More From This Series
- Based on what we heard in Sunday’s message, when does fasting from food (a good thing) become a bad thing? Give specific examples.
- What is the true purpose of fasting from food?
- What is one action step you can take from what you heard in Sunday’s message?
But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. -Matthew 6:17-18
Right, so a couple of weeks ago I was preparing this message on fasting while I was eating a buffalo chicken finger wrap. I hope you're okay with that. I was in Georgia over the holidays and we ate plenty of course but when I got back I needed to get a good buffalo chicken finger wrap because they don't know what those are in the south and they don't know how to do them. By the way they don't know what pizza is either. It's some circular thing that they have down there, but it's not what we eat here as pizza, it's some foreign … I don’t know what it is. I love southern food but they don't do pizza and buffalo chicken fingers like we do here. So I needed one when I got back.
Now the holidays for sure are a time where we probably all ate to our hearts content at that point probably nobody was going particularly hungry during the holiday season. I certainly wasn't. Holidays are a time of feasting and they should be by the way. They’re times where we need to celebrate the bounty of God. We need to celebrate the goodness of God. We need to celebrate the blessing of God and there's a time where we are engaged in a time of feasting and well we should be, some times in our world, some times in our life and some seasons are seasons of feasting and some are seasons of fasting.
It's just a matter of kind of what time it actually is. Now when I talk about the idea of fasting, I'm not talking about a diet all right. I want to make sure everybody understands that. I don't know everybody's background here, when I talk about the idea of fasting I'm not just talking about some diet that we talk about because all I hear at this point in time in our year when January comes around basically gym memberships triple or quadruple and then everybody's talking about their diet and everybody's telling me about their detox. It's like if I hear one more word about detox, I might do one.
Now the name detox is a little bit of a misnomer and I think health professionals would tell you that. It's slightly misleading, not intentionally so, there's certainly some truth to that but it's slightly misleading. When I was reading some of the stuff that the folks at the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic had put out about the idea of a detox, I learned what I thought and that is that our bodies actually are really good detoxifying agents. There's a really good thing that we have called livers and kidneys and intestines and sweat glands and skin. That's a part of what detoxifies our body. Now I don't want you to misunderstand what I'm saying because I'm not saying that I think that like detox diets or cleansers are a bad thing because like some of you are on them right now and you’re like, “I hate you.”
No that’s simply because you're hungry and you hate me, and I'm talking about fasting and you're like my world is awful right now. I’m on a cleanse and you're talking about fasting, everyone hates you, that's kind of how you feel. I'm not saying that they're bad things. In fact I would suggest to you that we've got a lot of people that are in that world in our church who kind of help people get physically fit and all that kind of stuff. I'm for them, we should take care of our temples. I think it's a wonderful thing. So those people that do that kind of thing, I am for you and I am for that and I think that actually a detox diet can be a good thing and certainly a well-rounded one from reputable sources, that it can be a good thing.
But here's what I would remind you of. This good thing, a detox diet can become a bad thing when it misses the main thing. It could be it's a good thing that can become a bad thing when it misses the main thing. Let me explain what I mean. So if someone thinks kind of in their head like that I can rid my body of every toxin by eating peat moss and day lilies or whatever. I'm sure I don't know if that's a part of you diet, it's not mine. That's not really the point at that point, there's environmental toxins all that kind of stuff. So that's not really the point or if we think that a 10-day cleanse is like a curial but we don't come behind that with healthy habits and healthy eating and all that kind of stuff, then really we've just kind of … we've done like what sometimes you did at summer camp. You got all fired up and then you came home and then life happened and you just forgot about everything that you learned.
So that's not really the point, here's what I would tell you and I think that medical professionals would tell you as well or health professionals. If a detox actually helps you get a jump start on what it means to develop healthy habits and healthy living, now we start to get at the point. But this thing like a detox, it's a good thing but it can become a bad thing if it misses the main thing. I would suggest to you today that the idea of fasting as a spiritual exercise is pretty similar. This idea of like saying no to food kind of replacing a meal time with spending time with the Lord when we push away from food to be able to seek the Lord. I think it's similar to what we're talking about here because I would suggest to you that the spiritual discipline of fasting is a good thing that can become a bad thing if it misses the main thing.
