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The Heart of Christian Fasting
Part 4: Fasting Today

Tuesday, January 18, 2011 | Comments (38)

We’ve looked so far at fasting in the Old Testament, the Sermon on the Mount, and the New Testament. Let’s get practical by thinking through how we fast today as Christians, trying to be biblical about it.

While the New Testament seems to de-emphasize fasting, I think it would be a mistake to say fasting has been completely eliminated from the life of the church. After all, Jesus did say, “Whenever you fast,” which could almost be translated “if and when you fast”; and in Matthew 9:15, he does say his disciples will fast after he is taken away from them. But Jesus gives no other detail.

I believe that’s instructive for us. Rather than follow some guru who wants to make up rules Jesus didn’t find necessary, I think you’re better off guided by biblical principle. Here’s a summary statement to launch the discussion:

Summary: Fasting is left to the discretion of an individual believer in times of distress.

Regarding that qualifying phrase, “in times of distress,” I like what the 19th century commentator John Broadus said:

Fasting is right only when [your] condition makes it natural. In a time of joy, fasting would be unnatural, and could not express a genuine feeling. But persons who are in great distress are naturally inclined to abstain from eating. Fasting can deepen those spiritual impulses toward worship and devout meditation.

In other words, if you’re in a joyful frame of mind, don’t try to adopt an artificial position of mourning and fasting. James says: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (James 5:13).

The call to the cheerful is to sing praise—not fast. So if that's you, an understanding of fasting can help you appreciate more your position of blessing. Rejoice in the goodness of God and remember that He richly supplies you with all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17).

But some of you are on the other end of the spectrum. You’re grieving the death of a loved one. You’re fighting a major health battle. You’re battling a besetting sin. You’re overwhelmed with a difficult family relationship. Maybe you’re on the brink of a major life decision and urgently need the Lord’s guidance.

For you, fasting may be an appropriate outlet for the burden of your heart. That’s what A. W. Pink was talking about when he wrote,

Private fasting must issue from an urge within and not because it is imposed from without. Private fasting should be spontaneous, the result of our being under a great stress of spirit, and the simple act itself be entirely lost sight of in the engrossing fervor which prompted it.

God appointed fasting for such times. Maybe the act of skipping a meal or two would help you express to God the spiritual urgency that is on your heart.

If you do decide to fast, let me suggest a mindset, a mental focus that I believe will give your time of fasting genuine constructive power.

Trials tend to make us lose sight of the spiritual realities that belong to us in Christ. So don’t use your fast to focus on your immediate problem or to try to force God’s hand to give you a great deliverance from the problem.

Instead, as you fast, focus your mind on God and direct your thoughts to divine realities.

  • Meditate on the reality of God’s sovereign control of your situation.
  • Focus your attention on the greatness of your salvation.
  • Remember that Christ has come, died, and risen so that all your sins would be forgiven.
  • Remember that Christ has ascended to heaven and continually intercedes for you before the Father.
  • Remember that you will one day see Him face-to-face.
  • Remember that nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As you fast with that trusting, dependent spirit, take heart—your Father will reward your Christ-centered fast in His time and according to His will.

One final word. It is popular for Christians to think fasting somehow brings them closer to God in a way that nothing else does. No matter how much people may protest their own experience to support their position, I don’t buy it. You shouldn’t either.

The Scriptures sanctify us. We are transformed by the renewing of our mind, not the restriction of our diet.

The Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul (Psalm 19:7).

Sanctify them in the truth, Your Word is truth (John 17:17).

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Don’t look for external fasting to do for you what God has appointed the Scriptures to do. Fasting is not designed to put righteous desires into you; it’s meant to be a means to express urgent desires that already exist. Fasting is an effect of a spiritual urgency, not the cause of it.

Look for God in His Word, not in bodily hunger pangs. That is what will produce the spiritual growth you desire in your walk with Christ.


Don Green
Managing Director


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#1  Posted by Deepika Rao  |  Tuesday, January 18, 2011at 1:00 AM

Very pratical and simple to understand. Thank you Ps Don for this blog.

#2  Posted by Jonathan Crappel  |  Tuesday, January 18, 2011at 6:08 AM

Has anyone here ever read "God's Chosen Fast" by Arthur Wallis?

