Secret Religion – Fasting

SECRET RELIGION – FASTING by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

secretreligion_fastingIntroduction: This morning we are in part 3 of the series – SECRET RELIGION – and our focus is on fasting. Again, God wants us to fast, not for self-praise but to seek His face.

Matthew 6   16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Overall Background: In the past 2 messages Jesus exposed the giving hypocrites and the praying hypocrites. Giving hypocrites – those who give charity but only for public praise. Praying hypocrites – those who pray but only to look spiritual and jab their enemies. Neither of them gets anything from God. Now He turns His attention towards the fasting hypocrites. Listen to what He says – “For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting.” Meaning: The fasting hypocrites are not really fasting. They only appear to be fasting. I guess they have a Snickers bar hidden in their robe somewhere and now and then they take a bite when no one’s looking. But when someone comes along, they act all famished – “I’m suffering for Jesus.” Jesus says of them what He said about the other two – “Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” Meaning: God knows their hypocrisy and their fasting remains fruitless (no pun intended).

Here’s the gist of this message – Fasting is simply God’s people setting aside food, entertainment, and any distraction to get serious with Him. God wants us to fast. It brings tremendous results, especially when we are facing painful and impossible situations. But fasting with the wrong motives may impress some but not God.

Question: Do you fast? Are you facing a hopeless situation? A difficult marriage, a wayward child or grandchild, finances or employment, a frustrating habit, something in your past, a dream that’s too big and too risky. Are you concerned about our church, community, or nation? Then it’s time to fast and pray. Are you saved? No amount of fasting can help you. You’re just dieting all the way to Hell!

2 questions we will ask about Secret Religion and Fasting:

I. WHY FASTING IS VITAL? 

16 “Moreover, when you fast…

Background: Just like regarding prayer, Jesus does not say “if” you fast but “when” you fast. Meaning: Fasting, like prayer, was expected for God’s people. It may surprise some of you that fasting is all over the Bible. Let me give you some examples:

  1. Fasting when in the presence of God – Moses fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, without bread and without water, before he received the 10 Commandments. Let me make it clear: the reason he was able to do this is because of the presence of God.
  2. Fasting when humbling oneself before God – On the Day of Atonement God commanded in Leviticus 16 29 “…you shall afflict your souls, (humble yourself) and do no work at all…30 For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the LORD.” Although the word “fasting” is not mentioned, Jewish people fasted on this day to humble themselves before God.
  3. Fasting when mourning before God – Job fasted after the tragedy hit his home, as he says in Job 3:24 “For my sighing comes before I eat…” The people of Israel fasted all day before the Lord because of the civil war between the tribe of Benjamin and the rest of Israel. Hannah fasted before the Lord because she could not have any children. It says in 1 Samuel 1:7 So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, that she (sister wife) provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat. When David and his men heard that Saul and Jonathan had been killed in battle, they fasted until evening. By the way, mourning was the main reason for fasting.
  4. Fasting when repenting over sins before God – Joshua fasted all day after the defeat of Israel at Ai. Under Samuel, the people of Israel fasted all day in repentance for their sins. The prophet Joel called for a fast because of the plague of locusts and the famine in the land. When Jonah pronounced God’s judgment against Nineveh, the entire city fasted; even the king and God turned away His wrath. Daniel fasted before the great vision in Daniel 9 and he begins his prayer with – 4“O Lord, great and awesome God…5 we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled…”
  5. Fasting when facing a major challenge – Esther fasted for 3 days along with her maids and all the Jewish people in Shushan before she went before the king to intercede for her people. When Nehemiah heard about the plight of the Jewish people in Jerusalem, he was so burdened that he wept and mourned for many days but he didn’t stop there. Listen to Nehemiah 1:4. He says, “I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”

———–For time’s sake, let’s jump over to the New Testament————

  1. Fasting when beginning a new ministry – Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights before He started His ministry. The early church fasted and prayed before they sent Barnabas and Paul on the mission journey.
  2. Fasting when doing ministry – Paul mentions fasting as a sign of being God’s servant. In 2 Corinthians 6 4 But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, 5 in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings…” Ministry has problems and will always have problems. Before you complain and criticize have you considered cutting back from food? When I come across people like this, I’m thinking – “has this person enough spiritual maturity to put down that hamburger or that fried chicken and actually pray?!!”

