WHAT DOES GOD DO WHEN WE FAST?

By: Dustin Shramek


Charles H. Spurgeon once said, "Our seasons of fasting and prayer at the Tabernacle have been high days indeed; never has Heaven's gate stood wider; never have our hearts been nearer the central Glory "[1]

Is this true? Do Heaven's gates stand wider when we fast? Do our hearts come nearer to the central Glory when we fast? Does God really work on behalf of those who fast?

He certainly does! God has many blessing in store for His children who come before Him fasting. Through fasting, God works miracles, God sanctifies, inclines His ear to our prayers, withholds judgment, frees the captives, cleanses the body physically, and most importantly, He glorifies Himself.

God works miracles through fasting

A great illustration of this in found in 2Ch 20. King Jehoshaphat and the Israelites were surrounded by the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites. When word came to King Jehoshaphat that they were planning to invade, he understood that the Israelites would be doomed. There was no way that the Israelites would be able to defeat all three of these peoples. So what does King Jehoshaphat do? "And Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the Lord; and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah," (v.3).

King Jehoshaphat knew that without God's intervention, they were doomed. In drastic times, he called for drastic measures. He called a nation wide fast and humbly sought the Lord through prayer.

God answered this desperate cry. In v.15, Jahaziel says, "...thus says the Lord to you, 'Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God's."' God was taking over, He had heard their cry for help and was taking charge.

The next day when the Israelites went out to meet the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites; they didn't have to even raise a sword. All of their enemies were already dead. God had turned them against each other. All Israel had to do was collect the spoil which took them three days.

Through fasting, God had turned certain doom into great blessing. Do you face situations in your life that are overwhelming and can't be won on your own? Have you brought them before the Lord with fasting? Maybe He is waiting for you to fast and pray, seeking His help. Maybe He is waiting to turn your trial into your blessing. Why not follow in the footsteps of King Jehoshaphat when circumstances become to much to handle on our own? What keeps you from seeking God through fasting?

God's sanctifying work through fasting

The first aspect of God's sanctifying work through fasting is humility. Humility is essential for holiness. Without it, we cannot live up to the life that God has called us to live (iPe 1:15-16). Fasting is one of the chief means of the Bible to humble ourselves. "I humbled my soul with fasting," Ps 35:13.

Within the Old Testament it is clear that pride and a full stomach are closely associated. Moses warned the Israelites about this in Dt 8:11-14, "Beware lest you forget the Lord your God.. lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied,.. .your heart becomes proud, and you forget the Lord your God..." In Hosea 13:6, we see that they did not heed Moses' warning, "And being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore, they forgot Me." (See also Ezekiel 16:49).

"Fasting, then, is a divine corrective to the pride of the human heart. It is a discipline of the body with a tendency to humble the soul."[2] With fasting we are able to humble our proud hearts. "Then I proclaimed a fast.. .that we might humble ourselves before our God Ezra 8:21.

In God's work of sanctification through fasting, He not only uses humility, but also mourning. In Mt 9:15, Jesus used the terms 'mourn' and 'fast' interchangeably. Fasting was practiced to show mourning at funerals (iSa 31:13) as well as to mourn over sin with an attitude of repentance (iSa 7:6, Ne 9:1,2).

That's an interesting thought, mourning over sin. Why would we mourn over sin, isn't asking for forgiveness enough? Certainly not! We must hate sin as our Father hates sin. We must be grieved by sin as our Father is grieved by sin. "Mourning over personal sin and failure is an indispensable stage in the process of sanctification, and it is facilitated by fasting."[3]

God also uses fasting to consecrate. This happened in the ministry of Jesus when He fasted right before His temptation and His ministry. This was also true of the ministry of the early church (Ac 13:3, 14:23).

Through consecration, mourning, and humility, God uses fasting to sanctify us. Is it your desire to be sanctified by God? If so, fasting is a necessary component for sanctification.

