Pastor Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Community Lutheran Church; Message on Fasting; Date: 8 March 09

For more sermons and other writings check out pastor’s homepage: http://www.geocities.com/mayeredgar

 

 

Fast

 

Are you hungry? For the first time ever our church has committed to a week of fasting. How did we go? Who has fasted of things other than food, for instance: TV or music or the internet? Hands up, please. And who among us has managed to abstain from food – the occasional meal or a whole day or the period from Friday to Sunday? Hands up, please. Are you hungry (and grumpy)? I am but I am also excited because we are entering into something new and we know that God has been speaking to us as a church. It was God who put fasting on the agenda of Living Grace when one person after another kept asking me: “Could we not do a congregational fastAnd even last Sunday the people of this church purchased sixty-five copies of a book on fasting. God is stirring us up and not only us. Across the city of Toowoomba there are now at least three other churches doing congregational fasts – some for the first time (the Range Christian Fellowship, Toowoomba City Church, On The Edge). God is on the move – hallelujah – and he is speaking to us: “I am leading you into fasting

On any other occasion missing lunch – missing dinner – does not sound like a good idea – the feeling of hunger is not nice – a growling stomach is not nice – but when God speaks, we put aside any uncomfortable feelings and listen with a sense of excitement and expectation.Whatever comes from God is going to be precious because he loves us. Jesus taught that fasting is one of three Christian core disciplines. In one of his sermons he said – Matthew 6:1-18 – I read from the Bible: “ … when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets … your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you … when you pray, do not … love to pray … on the street corners to be seen by others … go into your room … your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you … when you fast … put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting … your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. … “ In this message Jesus focused on three Christian core disciplines – one after the other: “ … when you give … when you pray … when you fast … “ and he made the same point about all of them: Neither giving – nor praying – nor fasting – is to be done for show – for proud posturing before others – but these actions are for God which he will reward, if they are for him. Giving – praying – fasting: Jesus assumed that all three are standard practice among Christians and all of them carry a reward.

Last Sunday we already made the observation that when it comes to fasting, the reward comes frequently in the form of power – breakthrough power – at times even changing the fate of an entire city – an entire nation. For instance – and this is only one of many examples in the Bible – when a vast army was coming against God’s people, the king – 2 Chronicles 20:3: “ … resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all … “ with the result that the Lord himself set ambushes against the foreign army and – 2 Chronicles 20:25: “ … there was so much plunder that it took three days to collect it.” 2 Chronicles 20:29: “The fear of God came upon all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard how the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel … “ There is power and victory in fasting.

And this is precisely where the excitement comes in. What is God up to among us? If he is now leading us into fasting, then – so we can conclude – he is also now wanting us to have power – breakthrough authority – because – yes – the time has come for us also to walk in victory according to his promises – what Jesus pledged in the Bible – John 14:12: “ … anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these … “ John 15:8: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit … “ Matthew 28:19: “ … make disciples of all nations … “

And – as a church – we have been specific in our desires for breakthrough: 1) The healing of Greg Storey, 2) a new worship home for Living Grace, 3) financial provision for Living Grace and 4) the removal of any personal obstacle which we want to overcome.

Why does fasting work? The practice is in the Bible but why should abstaining from food – long days without breakfast, without lunch and without dinner – make any difference in the world around us? Last Sunday I gave three answers which we will revise quickly and then move on to a fourth answer which is the most important of them all.

Why does fasting work? Answer number one: There is power in fasting because God responds to passion – Hebrews 11:6: “ … he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness … they will be filledGod deserves the best from us (all honour and all glory and all praise) and he finds it irresistible – he is so pleased – when we demonstrate that we are more hungry for him than even food.

Answer number two: There is power in fasting because we become certain of who we are. When we fast, God is testing our faith. No hunger – no deprivation – no persecution – no hardship – is to make us doubt – ever – who we are – the sons and daughters of God [– because if we no longer know that we are sons and daughters, then we no longer know that we have a dad – a Father in heaven – and therefore we no longer know what he promised us as his children – Ephesians 1:18-19: “ … the riches of his glorious inheritance … and his incomparably great power for us who believe … “] We learn to walk in our inheritance even when we are under pressure.

