We are learning Spiritual disciplines. I have already talked about how boxers must develop some basic disciplines if they are going to be champions. When you are a boxing champion there are always those who are going to challenge you for the belt. Someone who wants to knock you down and take you out. They are called in boxing the top contenders. They are rated and let me share with you the top two contenders who want to knock you out!
Here they are! I think you know at least one of their names, the devil! The other is someone else we been talking about, YOU! Your flesh! We have learned that we are a spirit, live in a body and have a soul. Your flesh man that consists of your body and soul often times fights your spirit man. Your spirit man is that part of you that dwells with Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Your spirit knows better. It gravitates towards goodness, righteousness, and holiness. The flesh on the other hand wants to go another direction. We have to learn how to fight the flesh and its trainer, the devil. One way we can do this is through fasting.
I am not sure when in my Christian walk that I learned the value and power of fasting. As we see Lent approaching, I can remember my time as a Catholic. I took Lent serious and I gave up things for Lent. I remember eating fish on Fridays, NO MEAT!. This is a form of fasting. Lent always seemed to bring me closer to God. It made Good Friday and Easter more significant in my life. I later ended up in an Assembly of God Church where I met Debra. I can’t remember exactly when, but I know during that time I heard teachings and testimonies about Biblical fasting and it stuck with me.
When I met Debra both of us were fasting two days a week regularly. Perhaps this is why I could hear so clearly when the Holy Spirit told me to ask her to marry me after only knowing her a couple weeks! Debra was regularly fasting, but when I asked her to marry me she said she had to fast and pray before she could answer. She told me yes, two weeks later. (That was a long two weeks!) There are some lessons to learn right here. My suggestion is that YOU DO NOT ENTER INTO A LIFELONG COMMITMENT AND RELATIONSHIP WITHOUT FASTING!
I already told you that I fast before I make any life decisions. This has been decisions over career moves and ministry moves. These were decisions that were going to affect the lives of my whole family.
I was on staff at a church in Pittsburgh in the late 90’s to 2001. I was the children’s pastor. It was a large church with a large staff. Every January the entire staff was required to fast! We called it “Times of refreshing”. We had services everyday, sometimes twice a day. Because it was required, the rebellious nature in me wined, complained, and resisted. Did you ever hear of the little boy standing up in the car and the Dad yells at him to sit down? The little boy says “I’m sitting down on the outside but on the inside I am standing up!” That was me! I did it, I submitted and fasted and grumbled the entire time. I did this for three years at the church.
We left the church and January came around the next year. As January approached something in me started to think about fasting and eventually I decided on my own to keep the January fast. Nobody made me. I willfully fasted on my own and have kept the January fast until now. I am glad to say today that today this year’s January fast has ended!!!!
You are probably asking yourself what did you fast or how did you fast? First of all, let me say this is my personal fast so next January you see me eat something you do not judge me! I fast solid food. I drink coffee, juices, smoothies, soup broths an occasional milkshake and of course water. I have made adjustments over the years. My youngest daughter’s birthday is January 9. She told me, “Dad you can’t fast on my birthday!” We would sometimes go out to dinner on her birthday and of course we always had birthday cake. The next day back to fasting. This year we went out to visit her to celebrate her birthday and also her graduating from Cosmetology school. I did not fast during my time there for obvious reasons. Also this fast and other Januarys I have adopted what I call a Catholic fast. For me that means I can eat on Sundays but fast the rest of the week. I say all this because your fast is your fast and no one should judge you on it. There are some Christians that say a fast is only when you give up food and drink only water. I have son in law that tried that and he got delirious. There are people I know who do that and some I know have done it for forty days!!!!
I tell you all about this because of over twenty years of regular fasting I can say that “Fasting will change your life!”
Do I like fasting? Are you nuts? I love to eat! It is hard, especially the first three days! But I can truly say that I love the results! Spiritually first, but also physically. I will share from the Bible shortly and highlight some of the spiritual benefits. But you can read online that there are great physical benefits to fasting. It is healthy to occasionally fast.
