Introductory Note:

We may already be convinced of “the rightness and need of fasting,” and have a willing spirit, but there is yet another component to consider if we are going to fast in the way of Jesus. We must surrender our fasting agenda to the direction of God. Arthur Wallis writes, When we fast, how long we fast, the nature of the fast, and the spiritual objectives we have before us are all God’s choice, to which the obedient disciple gladly responds.”

This flexible, surrendered approach to spiritual disciplines will help ground us when circumstances cause our rhythms to unravel, or when our motivation gets tangled up. We can find stability by simply returning to our Master Teacher in a listening posture, ready to practice (or not practice) as he leads.

Renovaré Team

Excerpt from God's Chosen Fast

When ye fast­ed… did ye at all fast unto me, even to me? —Zechari­ah 7:5.

They min­is­tered to the Lord, and fast­ed. —Acts 13:2.

Fast­ing today! What­ev­er is to be gained by that?” is the incred­u­lous ques­tion of many Chris­tians. If they mean, What does one per­son­al­ly gain by fast­ing?” then there are many answers that may be giv­en, and will be giv­en in this book, but there is a more impor­tant ques­tion to answer first. 

So much of our think­ing is ruled by that self-cen­tered prin­ci­ple, What do I get out of it?” Even in our spir­i­tu­al desires and aspi­ra­tions self may still be enthroned. The cross must work in us if the life is to be cen­tered in God. Only so can our spir­i­tu­al moti­va­tion be rad­i­cal­ly altered and become Christ­ward instead of self-ward. He died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto them­selves, but unto him” (2 Cor.5:15, R.V.).

Even in cir­cles where fast­ing is accept­ed as a nor­mal spir­i­tu­al exer­cise there is often so much empha­sis on fast­ing for per­son­al ben­e­fit, for the endue­ment of pow­er, for spir­i­tu­al gifts, for phys­i­cal heal­ing, for spe­cif­ic answers to prayer, that the oth­er aspect is for­got­ten. There is no sug­ges­tion that it is not right to seek these things, but our under­ly­ing motives must first be right. It is deeply sig­nif­i­cant that in the first state­ment on the sub­ject of fast­ing in the New Tes­ta­ment Jesus dealt with the ques­tion of motive (Matt. 6:16 – 18). No aspect of the sub­ject is more impor­tant than this.

God is not mere­ly con­cerned with what we do but why we do it. A right act may be robbed of all its val­ue in the sight of God if it is done with a wrong motive. The dan­ger of this is acute in the realm of out­ward reli­gious exer­cise, Why have we fast­ed, and thou seest it not?” asked the per­plexed reli­gion­ists of Isaiah’s day. Swift was heaven’s answer, Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own plea­sure” (Isa. 58:3). The fasts they under­took, with all their show of piety, were moti­vat­ed by self-inter­est and self-seek­ing. No won­der God asked indig­nant­ly, Is such the fast that I choose?” (v.5).

This same self-cen­tered­ness under a cloak of piety was seen in all its shame­ful hypocrisy in the fast­ing of the Phar­isees, and it was against this that Jesus lift­ed up His voice in the Ser­mon on the Mount, telling His fol­low­ers that when they fast­ed they were not to be like the hyp­ocrites. The Phar­isees parad­ed their piety for the applause of men by mak­ing sure that peo­ple knew they were fast­ing. They were not min­is­ter­ing to God but to the pride of their own hearts. Lat­er, when Jesus described the Phar­isee pray­ing in the tem­ple and say­ing, God, I thank thee that I am not like oth­er men … I fast twice a week,” He is care­ful to inform us that he prayed thus with him­self” (Luke 18:11,12).

Fast­ing must be done unto God, even before the eye of the Father who sees in secret. While avoid­ing the brazen con­ceit of the Phar­isee and the desire to court the praise of man, we may still act out of self­ish motives, for the grat­i­fi­ca­tion of per­son­al desires and ambi­tions, and with­out the basic motive being the glo­ry of God. 