Now I know you don't hear that may be said very often but here's what I really I’m intending to do with us because I want to tell you where we're going so that you understand. What I want to do at the beginning is I want to give you some background on kind of the idea of fasting at a high level. I'm not going to go through every detail but at a high level kind of in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, it will be brief. And then after doing that I want to show you how this becomes a bad thing in our lives. How this spiritual discipline that's actually a good thing can become a bad thing in our lives and actually listen to this, it's toxic if we do it the wrong way. Toxic, and I don't mean that from a physical standpoint, I mean it from a spiritual standpoint.
But then I want to land at the very end by giving you some principled ways where this discipline can actually be useful for our lives. If you need like a passage to sit on, you can go to Luke Chapter 2, I'm not getting there until later because I want to walk you through a number of different things before we arrive there, but if you want to land that kind of hold your place in Luke 2, I'll be there eventually, you'll just have to wait on me.
Let me begin by doing what I said I would do, the first time that we really seemingly meet this idea of fasting at least in how it's received and understood in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament, is in the book of Leviticus because what's going on is that God is actually giving instruction to the people of Israel about the feast days. We've gone through some of those, in fact we went through them all when we talked about the idea of the feast days but one particular feast day was called The Day of Atonement. On that day, God gave Israel some very specific instruction in Leviticus chapter 23. He said, “The 10th day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourself,” some of your translations depending on what you read say fast right there.
“Then present a food offering to the Lord. Do not do any work on that day because it is the Day of Atonement when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God. Those who do not deny themselves on that day must be cut off from their people. It is the day of Sabbath rest for you and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening, you are to observe your Sabbath.” So here's the thing, the interesting thing is that a lot of people associate that phrase deny yourselves that's translated in the in NIV and in some other translations it's translated fast, they identify that phrase with kind of pushing away from food. That what God commanded on the Day of Atonement is that you don't eat.
Well the Hebrew word that we translate deny yourselves is not actually specifically only referring or specifically even referring to food. The actual translation there could be afflict your soul or humble your soul, that's exactly what that text says in the Hebrew language. That you deny yourselves or you afflict your soul or you humble your soul, it's not even specifically related to food but it is true that historically what the Jewish people did is the Jewish people during the day of atonement saw that they could humble their souls, chose not to eat so that they could afflict their souls and seek God and deal with their sin.
Maybe the first time and may be the only time that we have an absolute command relative to the idea of fasting, we see in the book of the Joel in the Old Testament. There was a crisis in Israel and God was actually calling his people to a specific time of repentance and faith and turning back to him and listen to what it says in Joel chapter one and two, it says, “Put on sackcloth you priests and mourn. Wail you who minister before the altar, come spend the night in sackcloth you who minister before my God for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God. Declare a Holy fast, call a sacred assembly, summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the Lord your God and cry out to the Lord. Even now declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart with fasting and weeping and morning.”
This was maybe the only time that we find in the entirety of the Old Testament where fasting is actually commanded. That it was commanded to the people of Israel because they were in a period of spiritual crisis. God is calling them back to himself and basically saying to them don't tear your garments, tear your hearts and I want you to weep and I want you to seek me and come back from your sin. That's kind of what we see. Now there's other postures in the Old Testament where we see people who are fasting and almost every one of the other examples in the Old Testament, people are fasting due to one of three reasons. It's either deep sadness, crisis or they're desperately needing an intervention from God.
Those are basically the three categories that you can see. I can give you some illustrations of those three things if you would like. I won’t go to the text themselves and read them but for instance the idea of sadness. If you remember David in Second Samuel chapter 12. David had lost a child or was getting ready to lose a child and in that process, he refrained from eating due to his sadness and he was there just seeking the Lord. Or you might remember Esther. When Esther was going to go before the king and she knew that this could cost her life, she could die because her people were in great need and there was a need for intervention from God because Esther knew that they could be exterminated and so what did she do? Not only did some of the people supporting her pray and fast for three days, but so did Esther for three days and nights no food, no drink, she sought the Lord.
