselves for breakthrough by Him.
I encourage you to fast, but let’s make this season and our fasting all about God and His desire to see His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Like I said, I hate to fast, and it’s not easy or fun to do so, but the fruits (no pun intended) can be fantastic!