On January 30 we begin 30 days of prayer for our city. We’re joining churches all across Katy and West Houston for the 2nd year to do this. To get us prepared, we’re taking break from Romans to look at fasting and prayer: two practices that are no mystery in terms of what they are, but often seem a great mystery as to why and how to practice them. So let’s take some time and dive into these mysteries with the goal of appreciating and practicing them in a way that yields their intended effect. This morning we’re starting with fasting.
Fasting, simply put, is to go a period of time without eating. Some of you may know that because of the popularity of intermittent fasting. It seems to be a growing trend to promote weight loss and better health. While some forms of fasting (like this) may have physical health benefits, that isn’t the reason fasting is practiced in the Bible. You might make a case for it promoting spiritual health, but I’m not sure that’s the ultimate reason behind why we might want to practice Biblical fasting.
There are a few well-known times of fasting in the Bible. Perhaps the most well-known is the time Jesus was driven into the wilderness following his baptism and was tempted by Satan. In Matthew 4:3-4 we read,
And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
So here is one important reason for fasting—to remember that the Word of God is equally important as the food we eat. Fasting points us to the vital importance of the Word. It was the written word, by the way, that Jesus quotes in order to resist the temptation of the devil. Fasting also reminds us that food is something we have from the hand of God.
Another familiar time of fasting in the Bible is when Moses went up Mt Sinai to receive the 10 commandments. He also fasted 40 days and 40 nights before the Lord gave him the Ten Commandments. Again, this has to do with the Word of God and its importance in the life of God’s people.
Another familiar fast was practiced by Elijah after defeating the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel and fleeing the promised revenge from Jezebel, the queen in Israel. He flees into the wilderness and fasts again 40 days and 40 nights in preparation to hear the Word of God on Mt Sinai that reinvigorates him after wanting to die, reminds him that God is in charge, and gives him marching orders for the future.
Other times of fasting are tied to mourning or a time or as an act of humbling oneself before God with an important request. So we can say that fasting is a form of humbling yourself before God recognizing that things aren’t yet as they should or will be. There is tragedy and pain in the world and fasting reminds us of this. It is also a way of preparing to receive something from God. Fasting puts you in a state of need, reminding you that God supplying you with bread, guidance, or anything, you would be in a state of emptiness, of destitution. It has a way of getting you hyperfocused on your need before God, eager and ready to receive whatever it is that he would offer. It is a way of focusing on the Lord as provider.
These are all lessons for us on fasting. This morning, however, I want to focus on this passage from Isaiah. He shows us that fasting aligns you with God.