Then maybe we could also look at kind of a final example that we would see would be the Ninevites when Jonah went to preach to them and Jonah was going to proclaim the message that God had sent him there even though Jonah didn't really want to be there, I don't know if you've read the story. He wasn't too interested in being there but he was there nonetheless. He had to be spit there but nonetheless he got there right and when he got there and began to preach they basically declared among themselves, the leader of Nineveh declared we've got it. They started tearing stuff and he declared we've got a fast and they did and God the Bible says saw their hearts and had mercy on them as they repented.
Basically they were facing a crisis. So it's sadness or a crisis or a need for intervention from God. That's kind of what you see as the examples in the Old Testament. Now when you get to the New Testament, I told you I'd be quick here. When you get to the New Testament, you see some examples of fasting through the New Testament. I won't chronicle them all but maybe the first one that comes to mind is Jesus when he's in the wilderness. Right after he kind of declares his ministry and he is baptized and then he goes right out into the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan for 40 days and while he's there he's not eating. While he's there, he's fasting. We see that as an example. Or you could fast forward to the time where there was a man named Saul who would eventually become Paul, whose attention was arrested on the road to Damascus by the resurrected Jesus. Saul came away from that blinded and while he was blinded for a three-day period he fasted.
Or you could fast forward even further into the book of Acts, that was in Acts Chapter nine if you want to fast forward even further into Acts Chapter 13. The Church of Antioch was gathered together and the Bible says that they were worshipping and they were praying and they were fasting and then the Spirit of God spoke to them, and said, “Separate out for me Paul and Barnabas. I have need of them I want to use them,” and they were praying and fasting right then. You go to the next chapter, next chapter 14 and you'll find that when Paul goes around and he is preaching the gospel and then he is forming churches in these particular cities that he's going to, that prior to selecting the elders, they are praying and fasting during that time.
There's a number of examples that we have in the New Testament itself but what we don't have is we don't have a command anywhere in it to fast. No command anywhere in the New Testament. But while there is no command, it seems as if there's an assumption. Not a command but an assumption that people are going to fast from time to time. In fact when Jesus was having a dialogue with the Pharisees, they brought this question up because of their disciples and John's disciples who were continually fasting. Notice what Jesus said in Luke Chapter 5. “They said to Jesus, John's disciples often fast and pray and so do the disciples of the Pharisees but yours go on eating and drinking. Jesus answered, can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them but the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them. In those days they will fast.”
Now you understand what Jesus was saying. Jesus was saying in the time of marriage that's a time of celebration, that's a time of feasting. But there's going to be a time where he's referencing himself as the bridegroom, he's going to be taken away and at that time, his disciples would fast, why? Why would they fast? Well you can imagine what that would look like when he's gone. You can imagine that both sadness, crisis and need for the intervention of God would be things on their minds. They would at that time, they would end up fasting but again, what we have to remind ourselves here is that even though that time would come, what we have in the New Testament is we have descriptions of fasting but not prescriptions, because there's actually no command for us to do that particular thing.
What we see is we see that fasting is a good thing because we see it represented in the Old Testament in the lives of holy people. We see it represented in the New Testament in the lives of holy people. Fasting is a spiritual discipline, is a good thing, but it's a good thing that can become a bad thing if it misses the main thing. You see here's where it goes toxic. How does fasting like as a spiritual discipline, how does this go bad, how does this actually end up bad? Well here's the first reason, when it's based in pride. I'm going to show you some examples from the scripture because the scripture actually gives us very specific examples and you and I both know that pride demonstrates itself in a number of different ways.
There are a million different masks that pride can put on. Sometimes we recognize them, sometimes we don't. We most often can see the kind of belligerent arrogance and we go, “Okay, that's pride,” but sometimes we don't see like the kind of the self-imposed fake humility. We can't quite pick that up but it's pride nonetheless. It has all these different mask and it's trying to get into everything. It's like cranberries in the juice style, it's trying to get into everything. Cranapple, crangrape, it's just trying to get into everything, that's what pride does in our world. It tries to creep into everything including by the way this spiritual discipline that we would call fasting. When that happens it's an awful thing, but let me show you that when this is based in pride, it might show itself in two different ways. There's probably more but there's at least two.
