God, You are my Sustenance
Posted by Mike Floyd on February 2, 2010
After studying Jesus’ time in the desert and the temptation and warfare He faced. God directed me and others to study the forgotten spiritual discipline: fasting.
There has been much mis-teaching and great misunderstanding about fasting. One must be willing to un-learn some things they “know” about fasting. It is a challenge, but one worth taking. I believe God has done some revealing concerning a spiritual discipline that draws His people nearer to Him. I would like to share with you guys the notes that I compiled as I studied fasting. Included are some notes shared by others who have studied fasting.
Don’t forget: measure everything you read and hear against the Scriptures and thus protecting you from receiving false teaching. (Yeah, I said “thus”.)
Language helps when studying fasting:
The most commonly used Hebrew word is “tsom” or “tsoom”. It literally means “to close or cover the entrance to the stomach” or “to cover the mouth.” The use of this term is most commonly referred to in Isaiah 58.
The most commonly used Greek word is “naysteno” or “naysteneo”, which means “to abstain from food religiously”. This word is used in the commonly referred to passage of Matthew 6.
So, how is fasting so mis-taught and/or misunderstood? Let’s take for example this we commonly hear: “My church is doing a 10 day fast to start off the year, and I have been praying about it. I have decided to fast from using the internet or TV…I haven’t decided yet.” Well, first of all, just from examining the original words used in the Hebrew and Greek, we can see fasting is a spiritual discipline that involves not partaking of food…not anything else.
Also, let’s look at a Biblical example. Daniel. We often have heard of the “Daniel Fast”, which is eating just veggies and drinking water. But a closer reading/examination (or measuring, if you will) reveals that Daniel did not fast. He did not “close the entrance to his stomach.” Yes, he did abstain from eating the food on the menu of King Nebuchanezzar…but that was not fasting…that was Daniel obeying the laws of God.
Let’s try to understand fasting a little better.
First of all, let’s understand that in the mind of Christ, fasting was never far removed from meeting needs and prayer. Jesus spoke of fasting just as He did meeting needs and praying. It was “when you meet needs…; when you pray…; when you fast…” , not “IF you…” Fasting was not a “beginning of the year event”…it was a way of the spiritual life.
What are our physical NEEDS? Shelter, food, water, etc… When we fast (Biblically speaking), we are telling God, “I depend upon you to be my sustenance. You are my source. You are my living water. When I drink of You…I will not thirst again. I lean on You to fill me. You are my satisfier.”
On the other had, what are we saying to God when we “fast” from what amounts to nothing more than our entertainment? “I do not need you for what I need. You can have my extra time. God, when there is nothing else left in my day…be my time filler. Take my leftovers.”
In Isaiah 58, God reveals to us through the prophet Isaiah, what the kind of fast that pleases God brings forth in the “fast-ers” life:
“Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout! Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives, face my family Jacob with their sins! They’re busy, busy, busy at worship, and love studying all about me. To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—law-abiding, God-honoring. They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’ and love having me on their side. But they also complain, ’Why do we fast and you don’t look our way? Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’
“Well, here’s why: “The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit. You drive your employees much too hard. You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight. You fast, but you swing a mean fist. The kind of fasting you do won’t get your prayers off the ground. Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after: a day to show off humility? To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black? Do you call that fasting, a fast day that I, God, would like?
“This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer. You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’ (The Message)
Notice what the Biblical fast results in. When we close the entrance to our stomach and depend upon God to sustain us…we show that by meeting the needs of others with what is left sitting when we have/are entrusted/ing God to meet our needs.
Why fast? Let’s look at some examples:
-In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted BEFORE the appointing of leaders/elders of the local expression of Christ’s body.
-In I Kings 21, a fast was declared by Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab. (Please note, her motive was to steal land from Naboth. A fast was ordered for the elders and city leaders…though they were lied to by Jezebel…before a BIG decision…a fast was commonly declared.)
-In Ezra 8, a fast was declared to invoke God’s provision and for God to be whom Ezra had declared HE [God] was to the king.
-In Luke 4, Jesus fasted as a “preparation” for the spiritual warfare He was facing with Satan.
There are so many more passages concerning fasting. Dig some more. Read these passages, in context.
It is important to fast…and to fast in a way that invokes God’s provision for your life, where you are. Jesus defends His disciples part-time fasting (fasting only a meal or two a day or eating with others while in a fast) to the Pharisees and Scribes in Luke 5:27-39. “We don’t eat. John’s disciples don’t eat. But your disciples fast and eat?” Jesus knew that He had “new” followers…and He wasn’t concerned with them trying to prove their spirituality by jumping right into a 40 day fast. So, He had them take baby steps.
We/I am not declaring a “fast”. But, I would challenge each of us to study more, dig more, and make fasting a part of your spiritual journey.