Spiritual Habits - Fasting - Wellington First Assembly

Wellington First Assembly

326 W Botkin Lane, Wellington Kansas ........Family Faith Lessons - 9:30 AM........ Sunday Worship - 10:30 AM


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Spiritual Habits - Fasting

Spiritual Habits.  What are some of your spiritual habits?  The good Sunday school answer is to tick of the expected habits – praying, reading the Bible, going to church, doing a good deed – and yes, those are good Christian habits.  The reality might be vastly different.  Because many of the things that we do on a daily basis have an effect on our spiritual lives – even if they aren’t that Christian or even that healthy. 
I might have a habit of eating on a regular basis.  Good, balanced nutritious meals with the right ratio of protein to vegetables with low sugars at regular intervals is good for my body.  But if my habit of eating is centered around a couple candy bars, some soda and fuego Taki’s – it might not be helping my body.  The same is true in our spiritual life – because the intake of FB, Netflix, Twitter, Snapchat and the other things that Pastor Matthew mentioned a few weeks ago affects our spiritual being too.  When those become substantially out of control and displace the spiritual disciplines we are focusing on in this series, our spiritual lives can become lethargic. 
How long does it take to make a habit?  Many people have repeatedly said, keep it up for 21 days without dropping the ball, and you’ve made it.  I wish it were that easy.  For some people and some habits, it could be as low as that.  In a study published in July 2009, 96 volunteers took part in a year-long study.  The goal was automaticity, where it they would do the new habit without thinking about it at least 95% of the time in a 12-week period.  The got to choose the habit they wanted to break and replace, so they were extremely motivated.  The average was 66 days.  Two months.  For a couple it took as little as 18 days, and others, 254 days.  The study also showed, that messing up once or twice did not stop the habit-forming process.
What does this tell us?  That for most people, developing new habits takes time. In Christian theology, we use the term progressive sanctification.  Yes, you are a Christian, saved by God’s grace, forgiven of your sins – but there are areas in your life that can be shaped by Jesus Christ and may take a number of years.  Look around.  There is no perfect Christian here.  We are all learning and growing together.  Do not feel judged and do not judge others on the outcomes, instead, encourage one another in each other’s walk in Christ.
Our passage from Matthew 6:16-18 addresses the spiritual discipline of fasting.  More specifically, Jesus taught an expectation that believers would fast – but that the should not judge others during their fast as had become the custom of some of the religious people of that day.
Please stand with me as you are able as we read this passage out loud together, from Matthew 6:16-18.
16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Fasting is a lost habit in our culture.  Sure, we reluctantly fast for 12 hours before a blood panel is performed at the doctor’s office, or prior to a surgery.  We may skip a meal because we get busy.  We might engage in different eating habits as some part of a physical diet to lose weight or gain muscle mass.  In essence, fasting is often been reduced to its most basic literal meaning – not eating, or even more precise in the ancient Greek of the NT – “one who is empty”.  But at the end of the day all those actions revolve around us, our control and our desires, and we miss the entire spiritual component of fasting.  Spiritual fasting means setting aside other activities as well as not eating and replacing these activities with a spiritual focus, like prayer and scripture mediation.
So, what’s so special about spiritually fasting?  Why do it?
First, fasting unites us with Biblical tradition.  Fasting is something that we see as a common, voluntary spiritual discipline in the lives of dozens of Biblical characters.  Here are just a few that Richard Foster, author of the Celebration of Discipline noted:
·         Abraham's servant when he was seeking a bride for Isaac
·         Moses on several occasions
·         Hannah as she prayed for a child
·         David on several occasions
·         Elijah after his victory over Jezebel
·         Ezra when he was mourning Israel's faithlessness
·         Nehemiah when he was preparing the trip back to Israel
·         Esther when God's people were threatened with extermination
·         Daniel on numerous occasions
·         The people of Nineveh, including the cattle, involuntarily no doubt
·         Jesus when he began his public ministry
·         Paul at the point of his conversion
·         The Christians at Antioch when they sent off Paul and Barnabas on their mission endeavor
·         Paul and others when they appointed elders in all of the churches
Fasting was part of the spiritual lives of the men and women of the Bible.  Sometimes the fasts were 1 day, 3 days, 7 days, or 40 days.  Sometimes the fasts were individual, sometimes they were corporate.  Sometimes they were only certain foods, like Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego.  Other times it was a full fast.  Dr. Rex Russell outlined 4 types of fasts he saw in the Bible.
·         The normal fast – going without food for a period of time where you ingest only liquids.  Do not even think about doing this kind of fast for 40 days without a clear calling from God and confirmation with your personal doctor. 
·         The absolute fast – no food or water at all.  We see this with Moses, who was taken care of supernaturally for 40 days. Three days is the maximum that this fast really should ever be done – and again it should be confirmed and monitored by fellow believers and a doctor.
·         The partial fast – omits certain foods or eating at certain times of the day. 
·         The rotational fast – certain families of foods or omitted every few days on a rotating basis.
When we make fasting, a regular part of our lives and do it for specific spiritual purposes, we begin to understand why believers throughout the centuries have done this.  It moves them closer to God.  It shows us how dependent we are on others around us, and it reveals aspects of our sinful nature which tries to control us.
This leads to our second principal.  Fasting reveals what controls us. Good home cooking.  Comfort food.  How many people, if they are having a rough day, just need to eat some chocolate to make it all better.  It’s easy to cover up, or temporarily forget the problems of life by losing ourselves in food, alcohol, cutting, drugs, FB trolling, or a host of other addictive behaviors that let us forget about circumstances of life for a bit.  And while the respite from the problems of this world feels nice for the short moment, it doesn’t change the situation at all.  Most addictive behaviors are attempts by us to control something when we don’t really have control of anything else.  What we discover, however, is that even the things we think we are controlling, we are actually being controlled by.