Here's the first one, spiritual showmanship or if you're a lady, spiritual show woman-ship depending on who's guilty here. Let me show you what I mean. Jesus was telling a story about this and we kind of see this picture of spiritual showmanship in Luke Chapter 18. The scripture says, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and look down on everyone else …” let me just pause there for a second. Has that ever been you? You're leaving me here all alone. Wow, thank you. I didn't even see every hand. Let's try this again, has this ever been you? Okay cool. Wow you people are supposed to be Christians.
Your pastor’s up here laying his heart on the line. Yes, I'm guilty and you look at me like you're righteous and looking down on me, pay attention. To some who are confident of their own righteousness and look down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable. Two men went up to the temple to pray. One a Pharisee, a religious leader and the other a tax collector, everybody hates him. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed. Here is how he prayed. “God I thank you that I am not like other people, robbers, evil doers, adulterers or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to the heavens, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Jesus said, “I tell you that this man rather than the other went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves, will be exalted.” Can you see the picture of this religious leader and Jesus tells the story in beautiful kind of 3D color, it’s really gorgeous and he's giving this picture of this religious leader who starts his prayer. “God how I thank you that I am not like all these other people.” Man and particularly that guy. One of you is seeing him. I know, right look at, it’s embarrassing. Just as a heads up, I fast twice a week, not once like some of my cohorts in my business who are slacking. I fast twice a week and I give a tenth of all of I get. It probably obligates you to kind of doubly bless me.
Now the Jews in that day, particular the religious leaders did have a habit of kind of like either a Monday, Wednesday or something like that, fasting time frame. That they would do that, but when they did that, oftentimes what they did is they called attention to themselves in doing that because it gave them some sense of spiritual seniority over all the lazy people who would never push away from food for any reason. The problem is, is that this was just something that was infiltrated with pride and Jesus actually spoke to this kind of posture when he was teaching what we call the sermon on the mount or the or the lecture on the hillside or the dialogue on the grassy knoll, whatever it is you would like.
When Jesus was doing this teaching, he actually referred to this idea of fasting and notice what he said in Matthew chapter 6, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do for they disfigure their faces to show others that they're fasting.” You get it. In other words let me put it in more modern terms they're trying to show off how spiritual they are. Truly I tell you they have received their reward in full but when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face so that it will not be obvious to others that you're fasting but only to your father who is unseen and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
In other words, he says here's what the hypocrites do. You can find them anywhere, you just walk by them and you see them and occasionally they're looking out of the corner of their eye waiting for you to come by, “Ooh.” “What's the matter?” “Oh nothing, everything's fine. I'm just fasting for the second time this week.” Get on with your little lazy, non-spiritual life, here I am. Look at my pain …” Sort of one of those things, and Jesus is like, “Yeah don't do that.” If you're a lady, like what he'd say to us, “Put your makeup on. Fellas take a shower. Clean it up, whatever you got to do. Like nothing's going on. And what you're doing, do with your father and yours knowledge. Don't make a public display or that you're trying to show off because I promise you that when pride gets all in what you're doing, it gets toxic for your soul. It gets toxic.”
You see for some of the religious leaders and even some people who follow their example, here's what was happening, here's what pride was doing. Listen to this. For them here's what fasting was. Fasting for them was not feeding their body so they could feed their pride. It was not feeding their body so they could feed their pride. Do not let that happen because fasting though it's a good thing can become a bad and toxic thing when you allow pride to dive headlong into it and pride shows itself as spiritual showmanship or spiritual show woman-ship. It also show itself another way. It will show itself in self-serving ritual. In other words, what was a discipline can become now self-serving.
