Sunday, October 6, 2013

Battle in the Wilderness: The Secret Fast (Luke 4:2)

"...And He ate nothing during those days; and when they had ended, He became hungry." Luke 4:2 NASB

Forty days without food. That sounds unbelievable, but people still do it today as a spiritual discipline. Fasting has even been called a means of grace, because it brings us to a point where we cannot rely on our own strength and are totally dependent upon God's grace to make it through. 

In the Jewish faith, there were scheduled times of corporate fasting as well as feast days and celebrations. Fasting was a routine part of their lives. There were Pharisees who made an effort, by their appearance or their words, to let people know they were fasting. Jesus said the notice they received was all the reward they would ever get. He taught that we are to make an effort to keep the fast just between us and God, who would "see in secret and repay you ." (Matt 6:16-18) It's a little disappointing, isn't it, this doing a hard thing and not letting anyone but God know? We like the praise and notice of others, just as the Pharisees did. Oh, how much better to get the notice and approval of God! 

There is a little phrase we usually miss that might bring a bit more desire to the issue of fasting. "Will repay". Jesus said that, when we fast in private, God sees and will repay. We can count on that.  Like little children, we want to know what kind of reward, don't we?  While Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration, his disciples were trying, without success, to heal a boy with seizures due to demonic possession. When Jesus arrived, He cast the demon out and the boy was healed. Jesus said that it was the littleness of their faith that caused their failure, as well as the fact that "this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting" (Matt.17:21) One of the rewards to be gained in fasting is greater power in prayer.

Answered prayers. Now that is a reason to fast, isn't it? It can be a vital part of intercession, especially for parents concerned about the spiritual welfare of their children. The thing people often miss is that we can fast more than just food. Isaiah 58 speaks of fasting a judgmental, critical spirit.  We can fast anything from a favorite TV show or activity to a food group or a particular meal. What we fast is not nearly as important as how we fast - with an humble heart of sacrifice and a desire to draw closer to our Lord. 

Jesus, in teaching about fasting, used one critical little word that is often overlooked. WHEN. He did not say if you fast. He said when. Jesus expected that His followers would willingly deny themselves and follow Him. Fasting was a part of the self-denying process. 

My challenge to you today is that you pick one day this next week and fast as part of your intercession for your children and loved one. Those in frail health may want to fast sweets or an activity, but don't fail to miss the blessing God has prepared for you. Can you do it? Maybe not on your own strength, but with God's help, you can and will.