In Isa­iah 58, the clas­sic of Scrip­ture on the sub­ject of fast­ing, God reminds His peo­ple that the accept­able fast is the one which He has cho­sen. Fast­ing, like prayer, must be God-ini­ti­at­ed and God-ordained if it is to be effec­tive. Pre­vail­ing prayer begins with God; He places upon us a bur­den by the Spir­it, and we respond to that bur­den. Prayer that orig­i­nates with God always returns to God. So it is with fast­ing. When God choos­es our fast He will not have to ask us, as He asked His peo­ple long ago, When ye fasted…did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?” (Zech. 7:5, R.V.).

All this does not of course relieve us of our respon­si­bil­i­ty. On our part there must be the recog­ni­tion of the right­ness and need of fast­ing, the will­ing­ness for the self-dis­ci­pline involved, and the exer­cise of heart before God; but in the final analy­sis the ini­tia­tive is His. When we fast, how long we fast, the nature of the fast, and the spir­i­tu­al objec­tives we have before us are all God’s choice, to which the obe­di­ent dis­ci­ple glad­ly responds. 

This prin­ci­ple applies even to the reg­u­lar fast, say one day a week. We must be sure that God is lead­ing us to do this. Even then there may be times when it will be incon­ve­nient to car­ry it out, or when we are guid­ed not to do so; or a time may come when we are led to dis­con­tin­ue the prac­tice. We are not to be in bondage to rules, even spir­i­tu­al ones. If you are led by the Spir­it you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18).

When Joel cried, Sanc­ti­fy a fast,” he meant Set it apart for God.” This is absolute­ly basic if our fast­ing is to be accept­able to Him. Then there will be times when we shall for­get the mat­ter of our per­son­al gain, when we shall be caught up in won­der, love and praise, as we fast unto God. We shall find our­selves like Anna the prophet­ess, wor­ship­ping with fast­ing” (Luke 2:37), or like those lead­ers of the church in Anti­och who min­is­tered to the Lord, and fast­ed” (Acts 13:2, A.V.; wor­ship­ping the Lord,” R.S.V.). This is sure­ly the lofti­est con­cep­tion, that it is a wor­ship­ping or min­is­ter­ing to the Lord, a giv­ing of our­selves to God, and only sec­on­dar­i­ly a means to secure cer­tain spir­i­tu­al ends.

We cannot do bet­ter than to quote in con­clu­sion from John Wesley’s famous ser­mon on fasting: 

First, let it be done unto the Lord, with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our inten­tion here­in be this, and this alone, to glo­ri­fy our Father which is in heav­en; to express our sor­row and shame for our man­i­fold trans­gres­sions of His holy law; to wait for an increase of puri­fy­ing grace, draw­ing our affec­tions to things above; to add seri­ous­ness and to obtain all the great and pre­cious promis­es which He hath made to us in Jesus Christ … Let us beware of fan­cy­ing we mer­it any­thing of God by our fast­ing. We can­not be too often warned of this; inas­much as a desire to estab­lish our own right­eous­ness,” to pro­cure sal­va­tion of debt and not of grace, is so deeply root­ed in all our hearts. Fast­ing is only a way which God hath ordained, where­in we wait for His unmer­it­ed mer­cy; and where­in, with­out any desert of ours, He hath promised freely to give us His blessing.

God’s cho­sen fast, then, is that which He has appoint­ed; that which is set apart for Him, to min­is­ter to Him, to hon­or and glo­ri­fy Him; that which is designed to accom­plish His sov­er­eign will. Then we shall find, as though it were heaven’s after­thought, that the fast unto God rebounds in bless­ing on our heads, and the God who sees in secret is gra­cious­ly pleased to reward us open­ly. In this way we are pre­served from ever per­mit­ting the bless­ings to mean more to us than the Bless­er, For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glo­ry for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).

Excerpt­ed from God’s Cho­sen Fast: A Spir­i­tu­al and Prac­ti­cal Guide to Fast­ing by Arthur Wal­lis (Fort Wash­ing­ton, PA: CLC Pub­li­ca­tions). Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1968.

Pho­to by Lau­ra Briedis on Unsplash

Text First Published January 1968 · Last Featured on July 2022

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