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And He Himself gave some to be....evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ...
- Ephesians 4:11-12

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Location: The Hill Country of Texas

Pastor - Providence Reformed Baptist Church
Director - TIME in the Word Ministries

Monday, December 05, 2005

When You Fast

TIME in the Word - Daily Devotional
Together for Inspiration, Motivation, and Encouragement

Verse of the Day - Matthew 6:16
Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

Daily Scripture Reading - Matthew 4

Puritan Catechism
Question #9 - What is the work of creation?
Answer - The work of creation is God's making all things (Gen. 1:1) of nothing, by the Word of his power (Heb. 11:3), in six normal consecutive days (Exod. 20:11), and all very good (Gen. 1:31).

Devotional Thoughts
Matthew 6:16 - Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

As Jesus moves on now in His sermon, He continues to teach the crowd on the mountain side (and us) how to be blessed by God. He has taught us how to pray so now He is going to teach us how to fast! FAST? Did you say fast? What does it mean to fast? Isn't that a Bible times thing, way in the past?

Just as He said about giving, and praying, He now says "when" about fasting! "When you fast," Jesus says. He expects us to fast! When was the last time you heard a sermon about fasting? When was the last time your pastor encouraged you to fast? Fasting to most Christians is a mystery at the least and an ignored spiritual discipline at most!

Fasting is a very simple concept. We deny our body (our self) by not eating food for a period of time. The time we would spend eating is instead spent praying and communing with God. It is a time that we take to rid ourselves of fleshly desires by overcoming the flesh with the power of the Holy Spirit. We subject our bodies to our spirit!

In a non-spiritual fast, we all fast every day - when we sleep! That's why the first meal of the day is called "break - fast". But in a spiritual sense, there is more to it than 6 or 8 hours of going without food. The fast is to be a time of voluntary self denial for spiritual attention to God. There were fasts commanded in Scripture for repentance and renewal as in a Sacred Assembly. Everywhere else in Scripture the fast was a willful offering to God.

When we fast, it can be for a day, or for an extended period of time. The length of time really isn't important. The spiritual significance is such that the principle of denial of the flesh and attention to God is the point! Paul wrote about putting his body under subjection, submitting to God. (See 1 Cor. 9:27.) Jesus fasted. Remember the 40 days in the wilderness? As a matter of fact, most of the godly people mentioned in Scripture at one time or another fasted. Fasting allows us to cleanse our mind of all distraction and focus on God's Word and will. As a matter of fact, after the first 3 days of a fast, the hunger pains actually go away. They stay away until it becomes important for our bodies to take food in again for our health.

So, if we fast for an extended period of time, remember, at first we will battle the body and its hunger (after all, here in America we don't really know what it means to be hungry, we just know what it feels like not to be full anymore!), but after the body gets the point that it is not going to be fed, it won't bother us with hunger pains again until it's time to end the fast! Please note – the length of time to fast is your offering to God - you don't have to fast until you're hungry again. Some people fast for a day, others for 3 or 4, some for a week, and others for two weeks - there is no time set, just an expectation from God that we will deny self and follow Him willfully!

So Jesus says, "When you fast", don't be like the hypocrites - remember them - they fast and do other works of obedience for the crowd instead of for God. The hypocrites would fast twice a week on the second and fifth days. They claimed this was to commemorate Moses getting the Law from God on the Mount on those days of the week. Actually, those were market days! The biggest days of the week for produce to come to market were the second and fifth days so the Pharisees were sure that a larger than usual crowd would be in town and could be impressed with their spiritual prowess!

They were so vain in their attempt at receiving attention for their offering to God that they would cover themselves with ashes, mess up their hair, wear old tattered clothes, and some would even use cosmetics to make themselves look pail and weak! (and you thought going "Goth" was a new fad...) The better the performance, the better they thought the crowd would appreciate their spiritual sacrifice to God! They have their reward Jesus tells us. Their reward is the praise of men not the good pleasure of God. He detests their false worship!

When we do things for God, whether it is prayer, giving, or fasting, we must not do these things for ourselves but for Him! We must not be at the center, He must! Throughout church history, fasting has either been neglected or used as a superstitious ritual that is supposed to win us brownie points with God! We must learn to give ourselves to God. We must learn to fast and pray and give. Jesus is teaching us. We must listen.

