Charles Stanley - The Powerful Practice of Fasting
Sometimes do you feel just helpless and you don't know exactly what to do? Or maybe you find yourself in some form of bondage; and in spite of everything you've done, you just can't break it. Or you're trying to find God's will about something and you've prayed and prayed and prayed and somehow it just doesn't work, you can't. Either you're not hearing Him or He's not speaking or something's going on. Or sometimes you find yourself struggling with trying to understand God's Word. You, you read a passage and you believe God is speaking to ya but you don't really know what He's saying. Or sometimes you find yourself continuously being harassed by fear and doubt. Or maybe God has burdened your heart and you know that He's saying something.
You know that He's trying to get through but you can't discern, What is this that's causing me to feel so heavy-hearted? Or it could be that you just feel like, I need a real cleansing. I need a spiritual bath in my life. And yet you have confessed and repented and prayed and you name it and somehow you still don't have that sense of cleansing and purity you oughta have in your life. Well, there is a solution, there is an answer to this, and I wanna give you a little warning at the very beginning. You're getting ready to have an onslaught of a Satanic attack. Because he's going to say to you as soon as I tell ya what I wanna talk about today, he's gonna tell you, "Why, you can't do that".
Well, that's for other people but not for you. You don't know how to do that. That's not gonna work in your life. And so I just wanna tell ya right up front, I wanna ask you to open your heart and to tell God, Lord, I want You to speak to my heart today. Don't let me pull the shade down, don't let me put the wall up. You must have something to say to me and God, I wanna hear it. No matter whether I like it or not, God, I want to hear the truth. And if you will, God will do something in your life.
So I want you to turn if you will to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is talking to His disciples about areas of their life that are a vital part of their life and He says to them, He said, Look, in living the Christian life, you're not to do that for show. You're not to do that so people will be impressed. You're not to do it to impress other people.
And here's what He says beginning in the sixth chapter. He says, "First of all, don't give to be seen". Secondly, He says, "Don't pray to be heard". And thirdly He says, beginning in the sixteenth verse, listen to what He says, "Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do; for they neglect their appearance so that they'll be noticed by men when they're fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret," He says, He is the one who "will reward you".
Now what I wanna talk about is this. I wanna talk about a powerful practice that's often overlooked. And that is the practice of fasting. And I wanna clarify right up front what that is. But notice what Jesus says here. He says, When you give, when you pray, when you fast, do not do it publicly in order to be seen of others. Now, let's clarify what we mean by fasting and to say first of all right up front, fasting and dieting are not the same. There are a lotta people who diet who know nothing in the world about biblical fasting. And if you'll notice for example, if you go through the grocery line right before you pay right at the checkout, there's always a group of magazines there. I guarantee you'll have to look a long time before you go through there without seeing at least one magazine or more on the front cover is the latest dieting fad.
Now, dieting has to do with the flesh; fasting has to do with your spirit. And so we're talking about not simply going on a diet, but we're talking about fasting from God's point of view. And if you'll notice what He says here, this isn't something that was just new to them because if you'll notice how He said it, He said whenever. That is, Jesus expected it. "Whenever you fast". And so it's very evident what He was talking about. And so somebody says, Well, what do I fast because most people think in terms of fasting just food. But there are four different things that a person could fast and I mean by that to fast means to abstain from something for the purpose of giving that time to seeking the Lord, His mind, His will, His face in your life. That is, it's a spiritual relationship that's going on.
A person can fast food, which is what we normally think about and oftentimes what the Bible refers to. You can fast activity, for example, just laying aside some time to be with the Lord and not just to keep up with all the activities and not have any time for Him. You can fast sleep, that is that you're so burdened and God works in your heart in such a way that you don't even wanna sleep. And ya don't, and somehow He keeps you awake because you're seeking Him. Or you can fast an intimate relationship or the sexual relationship between a husband and a wife. And so when you think about it, it's not just food, but it's all four of these things if they apply to you. And doesn't mean that you have to fast all four of them at the same time.
