Today we are studying Day 4 of 60 of The Lord’s Table online course at Setting Captives Free.
Today’s lesson discusses the subject of fasting. Fasting is the spiritual discipline of denying your fleshly desires for the purpose of putting away sin, putting on godliness, drawing closer to God, and getting His guidance.
The Wrong Way To Fast
There is a right way to fast and a wrong way to fast. For example, Isaiah 58:3-4 describes the wrong way to fast:
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. 4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.”
The prophet Isaiah called out those who were fasting in the wrong way. They were doing as they pleased by exploiting people, quarreling and fighting. In the end, God did not hear their prayers.
What Does Jesus Say About Fasting?
Matthew 6:16-18 is another example of fasting incorrectly:
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth; they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Jesus taught his disciples how to fast. First, he told them what fasting was not—looking somber, disfigured faces, showcasing themselves in front of others. God ignores this kind of fasting. Then, he told them God’s way of fasting—putting oil on your head and washing your face so that others will not notice that you are fasting. God rewards this type of fasting.
The Proper Way To Fast
The prophet Isaiah records God’s heart on fasting. We are given instructions on how to fast in such a way as to please God. Isaiah 58:6 says,
“ Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Fasting is freeing
Here’s the hope for the overeater! We are told that fasting is “to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.” Did you ever think that overeating was this serious? Yes, it is! Habitual overeating/starving/bingeing is oppressive. It is bondage. Fasting to God breaks sin’s power and frees us from its control over us.
Mike Cleveland makes this note of caution:
“This verse that tells us fasting "sets the oppressed free and breaks every yoke" is not at all meant to teach that fasting can replace the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross. If fasting is all we needed to do to be free from sin's power, then Jesus would not have needed to die. This verse is meant to communicate that fasting, if done properly, humbles us and shows us our tremendous need for God every moment (with every hunger pang), it drives us to Jesus Christ for grace in our time of need (which is often), and it helps to bring us near to Christ to experience the power of His presence. So, please understand, fasting, in itself, is not a replacement for the power of the cross of Jesus Christ, which alone breaks sin's power and sets captives free. Rather, it is meant to drive us to the throne of grace, enable us to cry out for mercy, and to receive the assistance of Almighty God.”
Proper fasting is other-centered
Isaiah 58:7 says,
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
This verse teaches us that our hearts have to be transformed. Sinful eating is self-focused. We only think of satisfying ourselves when we overeat. We are not thinking about others. Our hearts must turn from craving our own wants, needs and desires, and focus on the needs of others.
For example, when you are trapped in habitual overeating, you are striving for comfort or escape from unwanted feelings and emotions. All of your energy goes to this behavior. You have no time, energy, or desire for the things of God. Therefore, you cannot focus on others that Isaiah 58:7 is speaking.
However, when you decide to seek God through fasting, turning from the sin of overeating, then you will discover what God wants you to do for others. You probably already know what God has called you to, but overeating is preventing you from flourishing in that calling. If you do not know what God is calling you to do for others, then fasting is the perfect tool you need to seek the answer from Him.
Fasting is healing
God, not only shows us how to fast, but He also gives us the results of fasting.
Isaiah 58:8 states:
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”
When you fast God’s way, He promises newness of life, healing, right living, and His divine protection. He promises to answer your call and to help you when you cry out to Him. That translates into being completely set free from overeating, starving yourself, and bingeing!
Fasting is satisfying
Isaiah continues to express the importance of doing away with sin and living righteously. Verse 9-11 states,
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”
This passage tells us that if we stop treating people poorly (oppressing, pointing fingers, malicious talk), and give ourselves to meeting the needs of others, then God will satisfy all our needs. If the overeater fast to the Lord properly, then God will satisfy your needs when you are in a sun-scorched land—dealing with painful situations in life—and will make you a stronger person.
What To Do While Fasting
The book of Daniel gives us a good example of what a proper fast looks like. Read Daniel 9:1-5. This chapter opens with Daniel studying the Word of God. This is how God communicated to Daniel what He was doing.
This knowledge led Daniel to set his face toward God—“to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes…and made confession.”
Daniel was diligent in studying God’s Word and acting on it by praying, fasting, and confessing sins in order to get receive God’s mercy.
When you fast to be set free from overeating, do not just go about your day as usual. Make it a time of prayer, worship, and supplication in asking for His forgiveness, and confessing your sins to God—drawing closer to Him.
It is my testimony that staying in God’s Word, prayer, supplication, worship, confessing my sins AS I fasted is the avenue God used to set me free from habitually overeating. The main type of fasting I did was what some call the “Daniel” fast. I made a commitment to the Lord that I would eat only fruits and vegetables until I was completely set free from gluttony. It worked—just as He promised!