Relevant: Fasting, A Gift From God

Sermon Summary

This message is a part of the Relevant series on The Lord's Sermon on the Mount. Jesus talks about fasting from food and the right and wrong motives for fasting. He also promises that God will reward those who are willing to engage in this activity for the right reasons. The benefits of fasting are numerous and some of them are highlighted in this message. When properly understood and practiced, fasting becomes a gift from God!

Community Group Discussion Guide

1. Have you ever explored the discipline of fasting? If so, what was your experience like?

2. What do you think is the primary purpose of fasting? Use the following passage from the Sermon on the Mount to help answer this question.

Mat 6:31  So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'
Mat 6:32  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
Mat 6:33  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

3. When you are fasting you may need to let a few people know just for practical reasons. For example, you should let the person who prepares the meals at home know you are fasting so they don't prepare food for you during this time. However, fasting should primarily be a private activity. Why?

Mat 6:16  "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
Mat 6:17  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,
Mat 6:18  so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

4. Fasting is not just about giving up something. Properly understood, fasting a gift from God! What are some of the benefits which are gained through fasting?

Isa 58:5  Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
Isa 58:6  "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Isa 58:7  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Isa 58:8  Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Isa 58:9  Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. "If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
Isa 58:10  and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
Isa 58:11  The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

5. Bonus Question: How does the command to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy help explain the concept of fasting?

Genesis 2:2-3 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.
And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.


Relevant: Fasting, A Gift From God

"The highest praise belongs to You!" We praise a lot of things in this world. We praise ability, we praise talent, we praise accomplishments, we praise success! However, our highest praise should be reserved for the One who not only created us, but for the One who sacrificed His life for us so we could be forgiven of our sins and be made brand new! And not only did He give His life for us, but He continues to give us the things we need for life! We're going to begin our Christmas Series today, and it comes from our Lord's Sermon on the Mount. In the concluding verses of His sermon, Jesus gives us some spiritual gifts that are simply amazing.

Let's pray and then we're going to talk about something you probably never thought of as a gift, but it really is a very powerful gift from God! Let's pray!

Father God I thank You that You love us in spite of our sin and that You desire to give us spiritual gifts that can change the very course and direction of our lives! As we come to this Christmas season, please help us to discover the spiritual gifts in life that can actually give us more enjoyment and satisfaction than anything we may find under the Christmas Tree! Father God we are desperate to discover the real meaning of Christmas, and the gifts you desire to give to us which are practical and so helpful! I know how fun it is to receive Christmas gifts. I know how much fun it is to anticipate opening our gifts. But I pray we will learn in the coming weeks to unwrap some of the spiritual gifts you offer to us and that we will use those gifts in our daily lives! Please use me to share Your truth today in a way that will let people see and hear from You! I love You so much Jesus, Thank You for Loving me and I pray this prayer in Your precious name!!

Okay, you may at first be confused when we read our passage. You may wonder how in the world I can view what Jesus was talking about as a gift from God, but just stay with me and I believe you will get it and I believe the principle will have a very positive impact on your life. Our text is Matthew 6:16-18. Let's read it together...

Matthew 6:16-18 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.
I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,
so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen;  
and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

I know you're probably thinking, "What? Fasting is a gift from God? You've got to be kidding? What kind of gift is that? I'm so glad you asked that last question, because I've got an answer for you that may surprise you in a big way! As we try to answer that question, we need to first look at the concept behind fasting.

The Concept Behind Fasting

Most people think of fasting as just giving up food for certain period of time. And most people focus on the giving up part! However, the concept of fasting is not just about food. It is about taking a break from certain things and it's not just about what you give up, but it's about what you gain! Let me give you an example of the concept of fasting in the Bible that is not food related.

Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy! What does this have to do with fasting? It's about taking a break from work so you can have some time with God! Even God fasted from work when He created this world. Listen...

Genesis 2:2-3 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.
And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

And then God commanded His people to fast from their labors. Listen...

Exodus 20:8-10 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.

Some people today like to debate whether the Sabbath should still be on Saturday as it was with the Jews, or if it should be on Sunday as it has been for many years in the Christian Community, because Jesus was resurrected on a Sunday morning. I believe the concept is more important than the actual day. We are to fast from our labors and take time to rest and to worship God! Do you observe a Sabbath? Fasting from our labors for a day is a gift from God! And here's just one of the problems with a seven day week work schedule: It's as if you are depending totally on your own work to provide for your family. It's like you're saying you don't have time for God, or to rest. If that's the case, God can't bless you like He wants to and if it all depends on you then, then you'll never get a day of rest, because without the blessing of God you would need to work eight days a week or more to make up for the blessing of God! And of course there's not that many days in the week and so you see the impossibility of ever being able to provide all you need without the blessing of God.