#3  Posted by john murphy  |  Tuesday, January 18, 2011at 6:59 AM

Amen and Thank you brother Green,

If I were able to foster the urgency of the Spirit that precedes the true fast, through not eating food, then I suppose I would end up praying for....some food

#4  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Tuesday, January 18, 2011at 7:55 AM

' Fasting is an effect of a spiritual urgency, not the cause of it. '

It means acknowledging Jesus whom is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Awesome!! It's about God is our Potter and we are clay.

God is to be praise, adored, worshiped, and etc.

#5  Posted by Elaine Bittencourt  |  Tuesday, January 18, 2011at 8:05 AM

Arthur Wallis' book. Never heard of neither the man nor the book, but read a little about both just now.

From what I read, he believed in revival through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He was charismatic with a Bethren background.

And this book, did the "Daniel fast" fad start there?

very troubling.

E.

#6  Posted by Keith Farmer  |  Tuesday, January 18, 2011at 8:59 AM

It is amazing how the Holy Spirit confirms truths with the people of God. This very morning in my study/devotional time I was thinking on the topic of these latest blogs. I thought about the truth that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. Our minds are renewed by diligent study of God's Word. And finally, that we are sanctified by the truth...God's Word is truth...from Genesis to Revelation (as Psalm 119:160 declares).

I thought that no prescribed order of ritualistic practices can accomplish what God alone is accomplishing according to Philippians 2:13.

I then logged on here to see if Don had added another blog in the series and had to smile when I read that he wrote the exact same thing that I studied this morning...

Great way to encourage the body through confirmation of the truth!

#7  Posted by James H Russell  |  Tuesday, January 18, 2011at 12:12 PM

Excellent post: Biblical, clear, and concise.

#8  Posted by Alex Soriano  |  Tuesday, January 18, 2011at 5:18 PM

I'm glad to see the statement "Fasting is an effect of a spiritual urgency, not the cause of it."

Lately, I had an hour of discussion with a friend who is fasting for a week. I pointed out to her that what they're doing is not really biblical because their denomination claim that fasting will cause God bring down breakthroughs and blessing or revival as they called it.

I took time to relate to her some of the fating done in the OT and I concluded that fasting is an effect and not the cause but an effect of the those spiritual revival- and that most spiritual revival has something to do with sin and mourning over sin.

She hated that idea.

#9  Posted by Keith Farmer  |  Tuesday, January 18, 2011at 5:27 PM

I would like to continue bringing to the front this obsession by many evangelicals...especially those who would classify themselves "New Calvinists"...with the notion of "spiritual disciplines".

Here is a link to one of the hottest/hippest gurus of the "New Calvinism" around detailing how he views fasting...note that this is set in a series of "Spiritual Disciplines" teachings:

http://theresurgence.com/2009/02/16/spiritual-disciplines-fasting

In my conversations with practitioners of this type "fasting" I have heard almost verbatim the terminology seen in the link such as: "there are seemingly innumerable other things that, though they are good, can become bad when they rule over us..."

Note on the link above all of the various "disciplines" involved in the series...this one is particularly strange:

#11  Posted by Elaine Bittencourt  |  Tuesday, January 18, 2011at 6:26 PM

#9 - Keith,

there was no link to the "particularly strange" discipline.

I agree with your assertion of this obsession with "new calvinism" (had to smile, I just knew who the "guru" was before checking the website).

I feel very "uncomfortable" with this statement from the cited site:

"The contemplative disciplines replenish our spirit, renew our mind, and reorient our focus."

Disciplines replenish our spirit, renew our minds, reorient our focus? I don't think so. Why am I not surprised to see Richard Foster's books recommended?

But... back to the issue at hand... if fasting is a spiritual disciple with the purpose of growing in self-discipline (and here I go "huh???"),and the author mentions Jesus and His fasting, what exactly he is implying was the purpose of Jesus fasting?

I don't really mean to discuss other people's view of fasting, but then again there is value in pointing out what fasting IS NOT.

E.

#12  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Tuesday, January 18, 2011at 7:23 PM

1: Our living true God and right bibical fasting.

2: The world and wrong fasting.