Answer number three: Why does fasting work? There is power in fasting because this is where the battle is won. No church can bring people to faith, heal the sick or drive out demons unless the spiritual battle is won first with prayer and fasting. The Bible explains – Ephesians 6:10-18: that “ … our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but [is a spiritual struggle] against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms … “ Therefore, Jesus himself – first – defeated the devil in prayer and fasting – won the spiritual battle first in hunger and hardship – before he lived out his victory – before he had the easy authority of God’s kingdom. Only after he had won the battle in fasting and prayer, do we read in the Bible – Luke 4:32-37: “ … his message had authority … All the people were amazed … ‘With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!’ … “ Luke 4:40-41: “ … the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people … “

In the same way Jesus won the battle for our salvation in the agony of prayer – the night before he actually died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. We read in the Bible – Luke 22:41-44: “Jesus withdrew … knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup [of suffering] from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the groundThe anguish – the intense warfare – the sweat like blood – the need for an angel to come and help him – happened in the hours of prayer and there the battle for our salvation was won. The actual dying – the cross – was the result of this victory.

For us this means that the Friday prayer watch is our most important church meeting which determines whether we walk in victory or defeat – whether we gain victory over addiction, suicide, pride and any demonic oppression or walk in defeat with powerless preaching and powerless evangelism.

So far the revision. Why does fasting work? Answer number one: There is power in fasting because God responds to passion. Answer number two: There is power in fasting because we become certain of who we are. Answer number three: There is power in fasting because this is where the battle is won. Now answer number four – the most important answer: There is power in fasting because we humble ourselves before God which means that we get out of the way and let God take over with his strength.

The Bible makes this point repeatedly – Ezra 8:21-23: “There … I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey … ” Psalm 35:13: “ … I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting … “ 1 Kings 21:27-28: “When [king] Ahab heard these words [of judgement], he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. Then the word of the Lord came to [the prophet] Elijah the Tishbite: ‘Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day … ‘”

There is power in fasting because – as we deny ourselves the most basic nourishment and pleasure of food – we humble ourselves – we repent – we put a stop to everything that we are doing in a most radical way – which moves God to show mercy. How are we hearing this? We know that repentance is the gateway to salvation. Jesus himself said – Luke 24:47: “ . repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in my [original: his] name … “ and therefore the Bible models Christian preaching with these words – Acts 3:19: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” “Repent, then … “ We know that this is the gateway to forgiveness but – check yourself – how familiar are we with the radical nature of the required repentance? I have never seen anyone repent with fasting. How much do we need to probe our conscience? (How thorough do we have to be?)

Charles Finney suggests that many of us no longer know. He writes: “ … The main purpose of ministering to an awakened sinner is to … do away with errors and demolish the foundation of self-righteous hopes, sweeping away every vestige of comfort a sinner could find in himself. This is often difficult … Sinners often cling with a death grasp to false dependencies, and Christ is the last person sinners want to run to for relief. They will make any sacrifice, pay any price, or endure any suffering to avoid coming as lost rebels to throw themselves on Chirst alone for salvation … In reality, the anxious sinner seeks a hope – he seeks pardon, comfort and deliverance from hell. He anxiously looks for someone to make him feel better without being obliged to conform to the humiliating conditions of the Gospel [which is total surrender to God in repentance]. His distress lingers only because he won’t yield to God’s terms. Unfortunately, awakened sinners find comforters enough to their liking. They are miserable helpers … Millions and millions are no doubt in hell because those around them supply false comfort. They had so much false pity or were themselves so ignorant that they couldn’t bear to let a sinner remain distraught until he had submitted his heart to God … Now millions are lost” (Charles Finney: Lectures On Revival, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers 1988, p208-209).

According to Finney millions and millions are lost because many of us Christians are moved by false pity. (I am probably guilty of that.) We cannot bear to see anyone squirm under the weight of their sin – and the prospect of hell – and therefore we rush in with the wrong words of comfort – such as: “Relax. You’re not so bad and God is nice. If you are not yet ready to give up everything for God, then don’t beat yourself up. I understand. You may yield to God little by little – over time. You’re on the right track. Let’s pray togetherThese words are damning – condemn millions to hell – because they undermine the one true condition for salvation which is: repentance – absolute surrender to God with nothing held back.

God has more compassion than any of us – he loves the lost – if you are here in church this morning and you know that you are not right with him, be assured: he loves you – he wants to comfort you – but – at the same time – he knows – by experience – by the death of his own son on a cross – that the cure of sin has to be radical – like it was for the people of the Bible.

For instance, the prophet Jonah declared to the city of Niniveh – Jonah 3:4: “ … Forty more days and Niniveh will be overthrownJonah had a message of judgement from God. However, the prophecy did not come to pass because – Jonah 3:5: “The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackclothThe king and his nobles passed a degree, saying – Jonah 3:9: “ … Do not let any person or beast … taste anything; do not let them eat or drink … Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish

Many a time we think that this kind of radical repentance – with fasting and a complete stop to one’s evil ways – is not possible. This is asking too much of people. But the people of Niniveh were into everything – from addiction to murder – and they managed (by the grace of God) to give up their sins (at least make a commitment of the will to give them up) at once. The key for them was to believe the message: Judgement – complete destruction – was coming. They knew that they faced the wrath of God.

