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 wit 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 think 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 of 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 fast­ing1:

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).

[1] John Wes­ley, Ser­mon 27 (Dis­course 7 on the Ser­mon on the Mount, Matthew 6:16 – 18)

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