In fact many of the prophets particularly in this case, Isaiah and Zachariah would speak to the people of Israel when they were getting off track and things were becoming like traditions of men as opposed to the reality of what God was intending for them to do with this discipline of fasting. It wasn't the type of fasting that God was looking for and it became an ugly kind of self-serving kind of thing. In fact listen to what Isaiah says in Isaiah Chapter 58, God speaking through Isaiah.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen, to lose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke. To set the oppressed free and break every yoke. Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wonder with shelter? When you see the naked to clothe them and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood, then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear. Then your righteousness will go before you and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard, 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 and if you spend yourself and 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.”
You see here's the picture ladies and gentlemen. You've got this picture of the people of God who are engaging in what looks to be from an external perspective, the spiritual exercise of fasting while at the same time are oppressing people and upholding injustice. When Dr. King who we’re celebrating his day tomorrow, when Dr. King commented on Isaiah 58, he said when the church stops being the voice for justice, the church loses its relevance in the world. You see, what was going on here, listen to this, was a spiritual show. Instead of saying … God says, “Is it the fast that I've chosen for you to actually live in a way consistent with who I am as opposed to being some external show or something that is self-serving for you, where you're like, “I feel spiritual now while I continue to oppress people?” God says, “No, that is not what this is all about.”
In fact Zechariah said something somewhat similar in Zachariah 7. It says, “Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me, ask all the people of the land and the priests, when you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seven months for the past 70 years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?” In other words, Zachariah is saying, “Hey, all this stuff you're doing, it's all self-serving and this is not what God's called you to. So, I just remind you of all of that because this good thing, fasting, can become a bad thing when we let pride, when it's based in pride.
You know how else it will become a bad thing, not only when it's based in pride, but when it's based in guilt. Some of you … Man, we have thousands of people who come to the chapel, and people come from all different kinds of backgrounds. It's super interesting hearing the stories of people and where they've come from. Some come from no church backgrounds, some come from church backgrounds that were less than favorable to the gospel, some come from, anyway, a variety of different backgrounds. And I know and have met some people who as a part of their kind of previous religious experience before really meeting Jesus, that they were a part of groups or organizations who determined what they could and could not eat. And so if you ate certain things, they made you feel incredibly guilty.
“Stay away from the pig,” it was that kind of stuff. You just felt unbelievably guilty because they were super heavy handed with all of that kind of stuff. But see, what we've got to remember is what Jesus said regarding food and by the way this was incredible for the ears of Jewish people to be able to hear. Jesus as a Jewish rabbi teacher was actually speaking things into what they were doing and how they were doing it, that they were like, “Well ...” In fact, listen to what Jesus said. It's in Mark Chapter 7, “Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me everyone and understand this, nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather it's what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
After he’d left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable, they always do that, right? “Hey, remember what you just said?” “Yeah.” “What does that mean?” He said, “Are you so dull?” Don’t you like that? Jesus called his disciples dull. “Are you so dull? Don't you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn't go into their heart, but into their stomach and then out of the body.” In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean. He went on. “What comes out of a person is what defiles them, for it is from within, out of a person's heart that evil thoughts come.” Sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly; all these evils come from inside and defile a person.
You see, what Jesus was saying to Jewish people that were listening and religious leaders that were teaching is like, “Hey, you're telling them that they have to abstain from this and not do this and this and some of these are all manmade rules and dot, dot, dot and Jesus basically declared all foods clean. Now, of course it goes on to say a little bit later on that you receive these things with gratefulness, with thankfulness, because of what he's done. And remember, Peter was having trouble getting this message, he was still so Jewish. He just couldn't quite get the message right. This is after Jesus' resurrection and he's doing his ministry and there he is like in Joplin, he's taking a nap and then the scroll comes down in a vision from heaven and there's like all these animals on there and then the vision says, “Get up, kill and eat.”
And then he starts arguing with God like, “No, no, ah, ah, no, no that is not happening.” And he goes like, “Yes it is. Yes it is a new day.” This is about what I'm doing in the world, I have changed everything. So we can't just feel guilty about all of these things. I have people asking me all the time and my friends are all over me about being a vegan. And like if I even think about a piece of chicken, they are all up in my business. What does Jesus say about that? Cock-a-doodle-doo, that’s what he said right there. They just look at me like, “For real?” I’m like, “Yeah.” If somebody is a vegan, more power to him. And if that’s what you want to do, cool, I'm for you. I'm for you if you're a vegetarian. I'm for you if you just want to be plant based and eat all that stuff. I'm for you. Don't mess with my chicken. I'm dead serious. Do not mess with my chicken.