But when we talk about fasting, we're talking about not just setting aside time or not just abstaining from something, but listen, abstaining from it, setting aside that time or the food or whatever it might be for the purpose of seeking God. Lord, I want to hear from You. I want to know You. I want to know what You're saying to me. I wanna hear what You're saying. Maybe you sense a burden in your heart and it is, listen, it isn't just setting aside time. If you just don't eat for a day and say, Well, I'm fasting. You may be dieting but you're not fasting because genuine biblical fasting has to do with my seeking the Lord and the fact that I lay aside these things, whichever one or all four they may be. We lay aside these things in order to give our attention to and to seek God. And what we're doing is we are removing all of those things that have our attention and those things that would keep us from focusing primarily on Him.
I wanna find out what He's saying to me, what sense of direction. Or, why aren't these prayers being answered and why can't I understand the Word of God and why am I in bondage to this relationship or bondage to this habit in my life? And why can't I break that? And God, I need to hear from You. Somebody says, Well, doesn't the Bible say, "Ask and it shall be given you, seek and you shall find"? Yes it does. But I want you to see that there are times when it takes more than just praying because God has something in mind. God is up to something more than just the fact that I don't eat or whatever I lay aside, what I abstain from. Because fasting is all about our relationship with Him.
Fasting is all about, listen, coming into relationship, coming into intimacy with Him whereby the things that would normally grab my attention no longer grab my attention because right now in the, in the whole issue of fasting, I am focused upon God, I want Him more than I want anything else no matter what it is and I'm willing to lay these other things aside in order to find out what He's saying to me. Now, somebody says, Well, does He tell us when to fast? No, He doesn't say that, but here's what I want you to notice. Here's what He does tell us. He says, Whenever you do. Now, why did He say "whenever"? Because it was natural and normal. What He's saying is it's just common practice, that is, among His followers. He expected 'em to fast.
Now whenever you fast, He says, I wanna give you some instruction. You don't dress like you're fasting. You don't look like you're fasting. You don't act like you're fasting, you don't tell anybody about it. And so it was the natural normal thing, so He says whenever you do. Now, with that in mind, let's think about what's the purpose of it? So, Jesus said whenever you do, what's the purpose of fasting? Well, there are some misconceptions about what fasting's all about, and one of 'em is simply this. That surely as I've been talking to God and asking Him about this, and I believe this is what God wants in my life, I'm convinced this is His will.
And so, since it's not coming to pass as fast as I think it ought to, surely if I fast and what I do if I'm fasting, then I'm certainly impressing God with my sincerity and my intensity about this thing. If I fast, maybe I'll get Him just go ahead and do it. No, you can't speed up God's will by fasting. And so that's not the purpose of it. The purpose is not to speed up God's will. The purpose is, listen, not to deprive myself of something, not to abstain from something for the simple purpose of impressing God, but rather because I cannot help it. That is the desire of my heart, I want to know what He's saying. I want to know what His will is, and so I don't want anything in my life that would grab my attention and keep me from seeing things the way He sees 'em.
And so I'm not trying to do it for that reason, so I'm not trying to persuade Him to hurry along. Secondly, I'm not trying to persuade God against His will. Now Lord, this is what I believe it would be good and this would be right and so it's not coming to pass, so I'm gonna fast and somehow if I fast strongly enough or long enough or whatever ways or maybe all four of these ways we mentioned, maybe I can finally get God to see it my way and to come over on my side. God's not gonna, listen, He's not persuaded by fasting. Fasting has a different purpose altogether.
And so when I think about what Jesus said here, I have to ask myself the question, What is the primary purpose? What's the primary purpose of fasting? Not to impress God, not to impress other people because it oughta be done in private, between God and ourselves. Then what is His purpose? Well, listen to what He said. He said in this passage: "Whenever you fast, don't put on a gloomy face as hypocrites," don't neglect your appearance, you do that to be seen. You have your full reward. He says, Dress right, look right, do what you been doing. And He says, "Your Father He says who sees in secret He will reward you in public". So whatever this is, it is a, it's something just between you and God that's going on.
