The battle between the soul and the spirit continues in our age, as it did in the days in which Isaiah prophesied. The key now, just as then, is to feed the spirit the Word of God and prayer. The spirit of mankind can grow stronger and stronger, but the soul will keep battling. To keep control over the soul, which would satisfy the flesh, and ignore the spiritual needs of the person, we must starve the soul.
The Lord has shown us a way to keep the spirit in control, and this way is called "fasting." This is from the Hebrew word, "tsum," and from the Greek word, "nesteia." It means "not to eat". Fasting is a voluntary abstinence from food.
Fasting is the method by which we exercise the fruit of temperance on purpose. By exercising self control over even the basic need of food, will strengthen our ability to say no to the flesh when its desires are contrary to the will of God.
Fasting is exercising all the fruit of the Spirit on purpose, and reading the Word, prayingm and not eating in order to have more time for the former. This starves the soul, and feeds the spirit. Fasting puts the spirit back into control.
Some fasting was partial, some was complete. Daniel fasted and ate no "bread, flesh, or wine." (Daniel 10:2-3). The Day of Atonement was to exclude all food and drink (Leviticus 23:32). Some fasts were morning to evening. Some fasts were exceptional, as Moses and Elijah fasted for 40 days each. (Exodus 34:28, I Kings 19:8).
Fasts can be ruined, and many instructions are given us in the Word of God concerning fasting. The Pharisees bragged on their fasting, did the fast for show.
"I fast twice in a week..."
Anna fasted properly, and "served God with fastings and prayers, night and day... (Luke 2:37).
Jesus spoke of fasting in Matthew 6:16-18 where He warned of fasting to parade piety, but approved of fasting if it were an expression of humility and devotion.
In Matthew 9:14-17, Mark 2:18-22, and Luke 5:38-39, Jesus replied to inquiries and stated that His disciples had no need to fast while Jesus was there, but afterward, they would.
In the early church, the congregation at Antioch fasted and prayed before sending Paul and Barnabas as missionaries (Acts 13:2-3).
The elders (pastors) of congregations were appointed with fastings and prayers (Acts 14:23).
Fasting will change us, not God. God has always wanted to answer our prayers. If He does not answer, it is because of us.
Fasting is - on purpose -
1. to repent,
2. to cause the fruit the Spirit to be exercised,
3. to get us into the fervent intercession,
so He can answer.
EIGHT THINGS THAT RUIN A FAST
1. IF WE COMPLAIN ABOUT IT
"Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and Thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and Thou takest no knowledge."
2. DOING PLEASURES DURING THE FAST
"Behold, in the day of your fast, ye find pleasure."
3. DOING UNNECESSARY WORK
"Behold, in the day of your fast, ye... exact all your labors."
4. ARGUING AND FIGHTING
"Behold, ye fast for strife and debate."
5. DOING WICKEDNESS
"...and to smite with the fist of wickedness."
6. MAKING PRAYERS TO BE HEARD AND NOTICED BY OTHERS
"...ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice heard on high."
7. BOWING THE HEAD TO SHOW OTHERS YOUR BURDENS
"Is it such a fast that I have chosen? ... is it to bow down his head as a bulrush."
8. PUBLICLY ACKNOWLEDGING THE FAST
"...to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?"
WHAT IS A TRUE FAST?
"Is not this the fast that I have chosen?"
1. STOP SINNING
"to loose the bands of wickedness."
2. STOP UNNECESSARY WORK
"to undo the heavy burdens."
3. HELP OTHERS IN TROUBLE
"to let the oppressed go free."
4. BREAK ALL THE HABITS THAT HAVE GRIPPED YOU
"and that ye break every yoke."
"If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke."
5. BE GENEROUS TO THE NEEDY
"Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry?"
6. BE FRIENDLY TO THE NEEDY
"that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?"
7. GIVE OF YOUR SELF TO THE NEEDY
"when thou seest the naked and thou cover him."
8. DO NOT COVER OR HIDE YOUR SINS FROM YOURSELF
"...that thou cover not thyself from thine own flesh"
9. STOP ACCUSING OTHERS
"take away from the midst of thee...the putting forth of the finger."
