In the previous two lessons, we learned the first two powerful tools to help us receive God's greatest blessings in our lives: prayer and giving. There is a third tool He has also given us, and that is fasting. Fasting is denying ourselves a physical, worldly need for a certain period of time, in order to have closer fellowship with God.
In our self-centered, "me first", instant gratification society, the idea of fasting (any form of self-denial) is considered a form of self-punishment. We are so used to having everything our way, we fail to recognize fasting as an essential part of our walk with God. It is a tool often neglected by Christians today. And yet, it is one of the essential three that Jesus commanded.
Just how important is fasting? Well, remember when the disciples had tried to cast out a demon, and could not? Jesus told them the only way to succeed in some really difficult cases such as this was by the combination of prayer and fasting. (Matt. 17:20-22; also Mark 9:28-30) Fasting, in combination with prayer and giving, is the only way we can gain victory over really difficult problems in our lives, and have 30, 60, or a hundred fold blessings instead.
Throughout the Scriptures, God's people understood the importance and necessity of fasting. When they required God's guidance, they fasted. (Ezra 8:23). Whenever the nation of Isreal was in trouble, they fasted and prayed. (II Chron. 20:3). When they mourned, they fasted. (I Sam. 31:13). When they repented of their sins, they fasted and prayed. (I Sam. 7:6). When they wanted God to give them victory, they fasted. (Judges 20:26, and many more). Are you starting to get the picture here?
David, a man after God's own heart, fasted and prayed, many times: when his son was taken ill as a result of David's sin,( II Sam. 12:16) and often when facing his enemies. (Psalm 35:13 and more) Daniel fasted and prayed. (Dan. 9:3) The apostles prayed and fasted before ordaining elders in every church. (Acts 14:23) They all understood this special tool was a means to receive God's guidance and His blessings in their lives.
Even more to the point, Jesus himself fasted. Before His great temptations by satan, He first fasted for forty days in the wilderness. (Matt. 4:1-2) Forty days! Can you imagine? That alone should give us an indication of the importance He placed on fasting. And remember, Jesus is to be our example; in all things, we are to strive to be like Him.
Fasting is almost universally considered going without food. That was indeed the religious fasts of old, as opposed to the feasts. But there are many different ways to fast. To deprive our physical bodies of any worldly thing in order to focus all our attention on God is a form of a fast. Paul indicated that abstinence within the marriage relationship, for a mutually agreed upon time, was a form of fasting:
The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent for a set period of time, so that you may devote yourselves to fasting and prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (I Corinthians 7:4-5)
No matter what manner of fast we choose, there is no doubt that fasting must become a regular part of our worship. It is not to be a ritual, but a meaningful search for God's will, His wisdom, and His blessings. It goes hand in hand with the other two things Jesus told His disciples to do: pray and give.
Doing any one of these three things that Jesus intructed, and we will receive blessings from it; maybe thirty-fold. Any two together may result in sixty-fold blessings. But doing all three together puts us in position to receive God's blessings a hundred-fold in our lives! Wow!
The book of Ecclesiastes was largely written by the man God blessed with great wisdom, King Solomon. He was considered the wisest man in the Bible. He wrote, "A threefold cord is not quickly broken." (4:12). Solomon was speaking physically, but it applies the exact same way spiritually: A three-fold cord is not easily broken. Praying, giving, and fasting together are stronger than any one of them alone, or even two of them. The three elements accomplish together what one or two alone cannot.
If we want to have a closer relationship with God, and receive His blessings 30, 60, or even 100 fold in our lives, then we have to do it God's way: we have to use the tools God has provided. James 1:22 tells us quite plainly:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (NIV)
Knowing what the Bible says is not the same as putting it into practice. Do what the word of God says, to receive what the word of God promises. Remember, a three-fold cord is not easily broken! Pray, give, and fast, to receive God's richest blessings a hundred-fold in your life. Amen!