Application: Are you facing a difficult time, a tough challenge? Are you willing to set aside the plate of food and humble yourself before God? Andrew Murray (Dutch Reformed South African pastor and writer) said, “Fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”

II. HOW FASTING GOT DISTORTED? 

16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance.

Shofar

Shofar (All images © 2016 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

Background: Just like everything else, we human beings know how to distort everything good that comes from God. God condemned all such fasting. Listen to Isaiah 58   1 “Cry aloud, spare not; Lift up your voice like a trumpet; (the word is actually shofar, which means a horn from a ram or an antelope). They would blow the shofar to announce the fast and there was a whole system and rituals of how to do this. What God is saying here is – “Put down your shofar and your rituals and speak like a shofar to my people.” What should Isaiah say – “Tell My people their transgression, And the house of Jacob their sins. 2 Yet they seek Me daily, And delight to know My ways, As a nation that did righteousness…They take delight in approaching God. Then they complain – 3 “Why have we fasted…and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’ God says, “Let me explain to you why.” 3 “…in the day of your fast you find pleasure, And exploit all your laborers. 4 Indeed you fast for strife and debate, And to strike with the fist of wickedness…5 Is it a fast that I have chosen…6 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, “Here I am.’…11 The LORD will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. 12 Those from among you Shall build the old waste places; You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In…14 Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth…The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

So also Zechariah the prophet – Zechariah 7   4 Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me, saying, 5 “Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me—for Me?…7 Should you not have obeyed the words which the LORD proclaimed through the former prophets…9 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Execute true justice, Show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.’

Let’s return back to what Jesus said – 16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. After the Babylonian exile the Jewish people were very strict about their fasts but by the time of Jesus, they began to fast for the wrong reasons. Since humbling was described as “afflicting oneself,” they would not shave or wash their clothes or take a bath. As bad as that sounds, this was how they communicated to others that they were more spiritual. Sometimes it got really extreme – One rabbi (Eleazer ben Azariah) from the time of Jesus fasted until his teeth turned black. Why? Atoning for the sin of opposing a majority view! Rabbi Joshua made a derogatory remark against the school of Shammai and went on a fast until his teeth also turned black. Rabbi Simeon insulted Rabbi Aqiba and fasted until his teeth turned black. In a sense, this was probably what was happening during the time of Jesus. They were taking pride in their penitence.

Application: People are no different today – How many times I have heard people judge someone walking in with a beautiful dress or makeup or nice suit and judge them on that. This is reverse prejudice!

What did Jesus say – “Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” People may be impressed but God is not. Instead, 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Meaning: Don’t let your spirituality distract people from the Savior.

Fasting is no fun. I fast every week. I tell you this not to brag but to urge you to do the same. I am not a very good faster. On days I fast, everything looks like food to me. The pen looks like a French fry and the paperweight looks like a sandwich! Just put a little ketchup on it! But the benefits are unbelievable. God has answered repeatedly in response to my prayer and fasting.

Remember—Stress can either drive you to indulge or it can drive you to get serious with God. Fasting is simply God’s people setting aside food, entertainment, and any distraction to get serious with Him. You may say – “I don’t know how to fast.” We’re not talking about 40 days and 40 nights. Can we not set aside a day to fast unto God? There are several great resources out there on fasting.

(To preview or purchase these resources, click on the images.)

Ronnie Floyd - "The Power of Prayer and Fasting"

Ronnie Floyd, The Power of Prayer and Fasting: God’s Gateway to Spiritual Breakthroughs.

