Joel 2:11-14 (NIV)
The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty is the army that obeys his command. The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it? “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing— grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.
In the month of January, many Christians will participate in a fast of some sort. The Daniel Fast has gained wide popularity in church culture. As we prepare for the fast, I have surveyed the pantry and refrigerator. While planning the holiday meals, I have also perused several vegan options to meet the fast requirements. I dread meal times already as my family loves meat, potatoes, bread and above all pasta. My husband is slowly weaning off coffee to avoid the caffeine coma that comes the first week. As we prepare for the fast, it appears much like a diet of sorts. All of these habits seem like healthy change and will definitely benefit our body. It is of the utmost importance that not only do we prepare our body for this time of abstention but that more importantly our heart is prepared.
Fasting becomes religious tradition by those who do to be one with the congregation. Fasting is personal. It is intimate. It is intrusive. Fasting has the power to move our flesh to one side or the other allowing God’s Power to enter our life and exit into the life of others as we become His Conduit. If our fast is only corporate, God will bless our church but we will miss the blessing with our name on it. If our fast is for show, the Lord will reward us openly with the approval and affirmation of mankind. Again, we miss the personal victory completely. Church has its own subculture that operates with the same peer pressure as the world. It is more dangerous than the society in which we live because though one may think they have it all together and are being faithful to the end. It may be their own goodness and power rather than God’s Grace and Mercy that is the cause.
If you are planning to begin a fast in January to set the pace for the New Year, I encourage you to walk with me today through God’s Word and prepare your heart for His Holy Inhabitation. To focus less on what you will be forgoing and more on what you are expecting during this time for maximum benefit. If you are looking to lose a few pounds, then call it a diet with such a purpose in your mind. If this is a fast, be ready. It is to return to the Lord with fasting, weeping and mourning because no matter who you are or I am and no matter how “good” we think we have been, we have a long way to go to fulfill God’s Purpose in His Calling. Fasting is a time to rend our hearts not our garments. Fasting is not for appearances. It has nothing to do with our natural life but everything to do with our spiritual development and maturity. The blessing of fasting and its true benefit will never be outward but always an inward change.
Zechariah 7:2-13 (NIV)
The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?’” And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry. “‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty.
Please forgive me. I tried to pare this down to just a few verses, but it was just too piercing not to share the whole thing. The people came to the priests and asked, “Should we fast?” They had done so religiously for many years. Obviously, unaffected and unaware of any benefit, they wondered if the Lord desired them to continue. Our family has fasted in some way shape or form for more years than I can remember. The ebb and flow of our relationship with Christ has dictated our demeanor in fasting. Fasting will never be about bringing God closer to us. It removes everything that allows us to move closer to God. Everyone would like the Lord to come like Santa and bring them what they want and desire. Fasting and praying is all about giving up our desires to fully embrace God’s Purpose and Plan with both arms letting go of what our flesh wants and holds on to.
Why food? Why not something else? It doesn’t just have to be food. Some people naturally maintain a diet much like Daniel’s. Each person knows the war within them that battles for control each day. Paul wrote of the inner battle we face each day with our flesh. (Romans 7&8) We want to do the right thing. We want to do good. We always seem to find a way to mess it up somehow. Fasting is surrendering our life to Christ – mind, soul and body. You can think you will follow the Lord. You may feel His Spirit rising up in your heart. Your body must get on board to carry out God’s Plan. I must deny myself to carry my cross and follow Jesus. (Matthew 16:24) Tell your flesh no and get ready to fight.
Anything we do in service to God routinely and scheduled is dangerous. If it becomes something we do rather than who we are, it is religion not relationship based. I have found myself to be religious many times unintentionally wandering from total abandon and surrender to God to just going through the motions. Fasting is no different. There are times, we have fasted because it just what we do. The whole church is doing it. We want God’s Blessing on the coming year. No, it is my desire to be a blessing in the coming year that gives fasting true potential. Never what He can do for me, but what can I do for Him that matters most.
Isaiah 58:5-10 (NIV)
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? “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 them, 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 thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty is the army that obeys his command. The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?” In my heart I know that Kingdom of God stands in alert, God is thundering in Heaven as the New Year approaches. He is ready to reveal Himself to us all over again. Will we be ready? Do we want Him? Of course, we do.
Who is tired of going through the motions and emotions of religion tired of spiritual bondage? The Law outside of the love, grace, mercy and power of God through His Son, Jesus, produces captivity for Christians. Anytime we try to do it, we will soon encounter human weakness. It will give way to God’s Strength for those who fast, pray and return to Jesus wholeheartedly. If the Power of God is not manifesting in the Body of Christ, it is time to fast and pray. Rending our heart not our garments. This allows the Light of His Love to break through the chains of religion tradition and human flesh to be free to do the Will of God and experience His Glory in His House again. The church has been overridden and oppressed by self too long. Lord, prepare our hearts to be open and exposed before you. Lord strip from us anything that is hindering your Power and Presence in our midst. I am sorry for always making this about me. In 2016, I want it to be ALL about you again!
Matthew 6:16-18 (NIV)
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, 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 others 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.”
Fasting is not a mandate of church culture. It is a motivation of the human heart to move closer to the Lord. We hand out brochures on how to do it and some ministries even sell complete motivational packages to help others in their quest. But if we do not sit down and make a plan to find our way closer to the Lord in this midst of self-denial personally, intimately and wholeheartedly – it is really not worth the hassle. Our heart must be ready to embark on a fasting and praying journey or there is no real spiritual benefit. Our life will remain powerless. Our ears closed. Our eyes shut. Our hearts hard to the move of God waiting on His People. I don’t what that to be me this year. Lord, I offer you my heart as you prepare my mind and body to fast. It is yours. Do with it what you desire to do? Today and forever.
Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.