I choose #1.

Found a good scripture in James:1;2-8

My Brethren, count it all joy when you fall

into various trials, knowing that the testing

of your faith produces patience. But let patience

have its perfect works, that you may be perfect

and complete,lacking nothing. If any of you lacks

wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all liberally

and without reproach, and it will be given him. But

let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who

doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed

by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he

receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-

minded man, unstable in all his ways.

This verse makes me think about my relationship with Jesus.

Amen

#13  Posted by Keith Farmer  |  Wednesday, January 19, 2011at 7:34 AM

Sorry Elaine (#11) about leaving out the link...I was going to add the link but after looking at it several times I just could not do so (deals with sexual content)...I thought I had erased the line but...oh well.

#14  Posted by Micah Marchewitz  |  Wednesday, January 19, 2011at 6:31 PM

Is there something wrong with using the term spritiual discipline? I have followed this thread over the last couple of weeks and it has been brought up a couple of times. I know that Macarthur has used that statement and I am willing to bet that most other bible teachers have used it at some point in there ministry although admittedly I have not had the desire to do the research. I really don't understand why the phrase is an issue. Is it because the word spiritual is used and not Christian? Would it be legit to call it a Christian discipline? We use quite a few other words that are not in the bible and have sine the early days of the church. When God first saved me I read a book called Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes. I honestly don't remember if he used the word spritual or Christian discipline in it but it was a good book full of disciplines like prayer, worship, purity etc (he does not mention fasting thought). I would encourage any man to read it who hasn't. I myself don't see anything unbiblical or mystical about using a generic term like spiritual discipline when talking about how we live our Christian lives in regards to prayer, meditating on God's word, worship etc. Maybe I am way off in left field though. On a side note I have really enjoyed this thread and have learned alot, it also confirmed a few things I thought about fasting that I have seen alot of local churches do where I live that I have always thought were a bit off. Thanks everyone for there input and God bless

#15  Posted by Keith Farmer  |  Thursday, January 20, 2011at 6:53 AM

"Is there something wrong with using the term spiritual discipline?"

Micah, I think the question you asked is perhaps flawed but since I have raised the issue I will try and give an answer. First the term "spiritual discipline" must be defined before an answer to your question can be truly given. The fact that many in the evangelical world have borrowed a definition for that term from eastern mysticism, as is evident by the posts I have made and the sites I have referenced, cause me to be hesitant to give a nod to the usage of that phrase in generic form without further clarification of its intended meaning by the user.

Further, since the term is obviously not a term directly found in scripture but one that is prevalent in eastern mystical writings I must question why a Christian would want to muddy the waters with its usage. If the term spiritual disciplines were a term associated with the scriptures then there would be no issue in my opinion with the term itself although the term would still need to be defined.

"I myself don't see anything unbiblical or mystical about using a generic term like spiritual discipline when talking about how we live our Christian lives in regards to prayer, meditating on God's word, worship etc."

Again, I think the statement above is flawed. First, the term "spiritual discipline" is not a generic term but one that is extensively used by Roman Catholics and others involved with eastern mysticism. The term is directly associated with a set of religious practices designed to take people to a deeper level in their relationship with whichever god they may be serving.

Finally, sanctification is the product of the outflowing of a Spirit filled life...not as a direct result of merely following some set of disciplines that just anyone can employ. In my opinion, therefore, it would be better to focus one's attention on being filled with the Holy Spirit totally depending on His guidance (ref: Ephesians 5:15-21 and John 17:17) rather than focusing on a set of so-called disciplines.

#16  Posted by Elaine Bittencourt  |  Thursday, January 20, 2011at 7:47 AM

Yes, JM has used the term in the context of "self-discipline" (as far as I know, correct me if I am wrong).

"self-discipline, spiritually being able to discipline your own life...very, very essential to spiritual growth."

Here:

https://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/90-130_Fundamental-Christian-Attitudes-SelfDiscipline-Part-1

E.

#17  Posted by Keith Farmer  |  Thursday, January 20, 2011at 8:45 AM

Elaine,

"self-discipline" and "Spiritual disciplines" are not the same thing with regards to the topic at hand.