Paul spoke to all of this stuff too. Listen to what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8, “But food does not bring us near to God, for we are no worse if we do not eat and no better if we do.” Paul's basically saying this ain't about food man. He goes on to say this, listen to this. Paul says in Colossians when he’s talking about all these people who were so Judgmental about people who were eating certain things, he says, “Therefore, don't let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink or with regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a Sabbath day, since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why as though you still belong to the world do you submit to its rules? Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.
These rules which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lacked any value in restraining sensual indulgence. Paul was really serious about this stuff, in fact you're going, “Man, he is serious.” I haven't even gotten to how serious he is. Let me show you another one. This is how serious Paul is with people that were doing all this craziness. He's telling Timothy this, listen to this, 1 Timothy 4, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.”
Some of your translation say the doctrine of demons, go back. The doctrine of demons, things taught by demons. “Such teachings,” he says, “Come through hypocritical liars whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. Here's what they teach, they forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving because it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer.”
There you have that. You see, the New Testament is clear on this that we should not be fueled by… Listen to this, we should not be fueled by, in the spiritual discipline of fasting, we shouldn’t be fueled by pride and we shouldn’t be fueled by guilt. It was a number of years ago, was it … not when I was here, but when I was at a church prior to this and there was a wonderful lady in our congregation, very sweet lady. Love the Lord, walks with God, so I don't mean this critically toward her, because she wasn't intending to do this. But she got super fired up, like she was a health girl and she was super fired up about this one particular diet, and she was trying to … she was basically like an evangelist for this diet. And the diet was called the hallelujah diet, which just makes it sound spiritual, right? Like, “Oh, it's fantastic.”
Now, I know nothing about this diet by the way so it's not a criticism, if you're on it cool, like I know zero about it. So it's not even said as a criticism, I'm just telling you that was the name she kept coming around to all of our staff. And she was trying to get us all on the hallelujah diet, and in it I think there were some things you couldn't eat and it was like, “This is the biblical way to eat,” and I was thinking, “Biblical way to eat? Let me talk to you about that. Because now I’ve got something to add to that conversation nonetheless.”
So she’s talking to a number of staff members and we were at this party and she was kind of continued saying some of that stuff and I could tell that what was happening, unintentionally by the way, you know what her heart's concern was? That everybody was healthy and I thank God for that. She’s a wonderful lady, she was concerned that everybody was healthy, but, what was happening is I could see all of these staff members who were starting to feel guilt. And I thought to myself, “This is not going to be good long term.”
So, she finally made her way to me and of course some of the other staff members there were kind of going, “This ought to be good.” And she came over you know, and she's a wonderful lady by the way, great lady. And she came over and she said, “Hey, I just wanted to check in with you and see if you're going to do the hallelujah diet.” And I said, “I'm not,” I said, “Because I'm already on a diet.” And she said, “What?” And I said the, Hugllelujah diet.” She looks so confused, and I was like, “You're not familiar with that one? It's like all pig all day. Like pork shoulder, breakfast, pork belly … She quit talking to our staff about any of that, like right away, she was done with that.
Now, I did it kind of silly like this and I did it graciously, because she's a wonderful, wonderful lady who I knew her heart and she cared. But I did it because I also needed our staff to understand that guilt is not going to be the motivation for what you do, because that's not going to be where we need to go because Jesus has taught us better than that. See fasting is a good thing that can become a bad thing if you miss the main thing. You're going, “Jerry, you said that like 100 times, what's the main thing.” Well, the main thing is it's not about food, it's about the heart. That's what we don't want to miss, that's where all of this is taking us. And to see that, we can just let … do the math in your head, if this was just about an external kind of show, like fasting was like an external thing that if we did it, we are in favorable points with God, why would we choose fasting over some other external show? Because there are a lot of different ways you could do that. How about the tearing of your garments? How about wearing burlap sacks around? How about sitting on a pile of ashes and rubbing them on your face? They did all these things by the way, it wasn't about the externals, it's about the heart.