Imagine what sort of repentance is possible today in people when they believe the truth – Ephesians 5:3-7 – I read from the Bible: “ . among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people … For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person … has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient … “ Imagine how thorough our repentance could be and would be, if we believed the message: God’s wrath comes on the disobedient – an eternity in hell.

Many of us may need a new awareness of God’s majesty and holiness which is offended by sinful rebellion. Charles Finney is again a sharp observer. He writes: “ … Our primary objective should be to induce the sinner to obey God. His comfort is important, but it is secondary, and while we are more concerned with relieving his distress than seeing him stop dishonouring God, our instructions are unlikely to do him any genuine good. This is a fundamental point for dealing with awakened sinners, but many overlook it, seeming to have no higher motives in counseling than sympathy for the sinner. If in preaching the Gospel or instructing the awakened, we aren’t driven by high regard for God’s honour, if we rise no higher than wanting to free the distressed, we will do no more than what oridnary human sympathy can accomplish” (Charles Finney: Lectures On Revival, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers 1988, p209-210).

Are these words convicting us? How much do we care about God’s honour in human conversion? In our sympathy for sinners do we ever take the side of God – agreeing with his justice – understanding his wrath – insisting on reverence that is due to him – worrying about his glory?

The Bible teaching on repentance is the first teaching which anyone hears from God – Acts 17:30: “ … now God commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice … “ Yet, many of us are no longer clear on the teaching – the radical nature of what is required – repentance even with fasting.

Another reason why we back off and rush in with damning comfort is our lack of confidence in victory. Do we really expect that God can deliver us from sin – in a moment? Can God set a person free – in a moment – from stealing and lying and looking at pornography and drinking and the darkness of suicide? I understand that sometimes the root causes for sin are hidden and there needs to be a process of uncovering the tangled web of lies which we have believed. However, once everything is laid bare, do we have the faith that God can set us free – in a moment – or do we expect that anger problems and low self-esteem problems and painful memory problems – do we expect them – to run our lives? How radical can the break with sin be? God declares his reality in the Bible – Romans 6:11-14: “ … count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus … do not let sin reign … so that you obey its evil desires … sin shall not be your master, because you are … under grace.” Romans 8:1-14: “ … the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin … You . are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you … by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body … “

Right! The break with sin can be as radical as salvation itself – a change from death to life – from darkness to light. “Count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God … Sin shall not be your master … the Spirit of life set me free … “ You can be free – now. As a church we are learning this and therefore when we refuse you easy comfort, then don’t get mad at us because we want to see you set free from sin – now.

Even this week a new Christian confided in David and me that he tries to follow Jesus but when he needs money and there seems to be no other way, he will have to make some quick bucks in the drug trade. No! There are no words of comfort for this kind of thinking. This is unbelief and – worse – this is setting you up for failure – constant and relentless misery – because it leaves you without the power of God in your life. You cannot have both: sin and God – your schemes and his salvation. You have to make a choice. If you want God’s power, humble yourself before him – even with fasting. Become nothing so that he can heal your life with the make-over from heaven.

This is a general principle in the Bible. The more we submit to God in repentance and humble fasting, the more he can take over completely with his power. And God is committed to make us learn the lesson (as a church and in our own lives) – if need be with suffering – if need be with making our own efforts come to nothing – because he wants us to succeed through him – to his glory – 2 Corinthians 1:9: “ … this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” 1 Corinthians 1:28-30: “ … God chose the lowly … the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him … Christ Jesus … has become for us … our righteousness, holiness and redemption … “

Therefore – on the basis of this general principle – coming back to the main focus of this message – fasting works. There is power in fasting because the more we humble ourselves and get out of the way, the more God can be everything.

All of this is radical – and my empty stomach is telling me that this is radical – and we may not like the confrontation but who would want to miss out on the power of God? God can do anything – for us. The Bible says – Ephesians 3:19-20: “ … you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God … [he] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us … “ And – hear this – when we repent – when we take the step and become radical in humbling ourselves – then we will make an unexpected discovery, that is: joy.

