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Not If… But When

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In the Bible, fasting is a voluntary abstinence from food and, at times, drink. Its purposes include making us more keenly aware of our own inadequacy and spiritual needs, humbling ourselves before God and seeking an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

While Jesus never commanded His followers to fast, it’s clear He expected them to do it. He said, “‘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’” (Matt. 6:17–18, emphasis added).

There’s no imperative here. However, Jesus did not say, “_If_ you fast,” making it a choice; rather, He said, “_When_ you fast,” indicating an expectation. Fasting is the Spirit telling the ?esh, “I am the boss and never forget it.” Through fasting, we are able to make that statement to our physical bodies, helping ourselves better understand that we can, by God’s grace and enablement, subject the ?esh to the Spirit. This is a key secret of the Christ-life.

Through fasting done secretly in a spirit of humility, we can experience four impacts in our service to Christ, His Church and lost people:

1. It helps purify us spiritually. Lee Bueno, author and noted authority on fasting, wrote:

Fasting burns out sel?shness. In fasting we willingly submit to the cauldron of renunciation as we give up one of life’s greatest pleasures. Fasting is the foundry in which we are puri?ed. Its ?res re?ne our faith; its ?ames separate the base impurities from our true character in Christ; its hot blasts purify our hearts.1

As we fast, we often have a greater sensitivity to what pleases God as opposed to what is sin. An essential part of puri?cation is an awareness of that which is impure. It is only when we’re cognizant of impurity that can we take the necessary steps toward purity.

2. It increases our spiritual reception by quieting our mind and emotions. God doesn’t speak louder when we fast, but we begin to better hear Him. Part of the quieting process that occurs during fasting is that we become less busy. Meal preparation and eating time may consume at least one to three hours per day. When we fast, we can use our time in other ways, such as prayer and re?ection, enhancing the quieting effect.

3. It calls us to sacri?ce and self-denial. Going without food can be a serious struggle for a person, a kind of “tug-of-war” between the ?esh and the Spirit. Paul wrote, “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in con?ict with each another . . .” (Gal. 5:17).

Our desire for physical nourishment is one of the strongest drives we have, amplifying the tension between the ?esh and the Spirit during fasting.

In 1809 William Bramwell wrote that the reason many do not live in the power of their salvation is because “there it too much sleep, too much meat and drink, too little fasting and self-denial, too much [taking part in] the world . . . and too little self-examination and prayer.”2 Bramwell’s concern was based on his observation of members of his congregation. They were indulging in ful?lling the desires of their ?esh while at the same time, shying away from self-denial. The same problem is evident in many North American churches nearly two centuries later.

4. It can bring spiritual power. There has been a loss of spiritual power and fervor in many of our North American churches as we’ve become more and more secularized. The power and gifts of the Spirit wane as worldliness grows in our midst. As we increasingly embrace the self-centered values of the culture in which we live, spiritual erosion strengthens with each new generation.

Fasting and accompanying prayer can bring about the spiritual refreshing needed to reverse this decline. Our spiritual power does not lie in seminary degrees, intelligence, computer software, money or long hours of dedicated work. It lies in the active presence of God’s Spirit in our lives. The Spirit has greater opportunity to rule in us and express His rule through us when we deny ourselves and submit to Him. Fasting helps us accomplish this.

Biblical fasting is not a means of leverage with God; rather, it is a way to better prepare ourselves to have a deepening level of intimate fellowship with Him. It prepares our spirits to better listen to Him and do His bidding. These are essentials for impactful, spiritual leadership.

Should spiritual leaders fast? Yes. It’s not a matter of if… it’s a matter of when. How about setting aside sometime in the coming weeks to fast?

1 Lee Bueno, Fast Your Way to Health: A Guide to Physical Healing and Spiritual Enrichment (Springdale, Pa.: Whitaker House, 1991), 201.

2 William Bramwell quoted by Bill Bright, The Coming Revival (Orlando, Fla.: New Life Publications, 1995), 96.

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