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Lord, Teach Us to Fast

Lord, Teach Us to Fast

Today, as I pray and prepare for January’s upcoming fast, I am posting a portion of a previous blog pertaining to fasting:

In Matthew chapter six, as Jesus is teaching the disciples about the kingdom of Heaven — its laws and conduct — He mentions the word “when” three very significant times.

Not If, But When

1.       ” When you give…” (v. 2).

2.       “When you pray…” (v. 5).

3.       “When you fast…” (v. 16).

Notice that He did not say, if you give,” “if you pray,” “if you fast”. He did not say “if” but “when”. Jesus made it clear that fasting, like praying and giving, is to be a normal part of Christian life. We all know and believe in the importance of prayer and giving.  But sadly our approach to fasting is that it is a dispensable thing — merely an option for occasional implementation, if at all.

This is not a message about fasting, but we cannot be in this passage on prayer, this passage so tied to the Kingdom of God, and not briefly notice these three little words, when you fast.”

A Little Ridiculous?

A pastor once shared with me his frustration over the lack of spiritual and physical growth of his church.  “I led them in a twenty-one day fast a couple of years ago,” he said, “and was really expecting it to make a huge difference.  I thought God was really going to use it to change the church, but nothing came of it.”

On a human level, I sympathize with his plight; but at the same time, can you imagine the identical attitude applied to our personal finances and tithing? It would sound something like this:

“I’m so frustrated with barely getting by.  I am behind on all of my bills — I just never have enough!  I tithed out of one weekly paycheck a few years ago and was expecting it to really turn my finances around.God says give and He will open the windows of Heaven.  I just don’t understand why it didn’t work.”

Sounds a little ridiculous, doesn’t it?  And very unscriptural.  Yet this is our approach to fasting.  God intends for fasting to be a lifestyle, a regular part of our lives as are tithing and praying. Fasting should be something we do so frequently that it occurs naturally, habitually.  When you receive your paycheck, do you not first sit down and pay your tithe, then pay your bills and make purchases out of what is left?  It is a habit, is it not?  What is your habit in fasting?  Is fasting a way of life — a regular part of your spiritual walk with Christ?

A Way of Life

Fasting was a way of life for Jesus.  According to His words, it is the duty of every disciple, every believer, to fast.  When addressing the Pharisees as to why His disciples didn’t fast, Jesus said, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?  But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast (Luke 5:34-35)

“In those days they will fast.”  Jesus expected his disciples to do as He had done.

You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so,” Jesus said in John 13.  “That is what I am…I’ve laid down a pattern for you.  What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious.  A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer.  If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it – and live a blessed life.

If we are going to let Jesus teach us in the school of prayer, we must be willing to do as He has done.  “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

A few years ago, I began giving the first twenty-one days of the year to God in a fast.  The Holy Spirit used Jentezen Franklin and Free Chapel to spur me on to this obedience in Christ.   (After I hear one of Jentezen’s messages on fasting, I long to fast.  I hear myself asking the Lord, “when do I get to fast?”  Jentezen has an anointing for leading people in a fast.  I highly recommend his messages and books about fasting.)

As of September 2008, my health had only allowed a Daniel fast, and even at that, I had to incorporate some type of protein. Throughout August of that year, prior to launching Passionate Pursuit, I diligently prayed for the women who would be attending — beseeching the Lord to set them on a diligent, passionate pursuit of Christ.  After the first Passionate Pursuit in September, as I got in the car to drive home, a Jentezen Franklin message on fasting was playing in my car.  Within a few moments the Holy Spirit whispered, “Natalie, I want you to fast.”

“What?” I replied.  “I don’t think I heard you correctly.”

“Natalie, I want you to fast, and to fast completely from food.  You prayed for everyone else to be set on a deep, fresh pursuit of Christ, but what about you?  Pursue me passionately.”  By then I knew He meant business.  Now mind you, I had a car full of leftovers from a chocolate fountain buffet.  Even though I was listening to the fasting message in the car on the way to the event, I never really expected God to call me right then…but He did.  I knew instantly it was His reward.  The spiritual welfare of other women had so dominated my prayers that I forgot to include myself.  Yet God gave this in answer to my prayers.  Those days of  fasting were weak in my flesh, but God used them more than I could have ever dreamed.

One month later I traveled to Romania to minister.  Our team stayed in the home of Liviu and Mary Neagoe.  Immediately upon arriving, we sat down for dinner and a time to get to know each other.  Within minutes, the topic of fasting came up. We quickly discovered that we were all fasting the twenty-one days in January with Free Chapel — oceans apart we were bonded by prayer and didn’t know it.

