Lesson 04: Holy Habits 04/04: Fasting
As we close our study on Holy Habits, I would like to invite you to commit to a life-changing experience that will deeply impact your body, soul, and mind. It may be the hardest habit on our list, but it's also particularly powerful. Let's examine a spiritual discipline called fasting.
Large Group Instructions
Have a collection of fast food on the stage.
We live in a fast food culture.
Everyone is always on the go.
We move through life at the speed of light. While this culture is accepted, it’s also dangerous. It negatively affects our relationships, mental health, and emotional health.
Furthermore, our “grab and go” values deteriorate the way we eat. If you are honest with yourself, your food choices probably aren't always the healthiest.
We don’t just suffer from bad eating decisions; we can also suffer from bad eating intentions.
Other parts of the world eat because they’re hungry, but in America, we eat when we feel tired, stressed, anxious, bored, or sad.
Unfortunately, our eating too often isn’t about hunger at all. You’ve seen the results. You may feel sluggish and slow. You may feel lethargic and bloated. You may feel useless without caffeine or a sugar rush.
As we close our study on Holy Habits, I would like to invite you to commit to a life-changing experience that will deeply impact your body, soul, and mind. It may be the hardest habit on our list, but it's also particularly powerful.
Let's examine a spiritual discipline called fasting.
Simply put, fasting is refraining from something physical to gain something spiritual. In many cases, fasting is refraining from physical food for a spiritual purpose.
However, it is so much bigger than just burgers and fries.
Theologian Richard Foster put it this way: "Fasting is the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of an intense spiritual activity. There is nothing wrong with normal life functions, but there are times when we must set them aside to concentrate. Fasting helps us see what controls us."
Believe it or not, there is a direct link between your stomach and your spirit.
Throughout the Bible, we see that refraining from food for a period of time can bring you into a richer, deeper, more powerful relationship with God.
Jesus mirrored this while also encouraging us to live out the same lifestyle.
We often assume that fasting is reserved for the super-spiritual.
We imagine seekers in a remote monastery exchanging dialogue with a voice from heaven. Maybe that’s true for some people, but it’s certainly not for most.
Fasting is not some exclusive right of passage for the devout; rather, it’s a way of life for all disciples. You included.
In Matthew 16, Jesus kicks off his teaching with a simple phrase. He begins, “When you fast…” He didn’t say “If you fast…” Rather, He said, “WHEN you fast.”
According to Jesus, fasting is an expectation. It’s a central part of our Christian lifestyle. It’s just something that Christians do, not something He has to convince them to do.
Why does God want us to fast? Because it opens us up to what He has for us. When we push aside distractions, God meets us in our weakness and our hunger. Yes, it is difficult to put aside food for any period of time. I don't know about you, but I get grumpy after a skipped lunch.
It requires devotion and discipline. However, there is a promise within this passage. Jesus concludes, “… your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you openly.”
When you fast privately, God rewards you publicly.
Here is a word of warning, though. Fasting isn’t about getting something from God. Rather, it’s about giving ourselves to God. Yes, there is a promise of reward.
That reward may not have a bright red bow or a big price tag.
Your reward may be renewed energy, peace of mind, or greater intimacy with God.
Those are all greater than anything money can purchase. Fasting isn’t about forcing God to move on your behalf. It’s about God transforming you.
This principle is evident in the Old Testament story of Daniel who fasted in order to pursue God while making sense of all the confusion around him. He didn't need a diet, he needed direction. In Daniel 9:3, we read, "As I prayed, I fasted and wore rough sackcloth, and I sprinkled myself with ashes.”
In Chapter 9, Daniel was in a dilemma. He was seeing vivid visions of terror coming upon his nation.
For context, this takes place as the empire is being destroyed. It was undoubtedly terrifying and confusing.
Seeing all the hurt and pain led the prophet to pray.
The prayer in Daniel 9 provides us with a great model for how to pray during a crisis. When Daniel was overwhelmed, he strived to fix his focus.
How did he do it? With fasting.
When we fast, it allows us to focus on God. It will help you focus on him more, which will change your perspectives and outlook.
When you focus on what you cannot have, you will quickly lose sight of your primary focus — growing closer to Jesus.
Fasting is powerful because it fixes our focus.
Let your hunger trigger you to pray. Prayer is the power behind your fast — let it fuel you.
Without prayer, fasting is just a fad diet. Pray with expectation as you fast. We see this theme throughout scripture.
Fasting is often the precursor to a breakthrough.
However, the goal of your fast shouldn't be gain -- it should just be God.
Fasting is not a means of pursuing God’s blessings. It’s just about pursuing God.
Jesus said some miracles could only happen through prayer and fasting, not by prayer alone (Matthew 17:21).
Moses fasted before he received the Ten Commandments (1 Samuel 7:6-12).
Jesus fasted before starting his public ministry (Luke 4:1-2).
Clearly, fasting is a significant theme in scripture, so how do we do it?
We have created a handout to help you learn how to fast. There are four different kinds of fasting that we will explore in our small groups.
We encourage each of you to try some form of fasting over the next few weeks.
We cannot wait to hear what ways God fills you when you empty yourself. When you refrain from something physical, you will gain something spiritual.
Small Group Instructions
TALK IT OUT Go through these questions with your circle. Be honest. Be open. Talk through the tough stuff.
Icebreaker: Introduce yourself and share this week’s highs and lows (the best part of your week and the lowest part of your week).
Q1: What is the point of fasting as a Christian?
Q2: What are some things that distract you from God (physically, mentally, or emotionally)?
Q3: What would it look like to fast any of those distractions? How might that help you fix your focus on God?
Q4: Do you have any questions about fasting as a Christian?
Application: What can you commit to doing this week to begin integrating fasting (of any style, not only food fasting) into your routine?
This reading plan includes:
Matthew 6:16-18 James 1:3 Matthew 6:31-32 Mark 14:36 Hebrews 2:18 Ephesians 6:10 Isaiah 58:6-7
Do the following with each passage:
ASK– God to connect with you here. In prayer, start by slowing down and inviting God to be present. Begin with focus and openness to see what God has for you today.
READ– the selected section of Scripture slowly. Take note of the words and phrases that intrigue you, reading them a second time if necessary.
REFLECT– on what grabs you. How does this passage personally relate to your own life and experiences?
RESPOND– to the Scripture. Speak directly to God about what’s on your mind and heart. Look for ways to live out what you’ve uncovered.
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FMR develops a monthly youth ministry curriculum that is free to all local churches. Each monthly release includes a sermon series, small group series, Bible devotional, and supporting graphics packs that are original, practical, and ready to use.