So, I want to show you this illustration, it’s super brief, but I told you that I would end up in Luke 2 and I want to introduce you to a lady named Hanna. Anna sometimes makes it into like some of the Christmas stories, because about 40 days after Jesus was born, he ended up going to the temple. Not himself, he was carried because he was still a baby. But Mary and Joseph came into the temple because they were going to offer their sacrifices as they would as good Jewish people for their newborn. The time of circumcision, all those kinds of things that are involved in it. And they ran into a man named Simeon who was very old, but there was another woman named Hanna who was also very old in the temple.
Notice what it says in Luke 2, “There was also a prophet or prophetess named Hanna the daughters of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. She was very old. She had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage and then was a widow until she was 84. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day fasting and praying and coming up to them, coming up to Mary and Joseph and Jesus. At that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Let me give you just a handful of quick things that there's a way that we can see principally in Hanna's life that will help us in how we use this discipline well. Just three simple, very quick things. Here's the first one, freely choose it. In other words, it's not a command. You're not guilty into it, but you have the opportunity to freely choose this. Listen to what it says in verse 37, “She never left the temple.” You know why she was there? Me neither.
It could have been her state, it could have been the fact that she's been a widow for a long time and so she just gave herself to this process, it could have been the fact that maybe she had a heart for a Messiah that they knew was prophesied but had not yet come and so she just wanted to continue to pray like all of the young moms in Israel who were always praying that they would give birth to the Messiah, she wanted to just intercede on their behalf. I don't know what her motivations were, but she chose it, just like you should if God so leads you. It's not about whether your friend does or doesn't or whatever, it's if God prompts your heart to be able to do it, it should be freely chosen. It's not out of guilt, it's not out of pride that we might push away from food so that we can turn our attention to God.
Let me give you a second thing that we see, you see what Hanna does is she doesn't only fast. Boy, I don't want you to miss this, because look what the Scripture says, “She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.” So she wasn't just fasting, she was worshipping, she was praying and she was fasting. I mean right, it gets all upside down if we're like, “Today at lunch, I am not eating food and I'll just continue my day as usual, but I'm not eating food and it's for you God.” Not the point. That's not the point. You don't just do the fasting as some kind of spiritual exercise to impress God.
She was worshipping, she was praying as she restrained from food to be able to seek God. And that's what leads to the third piece, look for Jesus. This is actually what you're trying to do when you're fasting. You are looking for Jesus. Notice what the Scripture says after she came up to Joseph and Mary and the Baby Jesus at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and listen to this, she spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. In other words, Jesus is the redemption of Jerusalem. Jesus is what they've all been looking for.
And so what we're doing when we are fasting just like Hanna was, is that from time to time we may choose to do this ourselves, not based out of pride, not based out of guilt, we just simply will choose to do this and we will pull aside from the food so that not only… We're not just pulling aside from food as some kind of exercise to make God proud of us, we're doing that so that we can worship and be in His word and we can pray and we can seek Him. Why? Because the point is, the main thing is we are looking for Jesus.
If you haven't gotten that yet, here, you can at least write down the statement so you don't miss it. Fasting isn't about pushing away from food. It's about posturing the heart to see Jesus. Fasting isn't about pushing away from food, it's about posturing the heart to see Jesus. I get asked often by people when they say, “You know what? I feel like God's asking me to fast, but I don't know for how long. Pastor can you help me?” My answer quickly, “No, I cannot help you. You're going to have to make that determination.” “Well, how do I make that determination?” Here's what I usually say, how deep’s your need? That might be the way you figure that out. How deep is your need? And then you can make those determinations yourself.
