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ELMER TOWNS is Vice President and Dean of the School of Religion at Liberty University, which he co-founded in 1971 with Jerry Falwell. He teaches the 2,000-member pastor’s Sunday School class at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA. Towns is a Gold Medallion Award-winning author and his books include Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough and How to Pray When You Don’t Know What to Say. Elmer and his wife, Ruth, have three grown children.
Getting Ready to Fast
God created the human body as a finely tuned physicalengine of enormous power, but it requires fuel to keepoperating. That fuel is called food. To make sure the body getsfuel, God has created within us an appetite for food, calledhunger. As part of the balance of nature to keep life going, foodsatisfies our appetite and gives us strength.
So why would one choose to go without food?
Americans are programmed to eat three times a day. We constantlyhear the message, "A good breakfast is the foundation ofthe day." Our mothers told us, "Eat so you'll be strong" rightalong with, "Come in out of the rain so you won't catch acold." In school we were taught, "Eat three square meals a day"and "Exercise to be strong." Since childhood, we have beentaught to take care of our bodies.
So why should one go without eating?
Starvation is still a worldwide threat. In 1978 I went to Haitias part of a massive feeding program when that nation endureda famine, compounded by poverty. The swollen bellies of hungrylittle children distressed me. Starving people stampeded ourvehicles for food, trampling fallen children just to get a loaf ofbread. With much of the world clamoring for food like this, whywould one voluntarily go without eating?
The world calls not eating dieting, and usually does it to loseweight or for health reasons. But some go without eating forspiritual reasons. The Bible calls this fasting.Usually a fast is fora predetermined length of time to accomplish a spiritual purpose.
Consider an example from the Old Testament. Once a yearthe Jewish believers were required to fast: "In the seventhmonth, on the tenth day, you shall go without eating" (Lv16:29, CEV). This fast was kept on the Day of Atonement andso it is called the Yom Kippur Fast (i.e., the phrase means Dayof Atonement). Conversely, there were seven other days in theJewish calendar where believers were commanded to eat a"feast" because God realized there was great spiritual benefit infellowship when believers eat together. But once each year onthe Day of Atonement, God required his people to fast.Everyone went without eating. Why everyone? Because Godwanted everyone to remember the solemn experience of theirsalvation. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest took theblood of an animal into the Holy of Holies to offer it in substitutionfor the sins of everyone: "And he shall wash his bodywith water in a holy place, put on his garments, come out andoffer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people,and make atonement for himself and for the people" (Lv16:24). Because the Day of Atonement dealt with the sins of thenation, everyone fasted to identify with the High Priest, whosacrificed a lamb for the forgiveness of their sin.
Today, Christians are not required to fast; today we are notunder law, but under grace. We no longer have to sacrifice theblood of a lamb for forgiveness. Jesus is the Lamb of God whodied for all (see Jn 1:29). In the Old Testament Jewish believersfasted to demonstrate their obedience to God. However, inthe New Testament's dispensation of grace, things are different.We are not required to fast, but we are allowed to fast for certainreasons. Jesus said to his disciples, "When you fast ..." (Mt 6:16)because fasting is a discipline to build our character and faith.
When you can't get an answer to prayer, even though youhave prayed continually, try fasting with your prayer. Fastingdemonstrates your sincerity to God: "If you believe with allyour heart ..." (Acts 8:37). When you give up food—that whichis enjoyable and necessary—you get God's attention.
Even then, Jesus told us not to show off our fast: "Moreover,when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance.For they disfigure their faces that they may appear tomen to be fasting" (Mt 6:16). Jesus went on to explain whatour attitude ought to be when we fast: "But you, when you fast,anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appearto men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secretplace" (vv. 17-18).
If you have never fasted, it is probably a scary thing to thinkabout going without food for any length of time. People have avariety of concerns because we are programmed to eat threetimes a day. Many wonder if they will get hungry and if thehunger pains will hurt.
Fasting to God will not hurt any more than dieting to getthinner. If you can cut back in your eating just to loseweight, you can cut back on food, in a reasonable way, toseek God's presence and get an answer to your prayers. Justas a diabetic has to stop eating sweets and someone withhigh blood pressure has to stop eating foods high in salt tostay healthy, you can fast for spiritual reasons.
Other people have different questions, such as, "Can I holdout?" They don't want to get started on a journey they can'tcomplete. What if you see a commercial on television that suggeststhat a candy bar will help you get through the afternoon?Yes, chocolates and sugar will give you an afternoon "zap," butsnacks are not always necessary. The ability to stay on your fastis not dependent upon how hard you try to stay away fromfood, but by how positive is the attraction of knowing God andspending time with him.
Before I was converted, I was very religious, attendingchurch every week. But I cursed all the time. Over the years, Itried several "religions" things to quit cursing but each time Islipped and began cursing again. The harder I tried, the moreaddictive the habit became. When I received Christ as mySavior, I instantly quit cursing—without trying and withoutreligions tricks. Jesus made the difference. I no longer had anydesire to curse; as a matter of fact, I abandoned cursing altogether.The same way with fasting. If you try "tricks" to keepfrom eating, there's a good chance you'll fail. But when yourealize you'll spend quality time with Jesus while you are fasting,he will help you keep your fast. Remember the Scripture: "I cando all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13).
There's another question people have about fasting: "Will Iharm myself?" Because we've become so conditioned to eatingthree meals a day, we think we will harm ourselves when we missthose three meals. We think our bodies are like our cars: if wedon't put oil in the engine, it'll burn up. Some think they'll getsick if they fast. And when they think of a three-day fast, theyare absolutely sure they will die. But statistics have demonstratedthat fasting is actually good for us. During a fast we eliminatepoisons and toxins from the body. Just as God created theSabbath day—one day out of seven—for rest, so a fast one dayout of seven would give our digestive tract an opportunity torest and be cleansed of built-up toxins.