Elmer Town - "Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough"

Elmer Towns, Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough: A Guide to Nine Biblical Fasts.

 

Do you know Christ as your Savior? Do you need to fast?

FASTING AND PRAYER

FASTING AND PRAYER by Pastor Shah, Clearview, Henderson

Are you facing a hopeless situation? Maybe it’s a difficult marriage; maybe it’s a wayward child or grandchild; maybe it’s finances or employment; maybe it’s a frustrating habit; maybe it’s something in your past; maybe it’s a dream that’s too big and too risky; it keeps you awake at night; it weighs on your soul; it brings you to tears; then it’s time to fast and pray.

The Bible is filled with examples of men and women fasting and praying before God. Moses fasted for 40 days and 40 nights—without bread and without water—before he received the Ten Commandments from God. Joshua fasted all day after the defeat of Israel at Ai. The people of Israel fasted all day before the Lord because of the civil war between the tribe of Benjamin and the rest of Israel. Hannah fasted before the Lord because she could not have any children. Jonathan fasted when he saw how his father, Saul, was treating David. When David and his men heard that Saul and Jonathan had been killed in battle, they fasted until evening. The prophet Joel called for a fast because of the plague of locusts and the famine in the land. When Jonah pronounced God’s judgment against Nineveh, the entire city led by the king fasted; and God turned His wrath. When Nehemiah heard about the plight of the Jewish people in Jerusalem, he was so burdened that he “sat down and wept, and mourned for many days.” (Nehemiah 1:4) But he didn’t stop there. He immediately began to fast and pray before God. And the list goes on and on.

Even Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before He began His work. When His disciples failed to cast out a demon, He said to them “if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. 21However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:20-21) Meaning: It was not enough to have faith. They needed to pray and fast as well. Fasting not only tells God that we are serious about our need but it also frees up more time to pray. As Elisabeth Elliot said, “One finds out what an astonishing amount of time is spent in the planning, purchasing, preparing, eating, and cleaning up of meals.”

But believe me when I say—it’s tough to fast. On days I fast, everything looks like food to me! I tell people that I am the world’s worst faster! But when you are faced with a need, a burden, and a problem that is too great or painful or fearful, you cannot help but push away from the table and go on your face before God. At this hour, our nation needs our fasting and prayer. The last time Boston faced a terror attack was in 1774. Thomas Jefferson drafted a resolution that read: “This House, being deeply impressed with apprehension of the great dangers…from the hostile invasion of the City of Boston…deem it highly necessary that the said first day of June be set apart, by the members of this House as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer, devoutly to implore the Divine interposition, for averting the heavy calamity which threatens destruction to our civil rights…” Our founding fathers understood the value of fasting and prayer.

Remember—Stress in life can either drive us to indulge or it will drive us to get serious with God. Fasting is simply God’s people setting aside food, entertainment, and any distraction to get serious with Him. John Wesley once said, “Fasting is a means not only of turning away the wrath of God, but also obtaining whatever blessings we stand in need of.”

(Some helpful resources: Ronnie Floyd, The Power of Prayer and Fasting: God’s Gateway to Spiritual Breakthroughs and Elmer Towns, Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough: A Guide to Nine Biblical Fasts.)

FASTING AND PRAYING THAT WORKS

FASTING AND PRAYING THAT WORKS by Pastor Shah, Clearview, Henderson

Nehemiah 1:4-11 4So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5And I said: “I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, 6please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned.

Medo-Persian empire mapOverall Background: As you may remember, Nehemiah was a cup-bearer to the King of Persia. A cup-bearer was not just a dishwasher or a butler or a waiter. A cup-bearer was a very influential person—he was the keeper of the signet ring; he was in charge of the administration of the account; he was a close confidant of the king. Next to the king’s wife, the cup-bearer was the most influential person in the kingdom. How did Nehemiah get to such a coveted position? It was not easy— Persia was the largest empire in the world, spanning three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe with as many as 50 million people. To get to such a high position, his parents probably had to send him to the best schools; he had to receive the best trainings; he had to know the right people; he had to prove himself. What an accomplishment for Nehemiah to reach such a great height of power and prestige and prominence!