JM sums up the point I am making rather well in the sermon you cited:

"The God who has been so good as to give you the best possible gift which is Holy Spirit, what more could God give you than the Holy Spirit to take up residence in your life, to seal you for eternal glory, to sanctify you? I mean, the Holy Spirit is the greatest gift He gives. The Holy Spirit is the one who regenerates us, who makes us new, who gives us the promise of eternal life and maintains that. The Holy Spirit is the strength of our continued perseverance. The Holy Spirit is the source of all of our learning and understanding of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit is the source of our hope..."

Notice that JM does not say that adhering to a set of spiritual disciplines will result in the things for which he gives proper credit to the Holy Spirit achieving in our lives.

#18  Posted by Elaine Bittencourt  |  Thursday, January 20, 2011at 9:02 AM

Keith, I was agreeing with you. =) and at the same time commenting on #14 Micah's comment about JM using that statement [term].

E.

#19  Posted by Gabriel Powell  |  Thursday, January 20, 2011at 9:59 AM

Keith,

Remember not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers (2 Tim. 2:14).

While the phrase "spiritual discipline" is not a technical term in Scripture (nor does it have a universal definition), it certainly reflects clear biblical concepts.

1 Cor. 9:27, "But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."

Titus 1:8, elders should be "hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined."

1 Tim. 4:7, "... discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness..."

The phrase "spiritual disciplines" has been used by mystics, but not exclusively. It simply means discipline in the area of spiritual matters. I think you would agree that regular Bible reading takes discipline. Would you also agree that maintaining a consistent prayer life takes discipline? Since those are spiritual activities, is it wrong to call them spiritual disciplines? Not as biblical mandates to a higher Christian experience, but as obedience leading to greater Christlikeness?

Bringing it back to the current issue, I don't see how fasting can qualify as a discipline since, as Don has noted, it is not something to practice regularly for the primary purpose of spiritual growth.

I sympathize with those who use fasting as a means of enhancing spiritual awareness. I do not doubt that fasting makes you more aware of your dependence on God. I do not doubt it has other benefits as well. But I do doubt there is biblical support for using fasting as part of a regular diet for spiritual growth.

Personally, I wouldn't worry about the phrase "spiritual discipline" as much as how one is using it, or what they mean by it. I wouldn't charge everyone using it as a mystic or assume they're using it unbiblically. Love assumes the best and among conservative evangelicals we shouldn't assume that someone is caught up in Eastern Mysticism if they use the phrase.

It is better to discuss what someone means by spiritual disciplines than their use of the phrase.

#20  Posted by Keith Farmer  |  Thursday, January 20, 2011at 12:32 PM

Gabriel,

Perhaps you missed what I said previously...which is exactly what you just said :-) It is about meaning and not just the term per se.

"The fact that many in the evangelical world have borrowed a definition for that term from eastern mysticism, as is evident by the posts I have made and the sites I have referenced, causes me to be hesitant to give a nod to the usage of that phrase in generic form without further clarification of its intended meaning by the user."

I don't disagree with what you have written and I fully agree with what scripture teaches regarding discipline. In fact, I consider myself very self-disciplined. I do not agree with what many evangelicals are doing under the heading "spiritual disciplines" which is not in keeping with scripture...fasting superficially is one of those practices as has been pointed out perfectly by Don in his blogs.

Hope I am clear as mud :-)

#21  Posted by Sena Gbesemete  |  Thursday, January 20, 2011at 2:28 PM

How very interesting. I have been fed in many ways with this blog. I went through a lot as a charismatic christian. The most harrowing experience was knowing that i was not living a victorious christian life much as i thought i loved God and did all the works including going on weeks fasts etc. I kept praying and crying and asking God to deliver me from my weaknesses but it was to no avail. I failed miserably. One day when i was at the rock bottom, i again broke down in tears and cried to God and said if he would save me i would tell others not to come down this road. I did not know what i was getting myself into. The first thing that happened was God mercifully gave me a hunger for his Word and i couldnt stop eating. Gosh it was there that i came across standards which blew my mind away. The fear of God was born (thanks be to God) and i now know i live for him. It is interesting how much he has taught me to unlearn all that i thought i knew. Obviously this topic is essential as all scripture is God breathed but to an ex charismatic leader.......it is crucial and i am so grateful for all who God has used to explain this topic to me.