Remember, there's no command to do this, therefore there's no prescription. There's no designated, “Here's when you have to do it, here's when you can't do it.” “Can I just fast one meal and replace that lunch time, that lunch hour with seeking Jesus and then go back to my work and go back to eating?” Sure. “Can I replace a whole day and just take a day off and just say I'm going to seek the Lord and I …” Yep, you can do that to. You just do what God leads you to do, right? This past week, our staff spent time in prayer and worship and fasting, this past week. Here's why. Because we need to hear and see Jesus for 2018.
This isn't about just us doing our own thing, making up our own rules, making up our own game plans, this is about seeking Jesus. And so, they did it freely and we told them it’s not an obligation and for many, maybe even most, it was lunch time during the week that we would get together everybody, everybody employed by the chapel, we just all get together at that time and we weren’t eating, we were seeking Jesus. And we had some ways that we went about doing that. I don't know what that looks like for you, but I'm simply saying to you that fasting isn't just about pushing away from food, it's about posturing the heart to seek Jesus. So with that, I want to ask you if you would to bow your head because I want to ask you a question in just a moment.
Here's a question I want you to ponder for a second, would you evaluate in your own heart what your spiritual hunger is for God? Just evaluate that in your own heart for a moment. And as you're bowed kind of thinking about that, let me remind you of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the mountain. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Would you just where you are ask Jesus right now to increase your appetite for him? To give you a hunger, to give you a thirst for him.
See that's what we want you to catch. Is that while in this new year, you may be making resolutions and changes and you may be caring for your body or caring for your productivity or whatever else you may be caring for, and those are good and there are better people than me to talk to you about those things. But I'm here to talk to you about yourself. What I don't want to see are the toxins of sin and the toxins of this world take over and smoke out our souls. And sometimes things like fasting can help us, they are a good thing as long as we keep the main thing right about them. It's really about seeking Jesus, looking for him.
So my hope is is that you will, you'll allow God to shape you, to give you a hunger, because that's the kind of church that we want to be in and be a part of. Maybe some of you are here and you're kind of starting out a New Year saying, “You know what? I thought I would come to church,” and we’re so glad you did, thank you. And if in your head you're going, “So if I start doing this kind of thing, is that make me like … I’m I set with God? There's nothing we can do to impress him. He's impressed by his son, the one who was born of a virgin, who lived the sinless life, who died on the cross for our sins, who took upon Himself your sin and my sins so that we would not have to pay a debt that we could never pay.
And even though Jesus was sinless, he paid a debt that he didn't owe on our behalf, because God always deals with son, he’s holy and he did that by taking our collective sin and putting it on Jesus as a sacrifice, but Jesus did it willingly, he wasn’t forced, he wasn't coerced. He went on his own volition, because of his love for us, because of his love for the father. He didn't stay dead, he got up from the dead, conquering sin and hell and the grave on our behalf, that if we put our faith in Him, we can be restored into a relationship with God, be transformed in the now and be changed forever.
And if you're here and you've never come to that place, understood what that looks like in your heart, then when we dismiss you in just a moment, come right out the doors and go straight across the atrium. There's a place called the Fireside Room and there are some folks in there, some pastors, some other friends in there who would love to be able to talk to you for just a few moments. We’re not going to hold you up forever, but we would love to talk to you about what it means to have your life made new, for your sins to be forgiven, for you to be in a relationship by faith with Jesus because of what he's done by His grace.
Father what I pray for our church is that we would be a group of hungry people. Hungry for you. Hungry to know you more deeply. Not hungry to put our spirituality on display for the applause of people, but hungry to know you so that we can be your hands and feet in the world that we live in. So that we can forward your mission in the world. So that we can be that word of witness or that person who comes along side those folks who are in darkness and in need. God, the genius that you have put your spirit into the lives of all of your people and that when we scatter from this place we are taking you with us everywhere we go, to our work places, to our homes, to our schools, to our places where we shop.
God, you are with us and you are in us and we pray that people would see the light of Christ in us. God, it begins with us seeking you. With you detoxifying our world so that we can hear your voice and see your face and know how to respond and what to say. So I trust you to do that among your people God. I love them, but you love them so much greater. And I pray that you would help us to grow in the likeness of Christ and I pray this in Jesus' name, amen.