Still others are concerned about what their friends will think ifthey fast. "Will my friends think I'm weird when they learn I amfasting?" The answer is simple: you don't fast to impress yourfriends, and on most occasions, you don't even let them know. Aswe've already seen, Jesus said, "When you fast, anoint your headand wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting,but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Fatherwho sees in secret will reward you openly" (Mt 6:17-18).
Jesus was reminding us not to make an outward show of ourreligious dedication to God. Rather, fasting is a private commitmentbetween you and God. Sometimes you fast privatelyand don't tell anyone. At other times, you will enter a publicfast, such as with your church or with another individual (e.g.,Ezra fasted with four thousand people to solve a problem, andEsther asked all Jewish believers to fast for divine intervention.Christians are asked to join the National Day of Prayer andFasting in May each year.).
So don't worry what others think when you don't eat withthem. Haven't there been occasions when you've gone on acoffee break with friends but just drank water? Or times whenyou've ordered only coffee at lunch because you have alreadyeaten? Or just a soda because your stomach was upset? Befocused on your fast and don't pay attention to what othersthink. Just go ahead with your fast to God and keep youractions private.
What Is Fasting?
Fasting is not the same thing as dieting. And fasting is not thesame thing as eliminating food for health. Fasting is a nonrequireddiscipline (you don't have to do it) where you alter your diet(there are many kinds of fasts) for a spiritual reason (there aremany reasons to fast) and accompany the experience with prayer.
Fasting is not required of Christians. You don't have to do it.As a matter of fact, some who have never fasted may be morespiritual than some who do fast. For example, there are somegrandmothers who are extremely effective intercessors eventhough they have never once fasted. Why? Because they continuallylive so close to God there is no need to fast to get closerto him.
Take the illustration of a man who goes to the gym to exerciseto keep in shape physically. He can keep in shape by anymeans of daily exercise, whether he uses barbells, a rowingmachine, a skiing machine, or simply jogs. Each form of exerciseis a discipline that keeps him in good physical condition.But there is another man who keeps in great shape without evergoing to the gym or jogging. He's a roofer who keeps in shapeby constantly throwing around house shingles.
Like the grandmother or the roofer, you may already stayclose to God and keep "spiritually fit" even without fasting. Butfasting is a biblical discipline that will help anyone get intospiritual shape and become a prayer warrior for God.
When you fast, expect resistance. Our spiritual enemy, thedevil, will oppose you. As you may have already experiencedwhen you have repented or transformed certain areas of yourlife, the devil does not easily give up any territory he has conquered.So it is with prayer and fasting. If you pray for others—foryour church or for the salvation of people—Satan willoppose you. Fasting is not easy. Like climbing a mountain, fastingis spiritually as well as physically challenging. It can be difficult,draining, and dangerous. So embark on this adventurewith full understanding of what you are doing and full knowledgethat the path ahead may be tough. But the rewards will beworth it.
Principles I Learned About Getting Ready
The one-day Yom Kippur Fast is best for my first fast.
I should not be fearful about fasting because many have gone without food for one day.
I am not required to fast, but will do so as a spiritual discipline.
I will not worry what others think about my fast because it is a personal commitment between God and me.
I will expect spiritual resistance to my fast because the evil one does not want me to get closer to God.
As you ponder a decision about whether or not you should fast,write your thoughts in your journal. The following questionswill help to guide your decision-making process. Expressingyourself in writing will help you think more clearly and providea record of your fasting journey.
1. Do you have a clear reason to fast? What is it? (This is usually called a cause.)
2. List some reasons why you should not fast, or any times when you shouldn't fast.
3. Make a list of the difficulties you think you'll encounter in your fast. Why are they problems to you?
4. Do you think you can overcome them? How?
Three-Step Bible Study
The Bible studies at the end of each chapter are designed to leadyou in the study of God's Word in three easy steps.
First, read the question and focus on how the topic applies to your life.
Second, read and analyze the related Bible verse that is given for that question. Think about what the scripture is saying to you.
Third, write your response to the question. Even when you think the answer is simple, writing it out makes you think more exactly and will provide a helpful record for you later.
1. God required all Israelites to fast, but this is not a requirement for the present-day church. What lessons can Israel's fasting have for you?
"On the tenth day of the seventh month of each year, you must go without eating" (Lv 16:29, CEV).
2. What can you learn from Jesus about fasting? How will this verse influence your fasting?
"But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face, 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" (Mt 6:17-18).
3. You must fast with outward repentance as well as with inward sincerity. How have you prepared (or will you prepare) for your first fast?
"Now, therefore,' says the Lord, `Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning'" (Jl 2:12).
4. What will God do for you when you fast?
"So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him" (Jl 2:13-14).
5. What should be the prayer of your heart about unknown sin as you begin a fast?
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Ps 139:23-24).
6. What will it take to seek and find God? What do you have to do to find him?
"And you will seek Me, and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer 29:13).
Excerpted from The Beginner's Guide to Fasting by ELMER TOWNS. Copyright © 2001 by Elmer Towns. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|1.||Getting Ready to Fast||9|
|2.||My First Fast||21|
|3.||What Kind of Fast?||35|
|4.||Learning to Pray While Fasting||49|
|5.||Fasting to Know God||63|
|6.||Fasting to Wait on God||79|
|7.||Fasting When You're Scared||95|
|8.||Fasting to Listen to God||109|
|9.||Fasting to Open up Heaven||121|
|10.||Fasting to Satisfy Your Hunger||135|
|11.||Fasting to Worship God||147|
Posted July 18, 2012
Posted June 4, 2012
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