Now watch this carefully. There are two words I want you to remember, and this is the heart of it. Two words. We said first of all we don't fast to persuade God to do anything. We fast in order to prepare ourselves. So the two words, one of 'em is persuasion, no persuasion. The other is preparation, that's what fasting's all about. Listen, it is a time of the preparation of our heart to be able to discern, to hear, God speak to us, to give us direction. It's preparation for God to do this cleansing in our life. In other words, fasting is all about preparation.
So there are two words and I want you to give them back to me. What's the first one? What's the second one? So it's not persuasion. We're not trying to persuade God. God is in the process of preparing us to hear from Him. And so when we think in terms of abstaining from those things that would cause us to be distracted in some fashion. And so what we wanna do is to set aside some time where the only thing that matters is we hear from Him. And so usually what we will do, we'll take some passage of scripture, or we will begin to read through the scriptures and God will bring us to some particular area. And, God will be, He may begin to work on us in that area.
So what I want you to see is happens is this. When you and I begin to fast, listen, something happens to our, our capacity to concentrate, because here's what happens. Our mind gets clear. And I'm gonna repeat some of these things, again because I want you to be sure you get 'em. What happens is when you begin to fast, your mind begins to get sharper. It begins to get clear. You know why? Because here's what you've done. You have pushed aside the work the pleasure, the plans, the food, the relationships. In other words, what you've done, you have abstained from, you've laid 'em aside and now the only thing that you have your focus on, your focus is on God. So, what's happening is, He is preparing you to listen to Him.
So, what happens, is that your mind gets clear. Your desire to hear from Him intensifies because these other things that distract you, and I'm not saying those other things are not important in life, but they are not important now. Now what happens is, things that are very, very important, when you begin to fast, they lose their sense of importance for that period of time. Your mind gets, your mind gets clearer. The intensity of your desire to hear from Him improves. And what happens is this. Your capacity to hear Him speak becomes so much better.
And I think about people who say, Well, you know what? I've been a Christian long time but I never heard God speak to me. Well, you know why? Because your mind has been so cluttered with so many other things, if He spoke, and I'm sure He's tried to, spoke, you couldn't hear Him. This is preparation, this is preparation for devotion. This is preparation to hear from Him. This is preparation to understand His love. This is preparation for Him to say to you, to express His love to you, to give you a sense of direction, to make Himself known to you in a depth that you have never understood before. It's preparation. God is getting us ready for something.
Now, if I don't care about what God thinks, I'm not gonna fast. If I'm just gonna make up my mind, depend upon my own intuition and my own discernment, and just say, Well, God you know, You've given us common sense and anybody can figure this out. Many things in life we can figure out but there's some things in life you and I desperately need to know. God, what are You saying in Your Word? Have You said something in Your Word somewhere, Lord, that I need to know? And what's gonna happen is, listen, whatever He surfaces in your heart, whatever He tells you God is going to enable you to do it, whether it's broken, breaking some bondage, or whether it's discerning His will or whether it's understanding His Word in some fashion, He's going to do it. He desires to do it. Giving your attention to Him is one of the wisest, listen, it's one of the greatest timesavers. It eliminates a lot of fretting and worrying and anxiety.
When you know that you've heard from God, there's nothing so stabilizing, establishing, so firming up a person's life is knowing that you've heard God speak. Don't neglect one of the most powerful things God can do in a person's life. And when I think about people, listen, most people live troubled. Most people live without peace and without joy in their heart, and without a sense of real genuine security, and without a sense of contentment. There are always gonna be troubles and heartaches and trials in life. So what do we do? We give up and moan and groan? No. In spite of the troubles and the trials and the heartaches and the valleys, the persecutions and all the rest of the things we have to face in life, there is a way to face those with this awesome sense of confidence and boldness and assurance in your life that is absolutely inexplainable because it is the work of God in the heart, listen, in the heart of a person whose heart is pure toward God.