Nevertheless, when he hears that the Jewish people in Jerusalem (700 miles away) were in great distress and reproach, the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and the gates are burned with fire, listen to his response in verse 4: “So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days;” Nehemiah could have ignored the reports (not his family), blamed them for their condition, suggested someone else deal with that problem. Instead, he took it upon himself to do something about it. Bottom line: Nehemiah cared when he didn’t have to.

Application: The question for all of us this morning is “do we care?” Let me ask you a question—how do you respond to all the negative that is going on in our world? I am not suggesting that we become obsessed with all the bad news and become depressed but what do you do when you hear about the godlessness in our nation, breakdown of the family, rise in crime, rise in pornography, rise in apathy among our young people, loss of morality, loss of vision and hope, loss of innocence among our children? Do you look the other way? Do you blame somebody else? Do you think that someone somewhere is handling these problems? Or do we care?

Nehemiah cared…but he also knew that the task was too big, too risky, and too serious to just run out and just do something. Instead, listen to his response in verse 4 “I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” Nehemiah responded by fasting and praying.

Application: This morning all of us are facing situations– maybe it’s in a marriage, child/grandchild, finances/employment, health, habits/personality/attitudes/mind-set, something in our past/present/future. It is too big, too risky, and too serious. It keeps you awake at night. It weighs on your soul. It brings you to tears.

Look at your situation. Is it challenging? Is it impossible? Then it’s time to fast and pray.

I. FASTING

Background: Fasting is found all over the Old Testament before the coming of Nehemiah.

  • Moses fasted for 40 days and 40 nights—without bread and without water—before he received the Ten Commandments from God.
  • Joshua fasted all day after the defeat of Israel at Ai.
  • The people of Israel fasted all day before the Lord because of the civil war between the tribe of Benjamin and the rest of Israel.
  • Hannah fasted before the Lord because she could not have any children.
  • Under Samuel, the people of Israel fasted all day in repentance for their sins.
  • Jonathan fasted when he saw how his father, Saul, was treating David.
  • When David and his men heard that Saul and Jonathan had been killed in battle, they fasted until evening.
  • The prophet Joel called for a fast because of the plague of locusts and the famine in the land.
  • When Jonah pronounced God’s judgment against Nineveh, the entire city fasted, even the king.
  • Esther fasted for three days along with her maids and all the Jewish people in Shushan before she went before the king.
  • Ezra called for a fast to seek God’s protection for those leaving Babylon for Israel.
  • And the list goes on and on. Repeatedly, the people of God fasted when they were faced with difficult and impossible situations.
  • What’s more – Scholars tell us that during the exile fasting became a common practice among the Jewish people.

Pressure will either drive us to indulge or it will drive us to get serious with God.

Fasting is simply God’s people setting aside food, entertainment, and any distraction to get serious with Him.

Fasting is no fun. I fast every week. I tell you this not to brag but to encourage you to do the same. I am not a very good faster. On days I fast, everything looks like food to me. All I can think of is fast food. But when you are faced with a need, a burden, and a problem that is too painful and fearful, you cannot help but push away from the table and go on your face before God.

You may say – “I don’t know how to fast.” We are not talking about 40 days and 40 nights. Can we not set aside a day to fast unto God? There are several great resources out there on fasting.

Ronnie Floyd - "The Power of Prayer and Fasting"Elmer Town - "Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough"Ronnie Floyd, The Power of Prayer and Fasting: God’s Gateway to Spiritual Breakthroughs.

Elmer Towns, Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough: A Guide to Nine Biblical Fasts

The Study Guide is available as a free pdf download from the author’s website. If you follow the link on my blog site, you can get to it.