Our psychological nature wants to feel good.  Many addictive behaviors stimulate the pleasure receptors in our brains.  None of us want to feel pain and hurt.  When we fast, we learn that it isn’t all that pleasurable.  We crave food, because it controls us.  And just like in those candy bar commercials, we get Hangry.  Our temper gets short, and yes it does have to do with a physiological reaction of low blood sugar – but it also reveals some of our internal feelings of anger, pride, fear, bitterness.  All these things surface, rising above our carefully cultured façade.  These are the roots of our sinful nature hanging on – and Jesus wants to address those too.  We all desire to be Christians who practice the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…  And as we draw closer to God those attributes will grow in our life.  But fasting can help us get down to the roots of the weeds that try to choke them out.
I water the grass in my yard on a regular basis.  I treat my yard with weed and seed a couple times a year.  Over time, my yard becomes healthier, greener, and has less dandelions popping up – because the roots of weeds have been completely eradicated.  The same is true with fasting.  When we fast, the roots of what try to control us are taken away. 
The roots of weeds look different than the flowers.  Dandelions are pretty to look at – but as most noxious weeds, the quickly fade, multiply rapidly, and choke out healthy growth.  It’s the roots that are controlling everything.  Your addiction might look good and feel good on the surface – and the real issue might not be cutting or alcohol abuse, or gluttony, or whatever the habit might be.  The root of the issue may be deeper.  Fasting, good Christian counselors, and supportive friends will help identify those things and root out those deeper issues.  When we replace the controlling behaviors or people in our lives to be replaced by the full control of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we will find a place of true peace.
This brings up our third principal.  Fasting orients us towards God.  Spiritual fasting should always be a part of what directs us toward God.  We need his sustaining power to be made real in our life.  When we cut down the distractions that try to pull us away from him, we begin to see the true beauty and purpose he has for our life.  There is a reason that Jesus, upon being announced into ministry, spent the next 40 days in the wildness in a fast.  He needed his physical body to gain the strength of purpose that it would require for the next 3 years of ministry on the march to the cross. 
When we point ourselves to God, we humble ourselves and finally admit that God is in full control.  When we read about the fasts of David or Hannah or the countless others, it’s always in the context that there is no other hope than God.  Everything else has been tried.  Everything else has been exhausted.  God is the only one who could come through for them.  God is the only one that could answer.  Sometimes the answers might not be want we want – Hannah gained a son.  David lost a son.  Fasting does not put you in control – it acknowledges that God is in control.
The 19th century Scottish South African evangelist Andrew Murray penned these words:  Fasting helps express, deepens, confirms the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God."
In our passage, Jesus shows us what this type of fasting is all about.  It’s about dependence upon God.  For everything.  For every day.  Fasting had become distorted.  Fasting had turned into a display of religious piety.  Fasting had become about everything it should not have been.  There is a place for public national repentance.  But that quickly turned into a judging context.  The fast prescribed for on the Day of Atonement was to be in the context of seeking forgiveness from God for trying to do your own thing, as individuals and as a people group.  But those who made an ostentatious display of it at the temple two or three times a week had turned it into a meaningless show.  Jesus called the people, Jesus calls us today – back to a fasting which focuses on a direct, genuine relationship towards God through a pure heart. Jesus reinterprets fasting.  No longer is it a time of sackcloth and ashes, a wait until the last moment to somehow seek favor from the King.  Instead, fasting should be done within the context of new life in Christ.  It should be done with a heart of gratitude and thanksgiving.  A Proactive approach instead of a reactive one.  So Jesus said, fast, but wash your face and smile.  Let me work in your heart. 
Finally, fasting connect us with others.  When we deny ourselves food, for even a short bit and spend that time in prayer, we begin to gain the experience of many other people and believers around the world.  Fasting is probably more important for us living in a western culture.  We have all the goods and services we want.  Even the poorest people in our country live and eat better than a large majority of the world’s population.  By the way, do not use that as an excuse for not helping a local neighbor.  When we feel, in our stomachs, in our bones, how others feel, we develop empathy.  We begin to relate with the common human condition.  We begin to realize how blessed we are in our culture.  Our desires change from ones of selfish gain to selfless sacrifice.  Our focus turns to helping our neighbor, embracing missions, funding charities – even if you no longer get a tax advantage!  Jesus told us that Christians would be known by the love for others.  When we fast, when we empty ourselves, when we allow the spiritual nourishment to revitalize our lives, our whole demeanor becomes outward focused without judgement as we share the good news, the chain-breaking power, the everlasting love of Jesus with those around us.
Fasting by itself can do nothing –
but it can bring us to the place where God can do something.
I can skip meals all I want, and nothing will change. But if I choose to let God be the one in full control of all of the aspects of my live, I move myself into a spot where he can do something.  Do you realize that many of us miss out on the blessings Jesus has for us?  God is encouraging us to step out in faith, to a place that might be uncomfortable, so he can give us good, good things, yet we often don’t want to move.  Fasting helps us move.  Let me use this analogy.  If I need a heart transplant, and the doctors are waiting to give it to me at the hospital, I should take the ambulance over there.  The ambulance attendants can’t do anything for me – but they will get me to the place that can – if I let them take me.  Richard Foster put it into these words. 
“A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain...This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines - they are a way of sowing to the Spirit... By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done.” 
This if my life change goal today:

I will fast from the meaningless, so I can feast on the miraculous.
Repeat it with me. 
Jesus expected his disciples to fast.  His instructions in this passage was – when you fast, do this. So my challenge to us all today, including me is this – when will I fast?  Am I willing to go that extra step to see what God has in store for my life, for my family, for my school or work environment, for my church?
What am you fasting for?

Shall we pray.