Matthew 6: “Truth About Fasting”

April, 1863

Abraham Lincoln drafted what was known as Proclamation 97. Proclamation 97 was a proclamation that would call for a national day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer. Lincoln drafted in his proclamation a call for the nation to show their dependence on God, confess their sins in humble sorry, and recognize that throughout human history nations are only blessed whose God is the Lord.

He goes onto to give credit to God for the success of the nation and that the people have become too self-sufficient and to proud to pray.

“…I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion. All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”

 – Abraham Lincoln

In Proclamation 97, President Lincoln initiated a state wide fast to take place in April 1863, do you remember the year the Civil War ended? It was April 1865, almost two years to the day of the fast.

Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the fast of 1863 ended the Civil War, but it could have. You see, things happen when people fast, ordinary things become extraordinary, natural things become supernatural, the impossible becomes possible and all through the discipline of letting go of the non-essentials and focusing on God alone. But for some reason, some have labeled fasting as something only for monks, priests, and the super spiritual. Because of this attitude, fasting for many years has been relegated as cliche or taboo.

Richard Foster in his book, “Celebration of Discipline” says, “…in my research I could not find a single book published on the subject of Christian fasting from 1861 to 1954, a period of nearly one hundred years. More recently a renewed interest in fasting has developed, but we have far to go to recover a biblical balance.”

Jesus didn’t command for his followers to fast, He anticipated they would fast. He didn’t say, “if you fast, or “You must fast”, he said, 16 When you fast… (6:16). 

Fasting IS NOT…

It’s important before we talk about what fasting is that I briefly share what fasting is not.

  1. Fasting is not merely going without food for a period of time (yes, fasting is primarily centered around food, but there are plenty of fasts that allow food and go over multiple days)
  2. Fasting is not just done by fanatics
  3. Fasting is not just done on, or for, special occasions
  4. Fasting is not a spiritual diet plan to loose weight
  5. Fasting is not for your glory, it’s for His.

Fasting IS…

Fasting is, and has always been a normal part of a relationship with God, just look at the list of biblical characters that have fasted at one time or another to give God the glory and authority over their lives:

  • Moses
  • David
  • Elijah
  • Esther
  • Daniel
  • Anna
  • Paul
  • Jesus… just to name a few!

Here’s the working definition I’ve used to help define fasting: Fasting is abstaining from something, generally food, for spiritual purposes, and during that time asking God to grow you, and take you to the next level in your relationship with him.

When you…

Here’s the amazing thing about Matthew 6; Jesus at multiple times during his most powerful sermon encouraged and anticipated his disciples would do three things:

  • Give (v. 2)
  • Pray (v.5)
  • and Fast (v.16).

Picture a three legged stool, if you remove one of the legs you’ll be out of balance and will fall. According to Jesus; giving, praying, and fasting are each legs of your spiritual stool. The question/challenge for us today is to ask ourselves, how balanced are we on our stool?