To sum up today, John Calvin said of fasting, "Many for want of knowing its usefulness undervalue its necessity. And some reject it all together as superfluous, while on the other hand, where the proper use of fasting is not well understood, it easily degenerates into superstition."

I pray that we would understand the Scriptural and spiritual principle of fasting.

And here are two questions for you to think about today: Is fasting really expected? Have you ever fasted?

Puritan Voices
We are reading a small portion each day from Enoch Walked With God - A Sermon by Edward Griffin

"And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him." - Gen. 5:24

Enoch was the father of the long lived Methuselah and the great grandfather of Noah. It is said of him that he walked with God after the birth of Methuselah, three hundred years. It was a long time for a man to support a holy life and communion with God without any relapse worthy of notice. It is difficult for Christians now to do this for a single day: how remarkable then that he should have done it for the long space of three hundred years. Such approval did his extraordinary piety gain him, that when the time came for him to leave the world, God translated him, as he afterwards did Elijah, and suffered him not to taste the bitterness of death; perhaps to show mankind what he would have done for them had they never sinned.

We have many strong featured characters drawn in history. Some shine in all the brilliancy of martial achievements, and are renowned for the conquest of kingdoms. Others have gathered laurels in the paths of science and illumined the world with the flashes of their genius. Others by their counsels have swayed the fate of empires. And the deeds of these have been loudly sounded by the trumpet of fame. But more is said in praise of this man of God in the few short words of our text, than is said of them all. A greater character is given him in four words, than is ascribed to the most renowned warriors and statesmen by the whole voice of history and poetry.

There is something very expressive in the phrase, "walked with God." The Christian life is frequently called a walk, and believers are exhorted to "walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise." It is called walking before God.

"Remember now how I have walked before thee in truth." The figure of walking before God was drawn perhaps from the position of those who worshipped in the tabernacle and temple. The Shekinah or visible glory of God sat enthroned on the mercy seat. The worshippers stood in the outer court directly before the Shekinah. Hence the common expression of appearing before God in public worship. To walk before God meant then to lead a life of devotion. But "Enoch walked with God." I do not find this character ascribed to any but Enoch and Noah. I will,

I. Explain what is meant by this figure.
II. Show the consequences of walking with God.
III. State the prominent means by which such a walk can be kept up.

I. I am to explain the figure.

It seems to be expressive of something more intimate than the phrase to walk before God. We all know what it is for two friends to walk together, engaged in close and interesting conversation. And this is the figure by which is represented the intercourse of Enoch with his God for three hundred years. The figure is well adapted. The hidden life of the Christian, his retired habit of devotion, his separation from the world, (living, as it were, in the other world while dwelling in this,) his daily, intimate, unseen communion with God, are very fitly represented by two intimate friends walking together, engrossed with each other, un- mindful of all the world besides, unseeing and unseen.

This general thought comprehends several particulars.

1. When two friends thus walk together their communion is secret. So is the communion between the Christian and his God. The world wonders what the Christian finds to employ himself about when alone. They wonder what supports him under trials, and renders his countenance cheerful when they looked for sadness. Let them know then that he draws his comforts from another world; that he lives far away from this, where the changes and trials of the present state do not reach him. As well might they wonder whence Abraham and David derive their present joys, while clouds are darkening the world below.

2. When two friends thus walk together, their conversation is kind and sweet. So the man who walks with God pours into his Father's ear all his desires and complaints, and receives his kind and comforting answers in return.

When two friends thus walk together their wills and governing feelings are the same; for how "can two walk together except they be agreed?" They also keep the same course, and thus are advancing towards the same object. So the man who walks with God is conformed to him in moral character. Benevolence reigns in his heart, and his open arms embrace the universe. Like God, his feelings are in accordance with the holy law. He loves righteousness and hates iniquity. His object too is the same with his. The glory of his Father, the prosperity of Zion, and the happiness of the universe, constitute the one indivisible object of his pursuit. He is delighted with the government of God, and has no controversy with him who shall reign. His will is swallowed up in the divine will. He wishes not to select for himself, but in every thing chooses that his heavenly Father should select for him. He is "careful for nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving," makes his "requests known unto God. And the peace of God which passeth all understanding, "keeps his heart and mind "through Christ Jesus."

Bible Reading For Further Study

Recommended Songs for Worship


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