Secrecy and Fasting

Matthew 6:16-18 The Message (MSG)

16-18 “When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you well.

#1 – Why is it important to fast “secretly”?

#2 – Do you think the “secrecy” (not calling attention to the practice) is valid for abstaining in general? Why or why not?

And only for the brave...

#3 – Is a person who fasts more spiritual than one who does not? Why or why not?

Defining Abstinence: Self-emptying

Part two of a series on Simplicity and Sacrifice – catch up here.

“Do you know that in a race all runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-26

The Christian life is similar to athletic training. It involves a two-sided strategy of doing things that improve athletic performance while avoiding (or abstaining from) things that degrade performance. Athletes will abstain from certain foods, risky activities in other sports, and events that conflict with their exercise and rest plans. Paul uses the metaphor of a runner in the previous passage. It is clear that he led a “simple” life. One uncluttered with things, activities, and events that (although okay) would turn out to be detrimental to his life goals.

Part of “Christian training” is controlling the desires that come naturally to us. In many cases, they are inherently okay, but can be an enemy of the best. They can crowd out our goals, cloud our motives, or become addictive. Desires like food, sex, fun, praise, influence, and popularity are okay unless we become slaves to them. Fasting is one way to refocus our attention on God.

Anything that we go to in place of God for comfort in a time of need has become an idol to us. It is when you go to any of them first in a time of need that they have ceased to be good for you.

In her book Soul FeastMarjorie Thompson calls the habit of simplicity and abstaining “self-emptying.”

But isn’t that, well, draining? Where does sacrifice fit into a life of joy?

Jan Johnson writes in Simplicity and Fasting (Spiritual Disciplines Bible Studies):

“But the death to self is difficult! train us to relinquish what we want. But when done as God leads, they do not need to make us miserable. teach us to truly enjoy each blessing of creation as it comes–enjoying one simple luscious grape at a time, being grateful for a car that runs well, getting us from one place to the next.

We learn to love the world God loves without running on the fuel it runs on–unlimited amounts and varieties of food, media and words.”

Discipleship Challenge:

Pause and pray for guidance as you reflect on the excesses in your life. Then complete the following exercise.

Examine your motives for saying “yes” to too many things. Think of three times you said “yes” in the last three days. Ask these questions about these times:

  • Is there something you are trying to prove?
  • Someone you are trying to impress?
  • Is it God’s will or yours you are following?

Stay tuned for part three: When to Exercise Abstinence. Or download your free copy of Simplicity and Sacrifice today!

5 Positive Reasons to Practice Fasting

Fasting, abstaining, saying no…these often carry negative connotations in our culture today. But abstaining played a more positive role in Scripture.

In the Old Testament, abstinence and/or fasting were encouraged and practiced for many reasons:

  • abstaining from work on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:17)
  • to mark someone as set aside (holy), by God, for a special role (Judges 13-16)
  • to make a specific request to God (Ezra 8:21-23)
  • to express sorrow for sins (Ezra 10:6)

From these examples and others in Scripture, we see that, yes, abstaining meant giving something up, but the goal of that abstinence included holiness (being set apart), prayer, service, faith, and celebration. These are all very positive and good things. In the New Testament, we see Jesus on earth as a human, showing us how to live God’s intended lifestyle. Simplicity and abstinence were part of His life, and should be an intentional practice in ours.

Christ practiced abstinence…

  • as an act of holiness – fasting from food, water, and company (Matthew 4:1-2)
  • as an act of prayer – giving up precious time of sleep and fellowship (Mark 1:35-37)
  • as an act of service – denying himself out of compassion; living without a place to call home (Matthew 12:15, Matthew 8:20)
  • as an act of faith – willful and painful sacrifice, trusting that it was necessary (Luke 22:42)

Jesus was also clear that there were times not to fast – “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:14-15).

Here the emphasis is on Jesus’ presence, with fasting as a symbol of mourning when the cause for celebration was gone. Since Pentecost, Christians have the Holy Spirit living in them, giving them cause to celebrate God’s presence every moment of every day.

Abstinence gives us cause to celebrate because we are obeying Him and becoming more like Him.

Want to learn more about the spiritual practice of fasting? We want to help you! Simplicity and Sacrifice: Embracing More with Less is available to download for free, as our gift to you this Christmas.

Part one of a series on Simplicity and Sacrifice – Next Post

DiscipleshipDare: Fasting to Feast on Joy

Whether it’s the gloom of early winter, the speed with which the sun seems to flee below the horizon, or the bittersweet memory of happy times spent with lost loved ones, the holiday season leading up to Christmas is for some a time of sorrow or melancholy.

In recent years, the growing pressure to de-commercialize the family Christmas experience, while a noble and worthy cause, has piled on guilt and anxiety as we try to do everything just right.
For the next month, we dare you to identify what is keeping you from Christ in Christmas and to make a decision to fast from it.

Is it fear, overwhelm, worry over finances, the stress of holiday overeating, a sense of loneliness? Much like our physical need for food, all of these are natural and some are unavoidable. But the answer to that question is probably getting in the way of a relationship of greater intimacy with God. When you are confronted by the urge to give in to the emotion, action, or thought pattern, understand that personal will power is not a healthy solution during a spiritual fast.

Trying harder isn’t the answer.

Instead, bring it God with words similar to this: “Father, I’m experiencing (fill in the blank) right now. I believe this is in response to a deeper longing for something only your presence can fulfill. I implore you to meet this need. I trust in you.”

Then walk away from the thing from which you’re abstaining, whether it’s physical or emotional. You could cement your strong sense of God’s provision by meditating briefly on a Psalm from God’s Word, or spending a few minutes in your advent reading for the day.*

*Adapted from Simplicity and Sacrifice: Embracing More with Less (FREE download right now!)

Resources for Advent

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