Oh, you may be able to make a bunch of money, but money can't buy the real blessings we need from God and from a day of rest. Fasting from work is a once a week gift from God! You need it, and I need it! And by the way, if you feel I'm pointing my finger at you, remember there's at least three pointing back at me. I struggle with fasting from work! There's always a need, a person hurting, a family struggling, a sermon to be written, a world that needs Jesus and a church that needs to be led to reach that world!

But I'm not exempt from the command of God to take a Sabbath day of rest. I'm working on this and it all comes down to my willingness to trust God that He will help me do in six days what I could never do without His help even if I had ten days a week to work. So, the concept of fasting is not just about food, but food is the major focus in Scripture when it comes to fasting. Fasting, is a very important spiritual discipline. A man by the name of Dallas Willard wrote a book on spiritual disciplines. His statement on spiritual discipline really helps explain the concept of fasting...

“Spiritual disciplines are exercises unto godliness. If I train rigorously I can bench press 300 pounds, otherwise not. Such ordinary activities are actually disciplines that aid our physical or ‘natural’ life. The same thing happens with disciplines for our spiritual life.
When through spiritual disciplines I become able heartily to bless those who curse me, pray without ceasing, to be at peace when not given credit for good deeds I’ve done, or to master the evil that comes my way, it is because my disciplinary activities have inwardly poised me for more and more interaction with the powers of the living God and His Kingdom. Such is the potential we tap into when we use the disciplines.”

Abstaining from food for a given time disciplines us to acknowledge our dependence upon God for our physical needs. It allows us to be thankful for what we've been given, helps us appreciate the gift of food and to understand hunger is not a totally negative thing. If we never got hungry we would not know the joy of eating a good meal. Hunger is only bad when it is never allowed to be satisfied and when some have plenty and others want for the basic nutrition needed for life to be sustained. When a person fasts, it helps them realize just how blessed they are and hopefully gives them a greater desire to help those who have so much less. So the basic definition of fasting is abstaining from food!

Fasting is one of the least understood and least practiced of all spiritual disciplines. Why? Because everyone automatically thinks of it as giving up something rather than understanding the benefits. We'll talk about those in a minute. But the other reason fasting is rarely practiced is because our culture does not lend itself to the practice of this spiritual discipline. Our culture is one of glutenous consumption. Bigger is better, and having more is the ultimate goal! Uncontrolled consumption fuels our economy, but also fuels our spiritual destruction. And once again, it's not just about food. Our culture pushes unlimited pursuit of success at any cost, sexual satisfaction without moral constraints, and unabated materialism.

"I want that, and I want it now, but I'll settle for free second day shipping!" Black Friday and Cyber Monday have turned into Cyber week, and the twelve days of Christmas have turned into a month of Black Fridays! Paul described our culture pretty accurately way back in the day...

Philippians 3:18-19 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

Now before you call me the grinch who stole Christmas, I'm not against Christmas gifts and finding good deals, but what are we missing in all of this? We are missing some of life's greatest gifts, some of God's greatest gifts, some of the most meaningful and helpful of all gifts. And how do we find these gifts. Well, the secret may be found in fasting.

Taking a break from all of the madness to focus on what matters the most in life! The world gave a nod to this truth with Giving Tuesday, but I don't think that'll ever turn into Giving Week! Okay, back to the message! Fasting, it is a gift from God, but only when we have the right motives.

The Motives Behind Fasting

Matthew 6:16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.
I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.

If you fast for selfish motives then the only benefit you will receive is the perceived goodness others will see in you. The gift God intended for you to find in fasting will be lost! Those wanting to have an appearance of spirituality...it’s a pride thing. This flies in the face of what should be the motive. Instead of seeking God they are seeking self-aggrandizement

AGGRANDIZEMENT to enhance the reputation of (someone) beyond what is justified by the facts

It is the opposite of all that spiritual discipline stands for. Paul talked about these folks again in 2 Timothy...

2 Timothy 3:1-5 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,
without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,
treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—
having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

All of the things Paul mentioned are the very things Fasting is designed to fight against. The reason fasting fights against these things is that it causes us to fight our dependence on self, and helps us to teach self to not to become selfish! Self has to be disciplined. Before I share with you the greatest motive for fasting, let me get very practical.

There are three kinds of fasting.

Normal Fast - No food
Absolute Fast - No food or water (Physically dangerous)
Partial Fast - Restriction of Diet

Some should only do the restriction of diet
Those with diabetes
Those with heart or other severe health issues (talk to Doctor)
Fasting is not commanded by Jesus, but is assumed by Jesus.
He didn’t say, “Thou shalt fast!”
He did say, “When you fast!”

