November 8, 2016

By Mike Donnalley

Take a moment and consider with me the implications of these words Jesus spoke about fasting in Matthew 9:14-15

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast".

Notice that Jesus does not say, “then they should fast”, nor does he say, “then they will consider fasting”, nor does he say, “then they may fast if they want to fast”. No, he says, “then they will fast”. It is Jesus’ expectation that once he leaves this world we, as his followers, will fast. Therefore, it is of great importance that we understand what fasting is.

So why does Jesus expect us to fast? And what is even the point of fasting at all? Scripture points to several reasons why we should fast. To name a few, we fast to humble ourselves (Isa. 58), we fast to express repentance (1 Sam. 7:6), we fast to mourn death (1 Sam. 31), we fast when we are desperate for God’s help (Esther 4:16). But listen closely to what Jesus is saying in the above verses. I believe that the he puts forth a motive for fasting that is perhaps the most central to the glory of God.

He begins with the question, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” This is a leading question that expects the answer, No. Jesus then continues, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” And so we can see that Jesus connects the act of fasting to the emotion of mourning, which is caused by Jesus’ departure. My assertion is that Jesus is implying here that fasting is an expression of our heart’s desire for God. We fast because we mourn and we mourn because we miss him and we miss him because we love him. Fasting is not an act that we do out of religious duty or discipline but an act that we do because we feel so internally compelled to express our desire to be close with God.

We fast because we mourn and we mourn because we miss him and we miss him because we love him.

Fasting expresses our desire for God because it shows that our appetite for Him is greater than our appetite for food or any other earthly pleasures. As sinful creatures, we take the good gifts that God gives us and make them our foremost joy, ignoring the God who gave us those gifts in the first place. We stuff ourselves full with food, entertainment, and other earthly pleasures to the point that we ruin our appetite for our Lord and Savior. 

John Wesley describes this condition well in the following quote:

We stuff ourselves full with food, entertainment, and other earthly pleasures to the point that we ruin our appetite for our Lord and Savior.

Fullness of bread [increases] not only carelessness and levity of spirit, but also foolish and unholy desires, yea, unclean and vile affections… Even a genteel, regular sensuality is continually sensualizing the soul, and sinking it into a level with the beasts that perish. It can not be expressed what an effect a variety and delicacy of food have on the mind as well as the body; making it just ripe for every pleasure of sense, as soon as the opportunity shall invite. Therefore, on this ground also, every wise man will refrain his soul, and keep it low; will wean it more and more from all those indulgences of the inferior appetites, which naturally tend to chain it down to earth, and to pollute as well as debase it. Here is another perpetual reason for fasting; to remove the food of lust and sensuality, to withdraw the incentives of foolish and hurtful desires, of vile and vain affections.

Wesley explains that by filling up on food and indulging in “every pleasure of sense”, we weaken or even lose our appetite for God. And that is why we fast — because we want to intensify our appetite for Christ as our deepest joy and satisfaction.

This is exactly what Jesus implies in the passage. The disciples do not fast when the bridegroom, Christ, is with them because they have their deepest satisfaction physically present with them. But when He leaves, Jesus says they will fast because they will miss Him. The disciples will mourn and set aside anything that hinders their contentment in Christ including food because they desire that much for Jesus to come back and satisfy their appetite for God.

The disciples will mourn and set aside anything that hinders their contentment in Christ including food because they desire that much for Jesus to come back and satisfy their appetite for God.

At its core, fasting asks the hard question of whether we love God more than his gifts, even the gifts that sustain our physical life. John Piper puts it this way, “Fasting poses the question: do we miss him? How hungry are we for him to come?”

So I ask you, how much do you miss Him? Is your appetite for food greater than your appetite for God? Are you willing to go without God’s gifts in order to experience the greater pleasure of God Himself.

How to Fast

As alluded to above, fasting is essentially abstaining from food for a period of time to reorient ourselves and our hearts back to God. Although practices vary, typically a fast is a 24 hour period without food. During the fast, use the time where you would normally eat food to rather pray, read scripture, and remember and praise God for His abundant provision and grace in your life. Fasting is difficult, so pray and ask God for strength and endruance. Confess actions and attitudes that have hindered your worship of God and move back to Him in worship. The ultimate goal of fasting to give us physical reminder of our need and how God is the perfect provision to satisfy - that we may love Him and worship Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Join Us in Fasting

From 8:00pm on Thursday, November 17th to 8:00pm on Friday, November 18th, we are inviting you to fast with us as we seek God in not only our personal lives but also in the life of our church. At 7:00pm on the 18th, we will gather to spend the final hour of the fast together, praising God in prayer and song. This is will be followed by breaking the fast together!

Register Here!

Other Resources

Here are a few links to resources that I have found helpful when it comes to fasting:

A Hunger For God - John Piper

Sharpen Your Affections with Fasting

Fasting for Beginners

Habits of Grace - David Mathis