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Jesus began his instruction about giving by saying, “So whenever you give alms” (Matthew 6.2). When he turned to prayer, he said, “And whenever you pray” (Matthew 6.5). As he brings up the issue of fasting, once again he says, “And whenever you fast” (Matthew 6.16).
In each case Jesus presents his teaching in the context of what he assumed to be a regular practice of giving, prayer and fasting. Jesus and his followers engaged in all three of these activities. Their proper use are important “tools” that God uses to develop our inside condition.
— God uses giving to conform us into the image of Jesus, who is the supreme giver of all.
One of my favorite illustrations of giving is the contrast between an open hand and a closed fist. If my hand is open toward whatever the Spirit directs, God can put in it anything he wants. He also can take out anything he wants to further his purposes.
If my hand is closed like a fist in a stingy and selfish spirit, God will not be able to put anything into my hand. God will not be able to accomplish his desires through me. As a result, I will live with an impoverished self and will have to live as a stingy and selfish person. I will be shown to have refused to use one of God’s gracious “tools.”
— Prayer is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.
It is through prayer that we enjoy a personal relationship with him. There is a story about a man who had a pet bulldog. The longer the two of them stayed together, the more the man began to look like the dog. The story may or may not be true, but one thing is true. The more time we spend with God, the more we begin to look like him.
Samuel Gordon said, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”
Consider Gordon’s statement, and use the Lord’s Prayer to cooperate with God in your ministry of prayer.
When You Fast
Jesus knew that fasting, like giving and prayer, is one of God’s “tools” to make changes in our inside condition. Like giving and prayer, fasting has to be approached in a proper spirit.
Jesus said, “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6.16-18).
Fasting involves not eating (and sometimes not drinking) for a period of time for spiritual purposes. When Jesus finished fasting for forty days and when the devil tempted him to eat, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4.4).
Jesus knew that the word from God’s mouth – not words about God – is able to sustain life.
God created the world though his spoken word. In a series of successive “words” from God, the universe was created. For example, the first day of creation began like this: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (Genesis 1.3).
Fasting works on our inside condition by reminding us that we are sustained by God and his word more than the things we often crave.
Paul wrote about enemies of the cross of Christ and described them as “whose god is their belly” (Philippians 3.19). The discipline of fasting reminds my belly and my appetites that they are not the “god” of my life. Jesus is Lord.
Fasting, like the disciplines of solitude and silence, is a “tool” that God uses to move self off of the throne of our lives and to put Jesus where he rightfully belongs.
If you are interested in learning more about the value and practice of fasting, solitude and silence, please contact Coach Jake Taylor. He will be able to direct you to a podcast that will help you understand the practice.
Fasting To Be Seen
There is only one audience for our fasting – God. This is true for all Christian ministry. If we are serving God to impress people, Jesus has a word for us – “hypocrite” (Matthew 6.2, 5, and 16).
“Hypocrite” comes from the world of the theater. A hypocrite plays a part, but is not actually the character he or she plays. That’s good news for someone who plays the villain in community theater. It is tragic news for a person who is using their Christian service to portray themselves to be something that they are not.
Jesus counsels us to live in such as way that our “fasting may be seen not by others but by [our] Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6.18). This counsel is true for giving, prayer, fasting and other kinds of ministry.
We need to remember that in giving us guidance about giving, prayer and fasting, Jesus is not giving us a new and stricter law. These practices are illustration of what a person who is living the Jesus-kind-of-life will naturally do.
Giving, prayer and fasting serve as a bridge to walk across hand-in-hand with Jesus to a deeper and richer life. They are not hurdles to overcome, so that we may please God or impress people.
Tips on Fasting
If you want to engage in fasting, here are some tips that I believe will be helpful.
(1) For your first experience, try fasting from one evening meal to the next. You will skip breakfast and lunch, returning to eating at the evening meal.
(2) Don’t load up on food the night before your fast. It will actually make you more hungry, if you do it.
(3) Make a clear distinction between hunger and appetite. Most of us feel hungry at the times when we regularly eat. This is really “appetite” ringing the dinner bell, not hunger. We can tell appetites, “I’m not starving. Leave me alone. You will be full soon.”
(4) Drink lots of water. Often, feelings of hunger are signs that we are thirsty.
(5) If you have a job that requires physical labor, choose your fast day to be on a day when you are not working. That is a healthy approach to the fast.
(6) Use the time that you would normally spend eating in prayer, worship, quietness, or Bible reading.
(7) Pay attention to your inner self. Is your belly complaining that it is not getting enough attention? Are you giving Jesus an opportunity to dwell on the throne of your life?
(8) If you are considering a longer time of fasting than the one I have mentioned, get in touch with me and I will give you some ideas on that, too.
Dear God, please give us the faith to believe that your creative word will sustain us more than any earthly food or appetite of ourselves. Please show us how to give, to pray and to fast. May you truly sit on the throne of our lives through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.