He also omitted instruction on how often.
Ask God to reveal to your heart how often and how long.
Take small steps at first.
One thing we can say...
It seems that Jesus felt those who seek God would from time to time take extraordinary steps to hear from the Almighty. He certainly did.

Richard Foster, who wrote the book "Celebration of Discipline" made this statement...

“Where are the people today who will respond to the call of Christ? Have we become so accustomed to “cheap grace” that we instinctively shy away from more demanding calls to obedience?”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer described cheap grace in his book The Cost of Discipleship...

“Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross.”

Remember grace wasn’t cheap for God. It cost Him His Son’s life on a Cross! When we refuse to exercise spiritual discipline we treat God’s grace cheaply. What should be our primary motive for fasting?

“An insatiable desire to love God deeply, know God intimately, and live in God’s will every moment of one’s life!” ltm

Fasting is one of the ways we train our spirit, mind and body to keep that “God desire” priority!!

“Fasting must forever center on God. It must be God-initiated and God-ordained.” Foster

Our motive in fasting must always be that we can experience fasting as the gift of God it truly is! That may mean we couple fasting with a time of confession. Daniel did. Listen...

Daniel 9:4-5 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: “O Lord, the great and awesome God,
who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands,
we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws.

The reason for this combination is that when we are seeking God we must first realize that sin destroys the intimacy between us and God. Fasting is wasted effort if we are harboring unconfessed sin in our life. And we must remember, the primary motivation for fasting should be our desire to seek the Lord!

Giving up food but holding on to our wickedness, our selfishness, our idols, defeats the purpose for fasting in the first place!
Remember, I said fasting is a gift from God and I'm here to tell you that any gift from God has benefits the world simply cannot give you!

The Benefits Behind Fasting

Matthew 6:17-18 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,
so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen;  
and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

In other words, when you fast for the right reasons there will be great rewards and you won't be down and out while you're fasting, but rather excited about the gifts God is giving to you through the exercise of fasting. And what are some of those gifts? Well, the first one is extremely practical.

Physical Benefits

It is not true that fasting is unhealthy. as long as it is done correctly it can actually improve your physical well being. Most of us never give our digestive system a break!
Most of us could stand to use up some of our reserves. All of us need to discipline our bodies to “Just say No!”
Listen to this quote from Christianity today

“The gluttonous impulse is a sign of disharmony with God’s provision and creation, and it can disrupt the spiritual lives of people of every size. Previous generations of Christians knew this: Overindulgence in food did not just lead to thickened waistlines and arteries; it led to spiritual disaster.”

So one of the gifts God gives us in fasting is physical benefits.
But the spiritual benefits are off the charts!
 
Spiritual Benefits
(Freedom)

“More than any other single discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Fasting helps us keep our balance in life. How easily we begin to allow nonessentials to take precedence in our lives. How quickly we crave things we do not need until we are enslaved by them.” Richard Foster

Spiritual Benefits
(Time and Resources)  

When you fast you can take the time you would have spent purchasing, preparing and eating to spend time with God. And you might take the resources you would have spent on yourself and save that up to spend on causes for God's Kingdom. I know someone who had a good job and decided to take their extra income for two years and spend it building a home for someone in a third world country.
Can you imagine the relationship and friendship between those families? Now you've got to remember, I'm not saying never go out and eat, or fast every week. Jesus didn't tell us how often. But I will say this: We need to get to a place where we are as excited about spending time with God as we are about going to Copelands!  

You might say, "but Pastor Larry have you had the crawfish bread?" Yes and it's the best thing on the menu! And some people would say I'm crazy to think spending time with God would be better than a trip to Copelands. Well, I'm in good company…Listen to what the Psalmist said...

Psalm 63:1-5 O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

Spiritual Benefits
(Seeing God, True Satisfaction, Singing)  

So many benefits..
Fasting helps focus your prayers. Fasting brings spiritual insights. Why is this so? Because when a person has made the decision to give up something so important and pleasurable as eating for the purpose of pursuing God, God will reward them!

The concept of fasting is a gift from God that will transform you from self-centered, and self-absorbed, to a man or woman who seeks God and who seeks God's will to be done in their life and in this world! And that's one of the most practical benefits of God's gift of fasting to us, we become a difference maker in a world of hurts!!

Spiritual Benefits
(You will become a World Changer)  

I'll close with these words found in Isaiah 58:6-11...

Isaiah 58:6-1 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter —
when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;  
then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-
watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

Now that's a Christmas gift I can get excited about!!! Let's pray!!