God inclines His ear to those who fast

"So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty," Ezra 8:23. There is a direct connection between God hearing us and our fasting. Why is this?

We've already seen that through fasting we humble ourselves before God. When we humble ourselves before God, He listens. "0 Lord, Thou hast heard the desire of the humble; Thou wilt strengthen their heart, Thou wilt incline Thine ear." Ps 10:17. God promises that when we humble ourselves he will strengthen us, He will hear us.

What is it about a proud heart that keeps God from listening to our prayers? Pride is sin and Isaiah 59:1-2 is very clear that because of our sin God will not hear us. Through fasting, with the right motives, we humble ourselves and get rid of the pride that blocks our prayers from being answered by God.

Je 29:13-14 says, "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found by you,..." When we fast, we show God that we are serious. We not only seek Him with our minds and our hearts, but we also seek Him with our stomachs. Our real hunger is for the Lord, not food. Clearly when we fast, we seek God with "all our heart".

Fasting emphasizes our prayers. It adds an exclamation point to the end of each prayer. When we fast there is a real sense of urgency. Andrew Murray says, "Fasting helps to express, to deepen, and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, to sacrifice ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God."[4]

Through fasting, God inclines His ear to us. Certainly we want God to hear and answer our prayers, don't we? If it is true that fasting adds to our prayers and God hears us, why is it that many of don't fast when we need Divine intervention?

God withholds judgment because of fasting

Fasting has saved many people from God's wrath. Yes, fasting has saved many people from God's wrath.

I'm sure that many of you are familiar with the story of Jonah. Jonah was told by God to go to the city of Nineveh and proclaim that within 40 days God would judge that great city and overthrow it. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire and had done much evil in God's eyes. In fact, Jonah didn't even want to go to Nineveh because of all their evil, he wanted the city to be overthrown (Jonah 4:2). Immediately, when the Ninevites heard Jonah's message they declared a fast. "Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast ...'ln Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water.. ..Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?"' (Jonah 3:5-9)

Sure enough, that's exactly what God did. "When God saw their deeds.. .then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them, and He did not do it." (3:10)

Nineveh's sins were so serious that God was going to destroy them in 40 days. The Ninevites understood the reality of this and did the only thing they could, they humbled themselves with fasting. What did God do? "He relented concerning the calamity which He had declared"

The people of the Old Testament knew the power of fasting and they weren't slow in using it. (See iKi 21:27-29, 25a 12:16,22) Surely America's sins are as great as Nineveh or Sodom or Gomorrah. If we continue in sin as they did, can our fate be any different? Could it be any more clear that fasting is what this country needs?

 
It seems clear from the prophetic Scriptures that ultimately judgment must fall upon the Christ-rejecting nations. Even Nineveh was ultimately overthrown. But if God can find those who will stand in the gap, even in this eleventh hour, and humble themselves with prayer and fasting, there may yet be a lengthening of our tranquility. God may yet turn and repent and leave a blessing behind Him, giving us mercy instead of wrath, and revival instead of judgment. Such a deferring of the evil day could mean the salvation of multitudes, but there is no time to be lost.[5]
Will you stand in the gap for nations around the world? "'Yet even now,' declares the Lord, 'Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping, and mourning;"' Joel 2:12

God frees the captives

This is exactly why Jesus came to the earth, to free the captives. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden," Lk 4:18.

We can continue Christ's mission to free those who are captive to sin. How? Through fasting. "Is this not the fast which I chose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke?" Is 58:6.

"[Fasting] is not to bring men into bondage but to loose them from it; not to be an instrument of oppression but of liberation."[6]

Do you have unsaved friends or family members that are always on your heart? Why not use God's formula when asking Him to intervene in their hearts? What is keeping you from fasting "to loosen the bonds of wickedness" that control your father, mother, room mate, best friend, cousin?

God cleanses our body physically through natural means

The human body is an amazing thing. Surely it does point to a masterful designer. One of the most amazing things about the body is its ability to heal and repair itself.