Conviction quickly sat in as Liviu mentioned that he fasts the first two days of every month before he pays bills or makes business decisions.  He gives God the first two days of the month. The Holy Spirit’s point was well taken.  From that moment on fasting became a constant part of my life — a deeply treasured, sweet part of my fellowship with Christ.  The degree to which it keeps me in continual prayer is unrivaled.  I mention my personal experiences only to say that there is a spiritual blessing inherent in the fast, no matter what external results do or do not immediately occur.

In all honesty, I believe the growth of Passionate Pursuit, the Concert of Prayer and our participation in prayer together right now are fruit from fasting and prayer.  But without any external benefit, the crucifixion of the flesh and increased intimacy with the Father are fasting’s own immeasurable reward. For health reasons, I had to return this summer to a Daniel fast.  Not being able to fast from food entirely was like telling me to no longer open the scriptures in prayer.  Or to no longer fall to my knees in worship.  Fasting has become a sweet, treasured, intimate, holy part of my communion with Christ.  Again, I reluctantly share my personal experiences in fasting that you might be encouraged to consider some type of fast.  It really will rock your world!

A Sweet Experience

So often, when we hear the word “fast,” we can’t help but but make an ugly face.  Immediately we presume a fast to be a solemn, heavy, miserable, lonely, torturous experience.  Every negative connotation imaginable comes to mind.

In the same way, though, before we became accustomed to giving God the first moments of our day in prayer, perhaps we thought, “Oh, that’s horrible! You mean I have to set my alarm and get up early?! I have to stare bored out of my mind at the Bible?!”  But after experiencing that regular, frequent time of fellowship with Christ, your day now seems all awry if you have to miss it, does it not?   It is the same with fasting.  It is a habit that once you start you will look forward to each time.  And the God who sees in secret will reward.

May It Not Be Said of Me

“And no one calls on Your name and awakens and bestirs himself to take and keep hold of You…” (Isaiah 64:7 AMP)

What a grievous statement.  And yet it is true of the majority of the Church in our nation today.  May it not be true of you and me.  May we awaken and bestir ourselves to take and keep hold of God!

To what lengths are you willing to go to take and keep hold of God?  Are you willing to awaken and bestir yourself through a lifestyle of fasting and prayer?  Are you willing to renounce the natural in order to invoke the supernatural?

Christ’s teachings on prayer clearly show that receiving an answer depends upon certain conditions.  These conditions — faith, perseverance, praying in His name, praying in the will of God — are all summed up in John 15:7 “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”  Andrew Murray said,

“The power to pray the effectual prayer of faith depends upon the life.  It is only to a man given up to live as entirely in Christ and for Christ as the branch in the vine and for the vine that these promises can come true.  “In that day,” Christ said, the Day of Pentecost, “ye shall ask…in my name” (John 16:23).  It is only in a life full of the Holy  Spirit that the true power to ask in Christ’s name can be known.” [i]

Making prayer and fasting a regular, habitual part of our lives is central to a life full of the Holy Spirit.

24And those who belong to Christ Jesus (the Messiah) have crucified the flesh (the godless human nature) with its passions and appetites and desires.  25If we live by the [Holy] Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” ( Galatians 5:24-25, emphasis added).

…If this will be your first fast, or your first fast in a while, it might help you to fast along with others.  It is much easier when we feel the support of others, and the accountability as well.  You might want to fast with others in your family, or your church or prayer group — or of course, with us in the Concert of Prayer each Thursday and the twenty-one day fast beginning January 14, 2010.

If you are fasting with us, please take a moment to let me know.  I want to pray for you specifically.  As you email, please let me know you requests and reasons for fasting so that I might join you in prayer.

Types of Fasts

There are many ways to fast:

  • Full Fast. Drink only liquids, especially water.  On this type of fast you may also take in clear broth and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juices.
  • Partial Fast. There are several types of partial fasts

–   Daniel fast: a fast from meats, sweets, breads and any drink except water. Eat fruits and vegetables and drink only water. (Daniel 10:2-3)

–   Other partial fasts:

  • Select foods: Give up one item of food such as caffeine or sweets or give up one meal.
  • Choose to fast from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. or from sun-up to sundown. Consider your work schedule.  The hours that you sleep should not be considered part of your fasting period.
  • Along with fasting food, you might go on a “TV fast,” going without television at specific times.  When you do this, use that time in prayer and the Word.

However the Holy Spirit leads you fast, be sure to incorporate extra time in prayer. Simply going without food is a diet, not a fast.  Forfeiting television or entertainment without committing that time to prayer is merely an exercise of the will.  Fasting is consecration and separation unto the Lord.  We must make extra time to turn to the Lord in prayer and the Word.

The Holy Spirit will guide you and enable you — do not worry how He you will make it through. Once you commit to fast, God sees the desire of your heart and provides you with the grace and strength to follow through.

Are you ready to awaken and bestir yourself to take and keep hold of God through prayer and fasting?

__________________

[i] Andrew Murray, Andrew Murray on Prayer (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1998), 466

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