May he who begun a good work in you, be faithful to bring it to completion. Thanks and much love.

#22  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Thursday, January 20, 2011at 5:42 PM

Is there a better word to use for spiritual discipline. Cause this

word can be use for other religions. Why not use word term Christ-

center discipline. Just a thought.

#23  Posted by Micah Marchewitz  |  Thursday, January 20, 2011at 5:59 PM

I think I understand what you are getting at Keith. I do believe that some people in the Charismatic movement use that term out of context. All I meant by it being a generic term is that it is used pretty much across the board in all religions or cults or post modern spiritual groups. But after reflecting on it I can see your concern if it is not explained biblically.

#24  Posted by Scott Denkscherz  |  Thursday, January 20, 2011at 9:25 PM

Jesus fasted before going into the wilderness to be tempted or while He was already there in the wilderness, whichever, the point is he was not grieving or in distress. Neither were the diciples in grief or distress when waiting for the Holy Spirit to fill them. In fact they had great joy in knowing that Jesus had risen from the dead. So where do these examples that the bible records for us, fit in with the reasons given in the blog for biblical fasting?

Something is missing here. Surely biblical examples of fasting speak just as loud as the little bit of actual teaching that exists on the subject.

#25  Posted by Scott Denkscherz  |  Thursday, January 20, 2011at 10:36 PM

Matthew 17:14-21 seems to indicate that faith can be increased by prayer and fasting. That is the boy who was falling in the fire and the water and the disciples could not cure him. Jesus goes on to call them faithless and tells them their unbelief is why they could not cast the demon out. Then in verse 21 Jesus states "Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." KJV.

It seems to me that every instance I can think of where fasting is mentioned, something extraordinary occurs, or as in the case of the above, would have occured.

I believe it's time for a word study on fasting. Onward to the Strong's concordance. Seeing the time, it will have to wait 'till the morning. Praise be to The Most High.

As a side note: I used to spend my time on video game blogs debating meaningless games. This is much more rewarding. Thank you Jesus!

#26  Posted by Michelle Peery  |  Thursday, January 20, 2011at 11:28 PM

Has anyone read John Piper's book on fasting called "A Hunger for God"? What are your thoughts if so?

#27  Posted by Scott Denkscherz  |  Friday, January 21, 2011at 10:09 AM

Looking at Acts chapter 10, the great sheet with the "unclean foods" that Peter saw thrice. Verse 30 recounts Cornelius' fast of 4 days prior and how when praying "behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing," and told him of his prayer being heard and his alms being "had in rememberance in the sight of God." Then he recieves instruction on what to do next.

Again, no distress or grief, simply a desire to hear from God, that was honored by God.

These examples (this one and my previous comments) seem to contradict some of the views stated in the blog and the corresponding comments.

I look forward to any possible responses to my comments. Praise Jesus!

#28  Posted by Greg Corron  |  Friday, January 21, 2011at 12:51 PM

Re: Scott's comment #27

The mention of fasting by Cornelius is apparently not in some manuscripts. It appears in Acts 10:30 in the KJV, but not ESV, NASB, or NIV. So don't put too much weight on it.

Even if you think the KJV is more accurate in this verse, be careful not to read a cause and effect relationship into it, when the text does not say so. The way to sort it all out is to look to the clearest texts that explain how our faith grows. 2 Peter Ch. 1 is an excellent example of this. Peter gives a list of qualities we should strive for. He does not mention methods or specific practices, but stresses knowledge of Scripture (2 Pet 1:2, 19). As we strive for these things, God works within us (Phil 2:12-13).

#29  Posted by Wayne Wells  |  Friday, January 21, 2011at 1:07 PM

Luke tells us Anna served God with fastings and prayers for a very long period of time.

That ability to remain so dedicated for such a long time is awe inspiring. Her fastings surely helped prepare and enhance those many prayers.

Sometimes the work or assignment is so important and interesting, food becomes a necessary distraction and to stop work is unthinkable.

It could be Anna was just too busy to eat very often. She was available for God, not food so much.