Application: I don’t know what is weighing on your heart – a loved one, a sickness, a past, a habit, a bill, our nation. It’s time to fast and pray before God. John Wesley said, “Fasting is a means not only of turning away the wrath of God, but also of obtaining whatever blessings we stand in need of.”

So the first thing that Nehemiah did was he fasted. Then the second thing that he did was he prayed. I believe that his fasting impacted his praying.

II. PRAYING

4So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

Background: Look carefully at the pattern of Nehemiah’s prayer.

1.  He looked up in Adoration.

Listen to verse 5 And I said: “I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments,

If you noticed, Nehemiah does not begin by talking about the walls being down or the gates being burned with fire. He begins by praising God.

Application: Many of us begin our prayers by talking about how bad things are or how bad we are. Our prayers can never take flight. But when we pray on what Oswald Chambers calls “the ground of redemption”—who we are in Christ, we are able to see how big God is and how small our problem is.

2.  He looked in with Repentance.

Listen to verse 6-7  6please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. 7We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.

Nehemiah doesn’t pass the buck. He acknowledges his own guilt.

Application: As you begin to fast and pray, God is going to bring things to your mind that you have done—sins you have committed against Him and others. As you begin to pray for others, God will show you how you and I are connected in this “collective guilt.” Don’t justify, just confess. You are forgiven even before you confess but your confession restores your relationship with the Father.

3.  He looked back to the Promises.

Listen to verse 8-10 8Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; 9but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’

Nehemiah is quoting scripture here. He is reminding God of His promises.

Application: If your prayers have become stale and lifeless, start praying scripture. Open the psalms and start praying each verse. “The Lord is My Shepherd. I shall not want.” God – you are my shepherd. You love me and care for me as a shepherd cares for His sheep. You meet my every need. You go before me to prepare the path for my life.

4.  He looked forward with Faith

10Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. 11O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

Did you notice the confidence in Nehemiah’s prayer?! His faith has grown from the moment he began praying to now! Now he calls the king just a “man”!

Do you see what fasting and praying does for us?

Bill Bright said “The longer I fasted, the more my faith soared and the more I sensed the presence of the Lord.”

Application: Nehemiah cared enough to fast and pray. Do we? Some people joke about it. Some people think that it is not necessary.

Did you know that Jesus fasted? When He began His ministry the Spirit led Him into the wilderness for 40 days where He was tempted by the devil and He ate nothing.

In another place when the disciples could not cast out a demon from a child, Jesus said to them “if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. 21However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:20-21)

Application: If Jesus cared enough to fast and pray, should we not?

But remember – Jesus came not just to fast and pray but to lay down His life for us.

There are a lot of similarities between Nehemiah and Jesus.

Nehemiah

Christ

Nehemiah was in a high position. Christ was in the highest position in heaven.
Nehemiah heard about the distress and reproach because the walls had fallen. Christ saw our distress and reproach because of sin.
Nehemiah wept and mourned for many days. Christ wept when he saw the city of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah fasted and prayed before he did anything. Christ fasted and prayed for 40 days before he started His ministry.
Nehemiah (as we will see) left his comfortable position to go to Jerusalem to help rebuild the walls. Christ left His throne in heaven and came down on earth to give His life for our sins.

 Jesus came not just to bring us an example on how to live or some witty teachings on how to be successful. He came to give His life as a ransom for our sins.

Application: Did you know that even before this world was created, Jesus saw you? Did you know that He saw your “substance, being yet unformed?” (Psalms 139:16) Did you know that He wept when He saw your condition because of sin and death? 2000 years ago He left it all to come and save you.

………………………….

Final quote after invitation: Adrian Rogers said “I believe as the West goes, so goes the world. And as America goes, so goes the West. And as the Church goes, so goes America. And as believers fast and pray, so goes the Church.”

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