My life alongside God's word volume 3. Prayer section.
Most of our Muslim friends will be fasting during Ramadan. Because it follows the Lunar Calendar it moves dates every year. It was from 18th June until 17th July in 2015, challenging where I live in England because it is daylight from about 4.30am until 10.30pm! In Arabic this fasting is called Sawm, one
of the Five Pillars of Islamic belief and behaviour.
Muslims (with a few exceptions) are allowed to eat only from sunset to sunrise during Ramadan.
The Qur’an sura II verses 183-187 say Muslims should fast to “learn self-restraint”. Muslims believe it was during Ramadan that the Qur’an was sent down from heaven “as a guide to mankind”. This makes it a holy month for them.
Christian fasting/Gospel fasting is very different from this.
Our Lord Jesus Christ taught about it in the Bible’s Matthew 6:16-18 and 9:14-17.
Before His public ministry began, and knowing He would be in special conflict with Satan, He practised an unusually long fast Himself, Matthew 4:1-3.
The disciples also fasted before taking major decisions. They listened for God’s voice by fasting, and they tested their conclusions as well , Acts 9:9, 13:1-3, 14:21-23.
Jesus’ teaching about fasting comes in a section which is all about being seen privately by God, and not being seen publicly by other people, Matthew6:1, 4, 6, 8. Christian fasting is between an individual, or sometimes a small group, and their God. A friend of mine says, “It is private and personal”. The emphasis of Christian fasting is on communion with God in a special way, for a specific purpose. There is certainly no rushing home around
sunset to ‘break the fast’! Brenda and I thankfully survived this for the years I was pastoring Khartoum International Church.
Matthew 6 also talks about fasting for heavenly reward rather than earthly benefit. Reward here means that in His heavenly home God will give praise to the person whom He has known closely by their fasting down here on earth, see verses 4, 6, 18.
In Matthew 9:14-17 John the Baptist’s followers questioned why Jesus’ disciples did not fast as they and the Pharisees did. The Pharisees fasted voluntarily twice per week, usually Mondays and Thursdays, see Luke 18:12. The non-Bible Didache 8:1 (a late first early/ second century document claiming to be the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles)
suggests Christians fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Jesus said, “My followers will fast”
Speculation over which days is not helpful. However, we must see that our Lord Jesus did say, “then they will fast”, Matthew 9:15, (italics mine). As with many other aspects of personal worship and devotion, our Lord Jesus put a new spirit in and around an old form. He used two examples, putting new patches on old clothes, and pouring new wine into new wine skins not old ones, verses 16-17. While Jesus was on earth His disciples could speak to Him any time they saw Him. When He had ascended into heaven Jesus wanted them to know that they could still chat or converse with Him, this time using the vehicle of prayer and fasting.
It is very sad that many Muslims fast in order to help earn their own salvation. They believe their good and bad deeds will be counterbalanced on Judgement Day. We Christians are different here too.
Christians realise we are sinners in the sight of the Most Holy Creator God.
We know there is nothing that we can do to make ourselves good enough for God to accept into heaven. So we commit ourselves to THE Saviour, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. The weight of His goodness and glory more than matches our great need. We privately fast as we follow Him in this life. The more we experience life with Him, the more we want to know Him better.
Other New Testament examples of fasting
An 84 year old lady named Anna worshipped God by fasting and praying in the Jerusalem temple. When Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the temple Anna recognised Him as the Saviour she longed for. So fasting helps us to recognise Who Jesus is! Luke 2:36-38.
On his conversion Saul (later called Paul) went without food and water for three whole days while he waited for the Lord Jesus to tell him what was next in his life, Acts 9:9. His blindness also helped him concentrate on what God was saying to him.
The church leaders of Antioch, including two black men, one royal and one ex-violent persecutor, worshipped the Lord and fasted because they wanted to be in close touch with God. God spoke to them, giving a challenge for them to commission two of their best men for mission service away. Over time they tested this message through some more prayer and fasting, before they acted on their conclusion, Acts 13:1-3. This was a small group who fasted together, not individually.
Paul and Barnabas fasted and prayed before setting apart elders to lead churches which started following their gospel preaching in Cyprus, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, Acts 14:23. They had already warned the pastors of many hardships to come. The Lord Jesus would bring them through these challenges.
Every one of these examples points us towards my working definition of fasting, “to go without (food) in order to have a specific encounter with God”. Fasting people turn God-wards. The focus is not on what we are going without; it is very specifically on our Holy Creator Sovereign Father God Himself.
Watch for where God may lead
A Muslim website shares this about Ramadan, “For some, fasting is primarily to bring one closer to God. Qur’an 2:183 says, ‘in order that you become more conscious of God’. It quotes a tradition where Mohammed was asked, “Which is the best good deed?” He replied, “Fasting, for there is nothing equal to it””. I believe that some, perhaps many,
Moslems genuinely seek to know God during their fast – so please may we pray that those seeking will find salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Remember how God brought the seeking Cornelius together with the apostle Peter, Acts 10:1-48. Peter was hungry when God gave him a very important vision, verse 10.
Other Bible references to godly fasting
Exodus 34:28 Moses fasted while receiving the Ten Commandments from God.
Deuteronomy 9:18 Moses fasted in confession of the Israelite’s sin before God.
Judges 20:26 the Israelites fasted after a humiliating defeat before a decisive battle.
1 Samuel 31:13 valiant men fasted after burying King Saul and his sons.
2 Samuel 12:16-17 David fasted for the life of his child conceived illegitimately.
Ezra, 8:21-23, proclaimed a fast to humble the people before God.
Ezra, 10:6, fasted from food and water mourning over the unfaithfulness of exiles.
Nehemiah, 1:4, fasted when he heard of the disaster in and around Jerusalem.
Esther, 4:16, asked others to fast before she made a request to the king.
Psalm 35:13 David humbled himself fasting for his enemies.
Psalm 69:10 David’s fasting brought him scorn and ridicule.
Isaiah 58:6 God redefines fasting for His believing people, (see verses1-9).
Daniel, 9:3, fasted while confessing the sin of his people.
Daniel, 10:3, fasted from ‘luxuries’ and received a prophetic message from the Lord.
Joel 2:15 calls the hard-hearted people to “declare a holy fast and call a sacred assembly”.
Come close to God’s heart
We can learn from the above that fasting is a way of drawing closer to the heart of God. We must not drop out of the world and everyday life, but rather seek strength to live Christianly within our world situation, influencing it for good and for God. Fasting seems to show God we are serious about dealing with Him. It helps us discern God’s will, giving us
sharper spiritual vision. We dare not ‘blackmail’ God by our fasting, but we do dare to come as close to Him as we can possibly be.
Whether it is you on your own or you and group of others, be careful not to make a big song and dance about your fasting. Fasting should be before God Who sees secretly done things and directs rewards as He sovereignly chooses.
Note on Matthew 17:21 and Mark 9:29. These verses indicate in some older Bibles
that some evil spirits can only be cast out by prayer and fasting. Newer Bibles,
which use older manuscripts (that is closer to the originals in time), put these
in as footnotes or leave them out completely. I believe that genuine ministry in
the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient for these spiritual encounters.
Fasting will make no difference to an evil spirit. However, fasting may help us
be better prepared to discern what is happening.