10. STOP BOASTING
"take away from the midst of thee... speaking of vanity"
REWARDS FOR FASTING
1. SPIRITUAL BLESSING
"They shall thy light break forth as the morning."
"thine health shall spring forth speedily"
3. HOLINESS WILL BE EASIER
"thy righteousness shall go before thee."
4. GOD'S GLORY WILL ENCOMPASS YOU
"the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward."
5. ANSWERED PRAYER
"Then thou shalt call and the Lord will answer."
6. PRESENCE OF GOD IN THE HOUR OF NEED
"...thou shalt cry, and He shall say, 'Here am I'"
7. WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE
"then shall thy light rise in obscurity and thy darkness be as noon day."
8. GUIDANCE FROM GOD
"And the Lord shall guide thee continually."
9. BLESSINGS DURING HARD TIMES
"...the Lord shall... satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones, and thou shalt be a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not."
Let us fast, and find these blessings. Let us not ruin our fasts. Many have ruined their fasts, by avoiding food, but arguing, fighting, accusing, being unloving, while they avoid the food. There are no rewards for such fasts.
The Lord has called for us to fast.
"Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord."
"Therefore, also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to Me, with all your heart and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning, and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of evil."
Yet, we must fast with wisdom, following the instructions of the Lord, and the message of God in Isaiah 58. We can do it right, we can take note of what the Scripture instructs.
"When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites of a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces... when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face... thy Father, Who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly."
Fasting is so much more than abstinence from food.
True, and effective fasting is to be accompanied by:
Daniel 9:3 (KJV)
3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
Confession of sin
1 Samuel 7:6 (KJV)
6 And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before the LORD, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against the LORD. And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh.
Nehemiah 9:1-3 (KJV)
1 Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them.
2 And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.
3 And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the LORD their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the LORD their God.
Reading of Scripture
Jeremiah 36:6 (KJV)
6 Therefore go thou, and read in the roll, which thou hast written from my mouth, the words of the LORD in the ears of the people in the LORD'S house upon the fasting day: and also thou shalt read them in the ears of all Judah that come out of their cities.
Isaiah 58 is shown here to prove that requirement for fasting.
1. Fast for the same day, as did the Jewish people in Bible times. Their day began at 6 p.m. and ended the next evening at the same time. You may eat therefore at 5 p.m. before your fast, and thereby the first part of the fast is easier in getting to the Bible reading and prayer. The night's sleep is easy, and by the time you awaken, you are through the toughest part, and your body has adjusted during the night to the lack of food. Prayer and Bible study will be more rewarding. After 6 p.m. following the fast, you may eat again.
2. Partake of no food, except water. The money you would have spent on lunch, give to the poor. The food you scheduled for your meal, give to a family where the mother is sick and unable to easily prepare a meal, etc.
3. Read and meditate on the Scriptures.
4. Avoid unnecessary work. If you are scheduled to work your job, this will not defile your fast. Yet, if you chose to do some work at home that is not vitally necessary, it will.
5. Fill the time gained by avoiding food and unnecessary work with prayer, intercession, praise, worship, singing, Bible study.
6. Exercise, on purpose, the fruit of the Spirit. Show love to the one you know who is hungry, to one who has mistreated you, to one who hates you.
7. Omit pleasures. Choose to set aside the reading of the newspaper, the watching of television, the bowling, etc.
8. Do not advertise that you are fasting. No one needs to be told that you are fasting, it is between you and God. To seek acclaim for your holiness will ruin your fast.
9.. Expect your fast to change you, so God can do as He has always wanted to do. You will not change God's mind with your fast, you will see yourself change. God will thereby be able to help you.
10. Prepare for your fast for several days before you fast. Plan your fast, your good deeds, your hideaway places, your method of remaining undisturbed by upsetting things...
11. Read these Scriptures during the week before the fast:
I Corinthians 15:55-58
I John 4:4
II Corinthians 2:14
I Corinthians 9:24-27
I Corinthians 13
I John chapters 1 to 5
Isaiah had great, wonderful revelations given to him by God. These did not come by chance. God was able to speak, reveal, and bless Isaiah with such visions because he knew how to get close to the Lord. We, in these last days, need to draw closer to the Lord with fasting, Bible study, and prayers.