Legalistic Fasting

This is now the umpteenth time I have written several paragraphs, only to turn around and delete everything. Maybe I should just keep this very simple and to the point.

Don’t be legalistic about fasting.

There, I said it. It’s off my chest. I can sleep better, now.

You see, a lot of folks in the Christian community act no differently than the Muslim community during the month of Ramadan. They treat fasting as something necessary to gain favor with God. They think fasting is somehow required to be spiritual. I disagree.

Matthew 6:16 is a verse commonly used way out of context.  In that verse Jesus said, “when you fast.” It was not a command, but a prelude to a command. He said, “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance.” Jesus wasn’t commanding anyone to fast, only to not be like the hypocrites who make themselves look all pitiful.

When Jesus said “when,” He was speaking on the assumption that fasting was a common practice with those in the audience. However, we must be careful to take note that it was not a command to fast, nor one that gave instructions. All He said was that when you do fast, don’t be as one of those who seek attention from men.

Lest we forget, there is nothing that we can do to earn the favor of God. His grace is unmerited. His love is not based on the prerequisite of starving one’s self once a year, month, or week. There is nothing wrong with fasting, but there can be serious flaws with our intentions.

False Biblical Examples

It is evil to teach formulas for health, wealth, and happiness based on select passages of Scripture. A good example would be the Prayer of Jabez teaching that says, “Pray this prayer and you will be wealthy.” But examples of fasting in the Bible are also used for exploitation. The first one that comes to mind is the Daniel Fast.

If you remember, in the first chapter of the book of Daniel, Daniel “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.” Because of Daniel’s courageous stand, based on his faith in God and the dietary laws given to Moses, God chose to work a miracle and honor the Hebrew children, in turn bringing glory to Himself. Sadly, there are those who look at what Daniel did and say, “Hey, if I just eat vegetables and water (because meat and wine are obviously evil), then I will be guaranteed health, wealth, and favor.” This is a classic example of misapplication.

True Biblical Examples

When I read the Bible, there are 3 things that seem to be common with true fasting: 1) Desperation, 2) Mourning, and 3) God’s glory. Nowhere do I see it taught that it should be used as a way to become a better person, a more spiritual saint, or a healthier individual. Nowhere do I see it taught that if one did not regularly fast, then that person should be considered spiritually inferior.

What I DO see are examples of people who, when faced with insurmountable trials, impending defeat, or crushing repentance, found food to be the least of their concerns. I think of David when he was praying for his dying son (2 Samuel 12:16 & 17). I think of Nehemiah when he heard of the broken wall (Nehemiah 1:4, 6).  I think of Queen Ester faced with the annihilation of her people (Ester 4:3). I think of Ezra, who, fearing the name of the LORD would be tainted, called the people to a fast before God (Ezra 8:22). These are the common examples.

Too often we take something from Scripture and cheapen it to the point that it becomes a simple 4 or 5-point how-to bestseller. In our slightly inconvenienced world we resort to claiming the only thing truly desperate people had at their disposal. We say, “if you do this, then that will happen.” More often than not, when people in the Bible fasted, it was not because they wanted to – they couldn’t do anything else.

Modern Legalists

Then there are those who like to flaunt the fact that they are disciplined and spiritual – the modern “hypocrite.” They look with derision upon the one who has not fasted once a week. They proudly proclaim “I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:12), when in reality their fasting is nothing more than a supposed means to a selfish end. Because of their judgmentalism, they force others to be like them. They create a law to which they hold all others accountable, while in the darkness the truly humble is beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

One Last Thing.

There is no denying that we probably do not fast enough. As a matter of fact, according to Jesus (Matthew 17:21), many a spiritual battle has been lost because of a lack of fasting and prayer. That is the key – prayer.

Fasting without prayer is nothing more than scheduled Anorexia. The whole point of fasting is to seek the face of God, laying all other allurements aside, such as food (even marital relations – 1 Cor. 7:5). It is not that we need to fast; we need God. If fasting is what it takes, then that is what we should do. But one thing is for sure, if we are hungry enough for God, then we won’t need anyone to tell us when or how to fast.

Let me know what you think. Do you fast? How long? Why? Results? 


Filed under Food, God, legalism, worship

7 responses to “Legalistic Fasting

  1. Great post!

    Fasting should not be taken lightly, nor does it mean anything if you are not prayerful during that time of fasting. I believe when it is done in the right spirit with the right motives, it is a very effective means of communicating with God. When I have fasted, it is a way to say, “God, I am willing to give up this really important thing and spend time in prayer/worship with you over the situation.” I generally do not tell people when i am fasting because it is between me and God (unless I have to, like someone demanding why I won’t eat the delicious food they surprised me with).

    The only one I will mention specifically was when our church fasted together for Lester Drennan when he was very sick. He had his legs amputated and some fingers. He needed a kidney. I chose to fast from the computer. Some chose food, and some chose other means. Some fasted all day; some part of the day. The prayer was that his pain and suffering would be lifted. The very next day the Lord took him home. As much as we all miss him, it was a blessing and an answered prayer that he was made whole again in the presence of the King, and he would not have to have anymore surgeries or anything.

    I think the duration, type, and time of fasting is determined by the Lord. I believe when he wants us to, he lets us know. I do not believe that is actually a decision we truly make. I believe he places it upon our heart when he sees it fit. I don’t believe it is something that should be done ritualistically or routinely. I don’t believe he calls all to fast either. When he does, it is not always food but something near and dear (Facebook, computer in general, television, etc.)

  2. Isaiah 58:
    6 “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?
    7 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 him,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
    8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
    then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
    and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
    9 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,
    10 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.
    11 The LORD will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
    You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
    12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
    you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

    In other words, good post.

  3. I have only really fasted once in my life, and it was because I felt a direct leading from the Lord to do so. I was asked to give my testimony at a women’s retreat. I had done so one-on-one many times, but to say what I knew God wanted me to say to a crowd of women was going to be hard, and He knew it. I spent the whole day in conversation with God about it, even as I drove to the coast for the retreat. I was never once hungry that whole day without a bite to eat. And He gave me the strength and wisdom to share as He wanted me to. If He ever asks me again, I’ll fast again, but I can see no purpose in ritual fasting. Thank you for this well written essay on fasting and for asking for our thoughts. Peace, Linda

  4. Out of Eden Ministries

    Great post! I do fast. How long depends on the situation, I guess, or on how I’m feeling led by God. I’ve done one 40 day fast, a couple of years ago. Never knew hunger, or the presence of God, like that before or since.

    Why do I fast? Different reasons in different seasons. Desperation is by far the #1 reason I began fasting, and continue to fast. But I also fast when I begin to recognize that my flesh is running the show. Fasting and prayer gets my flesh back into its proper place in the order of things.

    Results? The most tangible results I have experienced was from a 3 month period of several fasts God led me on, as I did spiritual battle for the restoration of my marriage. It was during those times of fasting and prayer that many heart changes took place in both me and my husband, decisions were made that were “for” restoration, when everything was leaning toward a decision for divorce…and many other tangible evidences that fasting and prayer is a mighty weapon we have been given!

    It is a topic I don’t hear a lot of teaching around, so I’m really glad for your post.

  5. Mike

    Yes, yes, and yes! Thank you. There’s nothing more frustrating then sharing some recipe for the Daniel Fast, and hear, “you’re not supposed to use honey, honey is not allowed”. I could go on and on, but I think one example is enough. God knows my heart in my attempt to bring honor to Him through obedience — I just don’t see Him perusing my grocery list.

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