Fasting is preparation. Now, there are some cautions that we have to think about and this is what Jesus was saying here. He says now, "When you give, don't give to be seen. When ya pray, don't pray to be", he's not saying don't give, but don't do it with the wrong motive. "Then when you pray, you oughta pray". He gives lots of verses about prayer, but don't do it to be heard by other people. And He says, And when you fast, be sure that your fasting, listen, is private, that relationship between you and God. Now, it's fruitless; that is, fasting is fruitless if I am in the process of trying to impress someone else. If I'm doing it to be seen by someone else, or listen, if I'm doing it as simply as a religious act. If some religions for example or some faiths they have periods where you fast.
Well, what's the fasting about? Well, that's what my church teaches. That's what my religion teaches. I fast and so that's the reason. You know what? That's fruitless. Unless that person is seeking God, unless that person desires to know Him, just to satisfy a period of time of fasting is fruitless. It's all about God and the person fasting. It's all about their relationship. It's all about that intimacy. It's all about what God wants to do in that person's life in preparing them to hear from Him.
And so, if it's to gain recognition from others, won't work. Because He said, listen, Don't do it to be seen. Don't do it before men. Don't do it, don't change your appearance. Don't go to work with your hair all disheveled and 'bout half-shaven. I'm fasting today; don't talk to me. Or somebody invites you out to lunch, if you're fasting just say, Well, thank ya very much, I wish I could but I can't. Don't say, Well, you know today I'm fasting. God is trying to say something to me. Well, He may be but keep it to yourself. Keep it to yourself, until you get His answer, because the truth is we're not to tell anybody about it.
Now you say, Well, you're not to ever tell anybody? Let me put it this way. If, for example, and oftentimes this happens, a small group of people will say, Listen, here's something we're facing, all of us are facing, maybe it's something in the family or finances or whatever it might be, and we're not getting an answer. Let's just fast and pray. And if that group of people agree, then naturally they all know each other's fasting, but they're not boasting of it because they're all keeping it to themselves except when they get together. So, I'm not saying don't ever mention it.
And if it's something that's happened in the past and you're sharing a testimony or something and you see somebody who's been there, that's where they are, can't figure this out and God, I've done everything in the world, you might say to them in some very wise fashion, Have you ever tried fasting and praying? They'll probably say, Well, what's that? Oh, oh yeah, I fasted. I haven't eaten for a day just... no, that's not it. I don't care if you don't eat for a week, that's not fasting. Or two weeks. Or if somebody says, I fasted forty days. Well, what did you do in the forty days?
Listen. Just because you don't eat or don't have the relationship with your husband or wife, or just because you set aside some time, somebody says, Well, I'm gonna set aside some time for God. I'm going on vacation. What are you gonna do? I'm just gonna relax, enjoy myself. You know what? Hm, hm, hm. That is not fasting. I hate to burst that bubble all over the place because that's not fasting. You know what? That's just you relaxing. Fasting is motivated by a desire, a yearning, a struggling within in your heart. You want to know what He's saying. You want to know what God is doing in your life. So, it can't be for any of these reasons.
And so, if you'll notice in the scripture, He doesn't tell us, listen, He doesn't tell us when, He doesn't tell us where, but He certainly tells us how. As you do it in such a way that nobody knows you're doing it. So what we have to watch out for is to be feeling super-spiritual. Well, I been fasting. Or, feeling over-confident. Well, you know I've fasted so thus and so's gonna happen. Genuine fasting is gonna result in a sense of humility, not over-confidence. And of course, the temptation to share it with somebody else and the change of appearance and behavior. Now, with all those things in mind, and if, some of you've sat here and you've thought, Oh, my goodness, I came to church this morning and I didn't, I just, I was starvin' before I got here.
