These are trying times. Make no mistake about it, we (often) need God's help and His direct intervention — NOW. (At times our needs are urgent.)
For times such. as these, the apostle Paul instructs us, "... be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers," — he refers to evil spirit powers and princes — "against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness [wicked spirits] in high places" (Ephesians 6:10-12).
That's exactly what we are fighting. A higher power — Satan the devil — is our real antagonist. And it's time we all recognize that.
"Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" (verse 13). We need that armor of God.
We need spiritual help in resisting ourselves, in overcoming the world, which strikes at us from many different directions, and in resisting and overcoming Satan the devil, who is also striking at us in remarkable and unusual ways He has never used against us before.
A Means to Spiritual Help
In Matthew 4:1-2, we read what our Savior did to acquire spiritual strength, in connection with the same devil's attack on Him. "Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted [or tried] of the devil. And when He had fasted" — notice what He did — "fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered."
If you turn back to Deuteronomy 9:9, 18, you find that Moses was the prototype of Jesus, and that Moses took neither bread nor water when he fasted. In like manner, the Son of God fasted to humble Himself, lest He forget how weak He was in the flesh, and to get close to God spiritually.
"And when the tempter came to Him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread" (Matthew 4:3). Imagine how hungry Jesus was after 40 days and nights of total fasting. The very cells of His body were crying out in a type of hunger that you and I have never experienced. But still He kept His wits, fasting for the right reason and in the right way, with praying and meditating. And He was close in spirit to the invisible God.
"But He answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (verse 4). And that's what you and I have to learn to live by, more and more as these days continue, before the second coming of Jesus Christ.
The devil had to leave Christ because of the spiritual strength able to be expressed through Him in His physical weakness. We too can live by the same strength that Jesus had.
But Should Christians Fast?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His disciples to give generously from the heart and to pray to God continually. Then, in Matthew 6:16, He said, "Moreover when ye fast..." He just took for granted they would fast. He didn't say, IF you fast. He said, "... WHEN ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward." In other words, that is their reward — just whatever praise they get from other people for showing off their fasting:
"But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head..." In other words, comb your hair as usual, wash your face, "That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, will reward thee openly." And God Almighty will certainly do that for those of us who come before Him in fasting as Jesus Christ said we should.
Later, the disciples of John the Baptist came unto Him and asked, "... why do we and the Pharisees fast oft but thy disciples fast not?" (Matthew 9:14). Jesus explained that as long as He was with them, it was like a wedding and a time to rejoice. "... but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them and then shall they fast," He said.
He went on to give some examples to make His point that some things are not fitting or sensible. But when their time to fast did come, Jesus' disciples would fast, and they would do it for different reasons and in a whole new situation, with a whole new attitude and a whole new approach to God.
We Christians are not to punish ourselves thinking if we do maybe God will hear our prayers. God is not interested in such penance. That is just as if you or I would take whips and beat each other's backs and say, "Look at our suffering, God, so hear us." The idea of our fasting is quite different from that. We seek the invisible God. We learn to fast to humble ourselves — to make ourselves realize how weak we are — and that we are little children saying:
"Father, we are up against a great army, and there are great forces around us, and we don't always know what we should do. We need your help. We need guidance. And we need deliverance. We recognize that we are merely flesh that is slowly decaying toward death, and so we are fasting. You are our God. You are our banner. You are our shield. You are our refuge. You are our high tower. You're our champion. You're our deliverer. We are your little children. Please help us draw near to You."
When Nothing But Fasting Will Do
I think most of us are familiar with the story that begins in Mark 9:17. A man came to Christ and addressed Him, "... Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit... I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not."
And so Jesus said, "...O faithless generation... bring him unto me." And then, of course, the unclean spirit threw the son on the ground where he lay foaming at the mouth, while Jesus questioned the father about him and reassured him. "... If thou canst believe, all things are possible..." Then He rebuked the foul spirit. He didn't talk to the boy. He talked directly to the demon: "... Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him." And the spirit obeyed.
But what connection does this have with fasting? Notice:
"When He was come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, Why could not we cast him out? And He said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting."
Now the word fasting should be in all your Bibles, though some modern translations incorrectly leave it out. Some of the big problems in our lives and in God's Church and some of the attacks by Satan the devil can only be overcome by prayer plus fasting.
Remember, we are fighting "wicked spirits in high places," not just human beings. And that's why we must have the spiritual power that can come only from God. But to get it, our own attitudes must be right.
The Acceptable Fast
In many places the King James Version, though certainly accurate, is not as clear as it might be. The Living Bible is basically more clear and accurate here. So I want to use it now, in Isaiah 58, starting in verse 3:
"'We have fasted before you,' they say. 'Why aren't you impressed? Why don't you see our sacrifices? Why don't you hear our prayers? We've done much penance and you don't even notice it!' I'll tell you why! Because you're living in evil pleasure even while you are fasting, and you keep right on oppressing your workers."
We've got to be sure to treat our fellowman right and not hate one another and fight one another, and gossip against one another and put one another down and judge one another.
Continue — "Look, what good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. Is this what I want — this doing of penance and bowing like reeds in the wind and putting on sackcloth and covering yourselves with ashes?"