How many of you have had some medical tests done and you had to fast overnight before the tests? How many of you have observed Lent by giving up something during those forty days? Many of us have already experienced some form of fasting. None of us like to fast but I assure you that there are tremendous spiritual and physical benefits to fasting. We are approaching the first day of Lent on Wednesday February 10, Ash Wednesday. We are not Catholic here, nor are we under any denomination, but I believe that Lent can be a great time for all of us to grow spiritually. I assure you that if you do this it will be the most meaningful Easter you have experienced. So my goal is that all of us would observe some form of fast during Lent. I hope you would be inspired by this message and pray about what you would do? There is a spiritual principle that I share, “Whatever you give up for God, He always gives back something better!”
Did you know that Jesus fasted!? There are numerous fasts throughout the Bible for different purposes. I thought we should use the One that we are to be like to help us to illustrate the value and power of fasting. Let’s go to Matthew 4.
Let me emphasize that Jesus was fully man and fully God. Someone might say of course Jesus could fast for forty days, He is God! Jesus took on our full humanity. He chose to experience every pain, struggle and heartbreak that we struggle with. Fasting was as hard for Jesus as it is for us!
We see that after Jesus’ baptism He was led into the wilderness or desert to fast. In Scripture, a “desert” ironically also where God richly grants His presence and provision for those seeking Him. The limitless Lord shows Himself strong in the “limiting” (difficult) scenes of life.
The first thing we see is that fasting will give you victory over the temptations of sin. Keeping with our boxing illustration the devil has only three punches:
“For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” 1 John 2:16
We see him using these three punches or weapons beginning in the garden of Eden until now. The first thing he uses is the “Lust of the flesh” – “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” All of us have been to restaurants where they bring the hot bread or bread sticks out before the meal. How many of you are like me and could make a meal out of this? How many of you are like me and could get addicted to that hot bread with melting butter? Can you imagine after forty days fasting and a plate of hot steaming, buttery bread put in front of you? Just like us Jesus had to deal with this.
Have you ever heard the saying, “If it feels good, do it!”? Are you aware everything that feels good is not good? Lust of the flesh looks like this: Eating addictions, sexual addictions, drug addictions, fitness addictions and alcohol addictions. This list may not be complete but gives us a pretty good idea of what the Bible is talking about.
The next punch in the devil’s weaponry is the “Pride of life” – “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” The pride of life looks something like this: craving for attention, craving for position, craving for authority, craving for identity and craving for appreciation. Have you been there? Do you know someone struggling with the pride of life?
His last and final punch is the “Lust of the eyes” – “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” It shows itself in the form of greed (desire for possessions), stinginess and hoarding, selfishness (unwillingness to share), envy (desiring what others have) and laziness (slothfulness) (the world owes me).
If you look at this closely you will see the devil was tempting Jesus with what Jesus already had! Everything the evil one used Jesus already possessed. It is the same trick he uses on us! As Christian believers we possess everything the Word of God already says we have! (This is a whole series of messages in itself!)
The second principle we see here in Matthew 4 is that fasting can help with new beginnings. Jesus was about to enter a new season of life. Jesus was about to enter His life’s call. Jesus was about to enter into His ministry. This is why I fast as I make these kind of life decisions. I started out in this message sharing how we have to contenders set against us, the devil and my flesh. Fasting clears out the voice of the devil and my own voice as I seek direction so I can hear clearly from God.
The last principle we see in Matthew 4 comes from verse 12. Fasting can prepare you for the struggles of life. Immediately after the fast ends and Jesus comes off the spiritual mountain he has to face that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been thrown into prison and is facing execution – “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee.” Verse 12. This was not the only was this bad news but Jesus came to realization that the road to the cross had begun! Fasting gave him strength to deal with John’s death and also prepared him for the greatest trial of His life.
Are you bombarded with temptation? Is the devil throwing a jab, a left hook and straight right at you? Are you falling to temptation but you are tired and sick of it? Do you need a new beginning? Do you need to put the past behind and ready to go with Jesus is this new and better life He promises?
Do you want strength for the trials and battles ahead of you? I suggest you try fasting! FASTING WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!
Lent is here in about 10 days. What could happen if we all fasted? Fasted something? Took a day each week or the entire time to give up food? You can do this! I believe if we all fasted something we would see great victory in our personal lives and in the life of this church. Addictions would be broken in our lives or in the lives of our family. We would face a fresh start. It will launch some of us into new ministries. We would be prepared when the storms of life hit.
Pray with me if you are going to join in a Lenten fast.
FASTING WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!