A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss a different barrier each week.
“People think of fasting as being for themselves.”
“Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” – Matthew 6:16-18
“Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.” – Isaiah 58:3ff
One of the great tools of prayer is fasting. But before we go off too quickly and label it as a “tool” or a “key” to answered prayer and holiness, consider the motive behind it.
Why do people fast? Why do people abstain from food or drink when they pray. Honestly, many do it only to either be seen by men, or to be thought more highly of by God. Neither are proper motivations for fasting.
It’s all about me…
In today’s church culture there are many who promote various ways and means to health, wealth, and spiritual success. You know the type – they’re constantly begging for you to sow a “seed of faith” into their ministries (or should I say “scams” and “snake oil factories?”). There are even those who promote fasting as a way to becoming more holy (then offer a book in exchange for a gift of any amount above $20).
The real problem with all of that is the fact that it preys on the flesh, the sinful tendency to think of “self” more than the will of God. It may help a televangelist get rich when you sow a “seed,” but it won’t bring you closer to God if you are expecting a hundred-fold return on your “investment.” When it’s “all about me,” God is not glorified.
Not a means to an end…
Without getting into a long study of the topic of fasting, let’s just say that most fasting is done for the wrong reasons. Look at the rest of the verses in Isaiah 58, for example. It was not that the people were avoiding fasting; they were even abusing themselves. Yet, God was not pleased. He was not interested in their fastings. He wanted their hearts.
There are so many ways the church could benefit if we would seek the heart of God, not our own desires. If we sought after God with a pure heart, asking Him to burden us with a desire for the lost and broken, fasting would come naturally. Most examples of fasting in the Bible were not begun with intent, but were the result of brokenness. Most of the time the fast was the result of one’s lack of desire for anything other than hearing from God. How different is that from the modern Christian who gives up a meal or two and expects, in return for their great sacrifice of earthly pleasure, an answer to a selfish prayer?
Fasting should never be a means to an end. It should be the natural result of one who can find no pleasure, no solace, no comfort in anything other than a word from the Bread of Life. Anything else borders on an attempt to manipulate the King of Glory into feeling sorry for us. What’s worse, fasting as a means to an end for a request which is intended to be “consumed upon [our] lusts” is no different than self-mutilization or witchcraft.
God will not grow a church that seeks to glorify itself or seek its own desires, especially if it attempts to bribe God in the process.