Charles Finney shares the following from his own experience [abbreviate and retell in your own words]: “ … this winter … my mind was . exercised on the question of personal holiness … I gave myself to a great deal of prayer … After praying … for weeks and months, one morning … the thought occurred to me, what if … my heart is not really subdued … Just before … I had had a great struggle about giving up my wife to the will of God. She was in very feeble health, and it was very evident that she could not live long … I had never before seen so clearly what was implied in laying her and all that I possessed upon the altar of God, and for hours I struggled upon my knees to give her up unqualifiedly to the will of God. But I found myself unable to do it. I was so shocked and surprised at this that I perspired profusely with agony. I struggled and prayed until I was exhausted, and found myself entirely unable to give her altogether up to God’s will, in such a way as to make no objection to his disposing of her as he pleased. This troubled me much … But … I was enabled, after struggling … to fall back in a deeper sense than I had ever done before upon the infinitely blessed and perfect will of God. I . told the Lord that I had such confidence in him that I felt perfectly willing to give myself, my wife and my family, and all, to be disposed of without any qualification according to his views and will … I then had a deeper view of what was implied in consecration to God than I ever had before. I spent a long time upon my knees … giving up everything to the will of God … the whole of that day … nothing troubled me. I was neither elated nor depressed; I was neither … joyful nor sorrowful. My confidence in God was perfect … Just at evening the question arose in my mind: ‘What if God should send me to hell – what then?’ … my mind . settled. I said, ‘No … hell could be no hell to me if I accepted God’s perfect will.’ This sprung a vein of joy in my mind that kept developing more and more for weeks and months, and indeed I may say for years.

For years my mind was too full of joy to feel much exercised with anxiety on any subject … It seemed as if my desires were all met. What I had been praying for for myself, I had received in a way that I least expected. Holiness to the Lord seemed to be inscribed on all the exercises of my mind … The language of the Song of Solomon was as natural to me as my breath … I hnot only had all the freshness of my first love, but a vast accession to it. Indeed the Lord lifted me so much above anything that I had experienced before, and taught me so much of the meaning of the Bible, of Christ’s relations and power and willingness, that I often found myself saying to him, ‘I had not known or conceived that any such thing was true.’ … I had had no conception of the length and breadth, and height and depth, and efficiency of his grace … I found myself exclaiming, ‘Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!’ … “ (Charles Finney: The Original Memoirs Of Charles Finney, Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1989, p328-332).

Even a Christian man like Finney struggled with the radical nature of consecration – giving up everything to God in humility and repentance: his wife and possessions – but – spending a long time on his knees – he did – with the help of God – and then – surprise! – joy came into his life like never before. It seemed as if all of his desires had been met. He fell in love with God. The language of the Song of Solomon was as natural to him as breath. As Finney gave up praying for himself – as he gave up all his dreams and good intentions even as a minister – he received everything back – so much joy – in a way that he least expected.

Then Finney shared how other Christians could not relate to his experience which makes sense because most of us have not been as radical as him in giving up everything for God. Other Christians look at people like him and point the finger, saying: “This is too extreme. This is being too fanatical with holiness and obedienceBut the joy proved him right and the Bible – 1 Thessalonians 1:6: “ … in spite of severe suffering [complete consecration], you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit … “

Again – this is what we have been saying. Why does fasting work? Why does humbling ourselves before God work – giving up everything for him? It makes way for him – his power, his joy, his love, his life, his victory, his gentleness, his hope, his salvation.

Please, if you are here in church this morning and you have not yet humbled yourself before God, do it now. God loves you. He sent his only begotten son Jesus Christ to die on a cross for you. Repent and receive forgiveness – today.

I close with a testimony from a healing evangelist. This is what he saw in the Spirit. He heard engine noise (wrrm wrrm – as gutsy as formula one cars) and he heard wheels screeching. A car came round the corner and inside was the Lord. He slammed the brakes, jumped out of the car, threw him the keys and said: “Do you want to drive this one? This car is the new model for 2005. It is not for lease but ownership and authority. This is the new model for ministry in the churchThe evangelist had a closer look. What kind of model was it? God said: “This one is ‘Fast’. That’s the name of the model. It will get you to your destination quicker. What used to take six years is going to take six months – what used to take six months will take six days – what used to take six days will take six minutes. Do you want to drive itJust then a salesman came by who sold oldsmobiles and he tempted the evangelist to settle for an oldsmobile – settle for the old way of doing things in ministry: “Be wise. Why risk anything new? Save money. Trust the old ways

The evangelist had a choice to make. What did he want? [Side comment: This visitation came in 2004 – the very year General Motors discontinued the making of oldsmobile.] Then the Lord said: “This car drives on one highway only and one lane only – holiness. This is the only way that you can handle the car and its power. Drive on the highway of holiness. This new model is for acceleration – for buildings, harvest, land, partners, money, multitudes

Do we want to accelerate as a church? Yes, we do and therefore we commit to the highway of holiness – even in fasting. God humbled us this week. He made us rediscover the Christian core discipline of fasting – but for a reason. He is about to throw us the key of the new model of ministry and the new model is fast. Here comes our church: Wrrm wrrm. Amen.

 

Altar call …