[You know how it goes: just showing an outward, Oh, God! Oh, God! Is this what God wants? A lot of hollering and Pentecostal-type fervor?]
Continue — "Is that what you call fasting?
"No, the kind of fast I want is that you stop oppressing those who work for you and treat them fairly and give them what they earn. I want you to share your food with the hungry, and bring right into your own homes those who are helpless, poor and destitute. Clothe those who are cold and don't hide from relatives who need your help."
[ We need to do these things. Help others out.]
Continue — "If you do these things God will shed his own glorious light upon you. He will heal you; your godliness will lead you forward and goodness will be a shield before you, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then, when you call, the Lord will answer. 'Yes, I am here,' He will quickly reply. All you need to do is to stop oppressing the weak and stop making false accusations and spreading vicious rumors!
"Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be bright as day. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy you with all good things, and keep you healthy too; and you will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring."
And so, brethren, we do need to fast. We do need to get closer to God. But we can only get there by restraining ourselves, not only from food and drink, but also from pride and strife, and quarreling and vindictiveness and oppressing one another. We should help and serve one another.
Prayer and Fasting Go Together
There was a time when the prophet Daniel really, desperately wanted to know what was going to happen in the future. "And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes" (Daniel 9:3). Prayer always goes along with fasting.
How often in my Christian life have I somehow got caught in a wrong mood or situation just before a day of fasting, and gone through the day in more or less a normal, carnal manner. I went to my work and taught my classes, but I did not set aside extra time to study this Book, perhaps on my knees, or to pray to God a long time. Or to meditate and drink in of God's ideas and attitudes.
So what did I get out of it? A good headache sometimes. Sometimes I lost a little weight and maybe the body was a little more purified. Maybe there was a certain help God gave me in spite of my weakness the next day. Because as the food comes back in, the strength flows back, and one has a little extra zest. You know, when you quit hitting yourself on the head it feels real good when you stop. You get the picture.
But the fasting didn't do me nearly as much good as if I had been really drinking in of God's Word and praying and meditating during that day of fasting. And that's what Daniel was doing.
"And I, prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments; We have sinned..." He didn't say, "Oh, we've been good, and we've done no wrong, and You don't have any right to spank us."
No, he said, "Father, I'm sorry. We've sinned 'and have committed iniquity and done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments ... Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces...'"
Verse 17, "Now therefore, 0 our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord's sake." Not for our righteousness — we have none — but for yours.
When we reach that attitude, our fasting is doing some good.
Notice Daniel's result. An archangel came to him and told him: "At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved..." (verse 23). Why was Daniel greatly loved? Because he humbled himself sincerely to God.
Don't fast unless you do intend to use it to get closer to God (unless it's strictly a health fast). Be sure you do take time to study, to meditate and to pray, or you won't get the good out of it that you would and you should.
James 4:5": "Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace [grace greater than the lust of the human spirit]. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." And this is a vital point.
Verse 9: "Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up." And that is a promise, brethren.
Prepare for Your Fast Physically
1. Before you fast, prepare your body for the shock. Don't eat a great big meal and maybe even have a big sweet dessert, or indulge in a pepper steak or some really good, hot Mexican food just before your fast begins. Do you know what's wrong with that? It makes you crave water. And all during the fast you suffer, "Oh, I'm going to die!" when what you need is a clear, but humbled mind. So you need to taper off on food, especially sweets and strong spices. Have a lot of water the day before to help begin to cleanse your system.
2. Perhaps have a big dish of prunes or take an enema before or even during the fast. This may be very important if you are going to fast more than one day. But for even one day, your headache will be lessened, and your health will be better. You'll get more benefit if you'll help your bowels to be clean. You won't have all kinds of poisons in your body during your fast.
3. Fast regularly enough for the body to adjust itself to the idea. Some people who think they are about to die when they fast could actually find it easy if they fasted a day every month or two.
4. After the fast, begin eating again slowly. Don't swallow down a great, huge steak in about the first 10 minutes. It will actually do you more good if you'll eat a little lighter meal. Or eat a meal spread out over a couple of hours in stages, maybe beginning with a nice, warm cream soup.
Of course, if you've fasted several days it's better — even necessary — to end the fast with just something like stewed prunes and some toast and maybe a poached or soft-boiled egg.
Spiritual Keys To Fasting
Spiritual key No. 1. Do not fast to get. We fast to seek God's Will and to ask for His mercy. We fast to get closer to God. God does not bargain with you to do your will if you'll just fast a few days! That's not the way He works! Fast to humble yourself and to seek God's will-yes, God's correction and God's guidance in your life — and to grasp God's perspective in the situation.
Spiritual key No.2. Divide your time during the fast as Herbert Armstrong indicated in his autobiography. He used to divide his waking time for three activities. He would study the Bible for about an hour. Then he would meditate on what he had studied for about an hour, sometimes sitting, sometimes walking around. Then he would pray for about an hour. Bible study, meditation and then prayer.
[ Editor's Note — This certainly was a good system — however there is no set "regimen" to follow when you fast. The important principal is to try to spend adequate time in Bible Study, prayer and meditation when you fast — to draw closer to God.]