Can fasting help with this as well? Wouldn't fasting be dangerous because it is basically starvation?

In order to understand the physical benefits of fasting it is important to make the distinction between desire/appetite and hunger. Our appetite is merely our stomach whining because it has been spoiled by getting three meals a day, every day of the year. Hunger, however, is when the whole body aches for the very thing that will keep it alive. Hunger is the cry of the body out of need, not want.

Also, can you imagine that something as Biblical as fasting could be harmful to our bodies? Would the Great Physician who created us, want us to do something that would only damage His temple?

On the contrary, fasting can actually be quite healthy, particularly an extended fast. Isaiah 58:8 says this about fasting, "...and your recovery will speedily spring forth;..."

While fasting, the body no longer needs to concentrate on assimilation. "It therefore concentrates on the work of elimination. ..The deposits of surplus fat, the waste material, and the decaying tissues are being digested and eliminated."[7] Dr. Buchinger, a specialist on the healing fast says,

 
The more inferior the material the less compunction there is about burning it in the fire of metabolism. Gradually, however, after deposits of fat, impurities, and degenerated tissue have been consumed, the body substance can no longer be treated so generously.. The delicate inner mechanism carries out work of amazing detail, like a surgeon operating without a knife. In this phase dangerous and stubborn deposits are mostly attacked. Only if the hidden corners have been cleaned out does the organism have to approach valuable remaining areas of flesh to maintain its metabolism while fasting.[8]
Not only are all of the toxins and waste material removed, but the senses become more keen and the mind is sharpened and able to concentrate more. There is also a greater sense of physical well being.[9]

Even with all of these physical benefits, it is important to remember that the spiritual benefits are far greater. Clearly fasting is incredibly important and carries along with it many benefits. But there is one more benefit that I think is the most important of them all.

God glorifies Himself through fasting

That's right, the most important benefit of fasting is that it glorifies God. Through fasting we humble ourselves, recognizing our complete dependence upon God. We show Him that the only thing that can satisfy our deepest hunger is Him. We truly seek Him with all our heart.

As John Piper says, "God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him." I believe that when we fast we make it abundantly clear that it is God who satisfies the longings of our soul.

The reason why fasting is such a lost practice today within Christianity isn't because we are gluttons with every opportunity to feed our sinful flesh. Fasting is not practiced today because we aren't hungry enough. We don't hunger for God the way the OT prophets, or the NT apostles did. How often does our soul truly long for Jesus? Are we more concerned about our next quiet time or lunch? Have you ever noticed that we plan our days around meals? Breakfast to lunch is morning, lunch to dinner is afternoon, and after dinner is evening. What if we planned our days around our time with God?

We as God's children will never be able to understand fasting until we first know God and who He is. If we don't long and hunger for Christ we will never know the true power of God through fasting. Instead of hungering after God's infinite joy and pleasure, we hunger after the momentary joys of eating, television, computers, friends, etc. C. S. Lewis writes,

 

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.[10]

As much as my heart is burdened for fasting and the power that it calls forth, my heart is even more burdened by our infinitesimally small view of God. Let's stop settling for the mud pies. Instead, let's call on the creator of all joy. What is it about us that makes us insist on settling, why aren't we laying claim of the infinite joy that awaits those who trust in the Lord? We need to let God out of our box. Let's start by humbling ourselves before Him through fasting and prayer.
 

Notes

All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation, La Habra, California.
1. Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988), p.48.
2. Arthur Wallis, God's Chosen Fast, (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1993), p.45.
3. Wallis, p.46.
4. Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer. Fleming H. Revell Co.
5. Wallis, pp.58-59.
6. Wallis, p.60.
7. Wallis, p.102.
8. Otto H. F. Buchinger, About Fasting- A Royal Road to Healing. Thorsons Publishers Ltd.
9. Wallis, p.104.
10. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), pp.1-2.

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