#30  Posted by Michelle Peery  |  Friday, January 21, 2011at 7:10 PM

Could I also get some feedback on what is shared at this link?

http://www.ccci.org/training-and-growth/devotional-life/personal-guide-to-fasting/index.htm It was done by the late Bill Bright.

#31  Posted by Rebecca Fragoso  |  Friday, January 21, 2011at 10:10 PM

I'm thankful that the topic of fasting has come up...I've not heard very much taught on it. I was looking into John MacArthur's message archives and found a message as well on it(see below). Hope this message is helpful to someone else as well. I'm so very thankful to God for the blessing that the ministry of GTY has been in my life.

https://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/2231_Fasting-Without-Hypocrisy-Part-1

Blessings,

Becky

#32  Posted by Tommy Clayton  |  Saturday, January 22, 2011at 1:07 AM

Michelle # 30:

Since you invited some feedback on Bill Bright’s article, I’ll make a few observations.

The title of the article raises flags with me immediately: “Your Personal Guide to Fasting and Prayer.” A personal guide to fasting? That embodies the very thing Don addressed in his blog series on fasting.

The first sentence puts Dr. Bright’s view of fasting in perspective. He writes, “Fasting is the most powerful spiritual discipline of all the Christian disciplines.”

Where in Scripture does God tell us fasting is the most powerful spiritual discipline? In my estimation, elevating fasting over the reading of Scripture and prayer is misleading and dangerous. It prioritizes one activity God allows me the freedom to practice, over many activities God commands me to practice.

Survey all the instruction given to the churches in the New Testament. Nowhere in the epistles are we told to fast. Paul’s instruction to Timothy and Titus (how to lead the church) say nothing that indicates fasting is “the most powerful spiritual discipline.” In fact, they say nothing about fasting at all.

We find many references to reading God’s Word, exhorting one another, earnestly seeking God in prayer, practicing repentance, and communicating God’s Word through evangelism. But fasting is mentioned nowhere in those lists. It would be strange for the Holy Spirit to leave out the most powerful spiritual discipline from all the epistles addressed to churches and church leaders. In fact, the only time fasting is mentioned in any epistle is when Paul issued a warning to the Colossians not to let anyone hold them to a fast (Col. 2:16).

Another statement Dr. Bright made was, “The awesome power can be released through you as you fast through the enabling of the Holy Spirit.” Statements like that are prone to be misunderstood, and for good reason—they have no biblical support.

Dr. Bright made an interesting final observation. He said fasting has come to be neglected in the church. I can’t help but wonder: If we’re supposed to fast in secret, and not parade our righteousness before men (Matthew 6:1-18), how could we possibly know to what extent fasting is being neglected except in our own personal lives? Follow the logic? Jesus says, “When you fast, do it in secret.” If people were faithful to follow Christ’s instructions, we’d never know when, or to what degree fasting was being neglected—or practiced.

To summarize, I think Dr. Bright's personal guide to fasting misses the point of the New Testament teaching on the subject.

For the sake of clarity, my feedback speaks nothing of the motive or goal of Bill Bright’s article. I’m grateful for the legacy he left behind—zeal to reach college students for Christ across campus universities in America.

#33  Posted by Scott Denkscherz  |  Saturday, January 22, 2011at 11:38 AM

Re: Greg #28

That's fine, but what about my other comments at #'s 24 and 25.

#34  Posted by Michelle Peery  |  Saturday, January 22, 2011at 5:16 PM

#32 Tommy, wow - thank you so much for your input. I think I am coming to understand why there is such a concern now with this subject. I wasn't aware of the emphasis the "emerging church" is placing on "spiritual disciplines" and how a lot of people are being led astray from study of Scripture to practicing these "disciplines" to "connect" with God.

Also, I have an older book by Charles Stanley on prayer where he says that fasting can be a way to subject your appetites to the Holy Spirit's control (if a person is battling with controlling their appetites). Ultimately, this is what we need to strive for - to have Him be in control of us and our appetites.

What can a person do when she or he has been led by the Holy Spirit to undertake a fast and fails to do it as long as she or he felt led to do it (in her or his conscience)? Would the Lord require her or him to keep fasting until she or he got it right?

#35  Posted by Tommy Clayton  |  Saturday, January 22, 2011at 6:22 PM

Michelle:

You ask: “So What can a person do when she or he has been led by the Holy Spirit to undertake a fast and fails to do it as long as she or he felt led to do it (in her or his conscience)? Would the Lord require her or him to keep fasting until she or he got it right?”

Here’s a quick response:

If the Holy Spirit led someone to fast, that fast certainly wouldn’t be for the purpose of earning divine favor. So, when you ask, “Would the Lord require him to keep fasting until he got it right?,” My answer is “no.” Here’s why.

The Holy Spirit never “requires” something from us that Scripture doesn’t. As mentioned before, the New Testament never expressly commands believers to fast, so neither does the Holy Spirit. After all, He’s the author of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16).

I appreciate Don’s careful analysis of fasting for believers this side of the cross. Here’s how he summarized it: Fasting is left to the discretion of an individual believer in times of distress.

So, if your question was hypothetical, no problem. If someone you know is in the midst of the struggle you introduced, I would recommend you point them to Don’s 4-part series here on the GTY blog, which will give them a sweeping view of fasting throughout Scripture. I think that would help inform and comfort your friend.

Remember, Jesus came and addressed people under the oppressive rule of the religious leaders. The Pharisees placed terrible burdens on them—and wouldn’t lift a finger to help them carry the load (Matt. 23:1-5). Our day is not unlike theirs. We must be careful to not think beyond what is written in Scripture (1 Cor. 4:6).

I hope that helps.

#36  Posted by Greg Corron  |  Sunday, January 23, 2011at 8:36 AM

Re: Scott # 24, 25

Matt. 17:21 is absent from many manuscripts (not included in ESV and NIV). So it cannot support any doctrine on its own. And yes, Jesus did fast in the wilderness, but he doesn't explain why he did it. Remember, the question you are asking is not, "Why should I fast?" but "How can I best increase my faith?" Look to the texts in Scripture that explicitly answer that second question. The first question is never asked or answered in Scripture, so don't bother about it.

#37  Posted by Michelle Peery  |  Sunday, January 23, 2011at 5:05 PM

Thanks again Tommy for your input...

Someone mentioned before about how to address others when fasting without making a show that one is fasting. How should someone deal with or answer people that are non-believers (particularly family) when fasting? Especially if the family members end up getting concerned about the person (his or her health or well-being)?

#38  Posted by Michelle Peery  |  Sunday, January 23, 2011at 8:53 PM

One more question (thank you for bearing with me!) ~

Wouldn't it be alright to ask a fellow believer to pray along with you or remember you in prayer if you were embarking on a fast you were led to undertake by the Holy Spirit (let's say 3 days) so that you would stay strong and not break it? The motive not being to draw attention to one's self but for help to not give in? Especially if this is a very difficult undertaking for the individual?

#39  Posted by Tommy Clayton  |  Monday, January 24, 2011at 8:43 AM

Michelle:

The point Jesus is making in Matthew 6 is to fast in secret, not to be noticed by people. In other words, not like the Pharisees.

“When you fast, do not put on a gloomy face…but anoint your head and wash your face, so that your fasting will not be noticed.”

If people question your health in the midst of your fast, maybe that’s an indication you are getting stuck with those fundamental instructions Jesus laid down.

Consider His own example: Jesus went into the wilderness for his fast. We’d never know about it had it not been in the inspired record. That’s worthy of consideration. I understand Jesus had no wife or family to care for, but the principle is powerful. Angels—not disciples or family members—ministered to him at the completion of His fast, and he walked back into public ministry with how many people knowing about His wilderness occurences…?

Your second question sounds like your motive in fasting could simply be to hold-out until the last day is complete. Would it make sense to fast for 3 days and request prayer…to complete the 3 days? Not only would that potentially violate the instructions from Matthew 6, “being noticed by men,” but it sounds more like a human work, something a person is trying to accomplish for God instead of seeking Him in a time of urgency and distress.

I hope that doesn’t come across as unloving, Michelle. I’m simply trying to process your questions on fasting with the very limited amount of instructions we have from the New Testament. And I also want to be helpful to you as you study this subject.

We can follow up off-line if you wish.