Well, let me just say this. I'm not telling you to go home and fast. The only person who should tell you that is God. You should have enough discernment as a believer to know if something in your life is not right. You just can't figure that God's will. I think about sometime hearing a student say, Well, I'm finishing college. What you gonna do? I don't know. Well, what'd you major in? Well, I majored in so-and-so because I didn't know what else to major in. Well, what are you do, when you get out, get out-a school? I'm not sure. Your folks have spent fifty thousand dollars and you don't know what they spent it for? Is that what you're telling me?
And I wanna say to you if you're a student and you're one of those positions. Has it ever dawned on you that God has a will for your life? And if He has a will for your life He will show you, and you haven't taken time, listen. You haven't abstained from enough stuff and junky things in your life to give God the time to clear out your mind and clear out the clutter so He can prepare you. Because here's what's gonna happen. Once, listen, once you begin to fast, you can expect this to happen. The clutter in your life is gonna rise. Sins in your life are gonna, they come into surface.
As we said hidden things are come into surface, things you've swept under the rug, things you've not wanted to think about, things you've rationalized and excused and you just don't think about it. And when you pray, you just, when God brings 'em up you just, you've shut 'em down enough that you don't even think about 'em anymore. You know what's gonna be happen, what's gonna be a shock? You're gonna be shocked. Some people would, not everybody, some people would be shocked by what God surfaces in your life remembering that fasting is for preparation for God to do a work in your life. And one of the things He has to do is get us cleaned up.
And listen, if God starts surfacing a lotta slime and junk, you say, Well you know, I think I've heard enough. No, you know what? God's just starts to digging it up. And I will say this. Anytime I've ever fasted, one of the first things God always deals with is me, always me. No matter what the issue is, what I may be fasting and praying for, for something else, but you know what? Always starts with me. No exception there, always, expect Him to deal with you because what's He doing? He's getting us ready to hear from Him. Now watch this. Most people do not wanna even think about facing Holy God. They don't wanna think about that.
And so when you begin to fast, what happens is your mind gets clearer, it gets sharper, you begin to see things the way God sees 'em and now Holy God is confronting us about our sins and we don't like it. Holy God is confronting us with, listen, with those areas of our life that need to be changed, corrections that need to be made, things that need to be laid aside, thought patterns that need to go, habits that need to be broken, changes in our... what is it, schedule or whatever it might be, activities, He's gonna deal with 'em. And you know what He's gonna do? He's gonna deal with every single aspect of your life.
You can mark it down. He's not gonna leave anything unturned. Why? Because He loves you; because He wants you to know the truth. He doesn't want you to be deceived. He doesn't want you, listen. He doesn't want you making decisions based on what you think from an earthly point of view when He wants to show you what the truth is from a divine holy point of view. If you don't want God dealing with sin in your life, then don't fast. But suffer the awesome consequences of living your whole life and never knowing what awesome blessings God had in preparation for you, but you wouldn't listen to Him and you wouldn't take the right turn and you wouldn't make the right decision. Ya just wouldn't listen.
And ya know what happens? We're the losers. We become the losers. Because we're too busy with our activities and our relationships, and what we think we have to have, and what we need and how much we eat. People say, Well, ya gotta have three meals a day. No ya don't. You know what? Three meals a day is a luxury to the world. We have too much. Too busy. Too much going on. And here's Holy God in Heaven, created us for His purpose, to accomplish His will and we just too busy for God. Amen? It's the truth, you know it's the truth, too busy for God. More interested in what I'm gonna have to eat than the spiritual food that has eternal value to it.
Now there are lots and lots of benefits and I've probably named most of them, but I'll just rehearse 'em again just for a moment, and that's this. It's a spiritual bath, that's what happens. One of, one of the primary benefits, it's a spiritual bath. You gonna get cleaned up, cleaned out. I mean, God's gonna do some house-cleaning that you didn't even have any idea was necessary. That's the first benefit. A second thing is this. Your mind's gonna get sharp, you're gonna be able to think like you've never thought before. You're gonna be able to, listen, your mind's gonna be so clear you're gonna understand as you've not understood.
When you come to the Word of God, you know what? There's gonna be a deeper understanding and there are times when we come to the scripture, say, God, what? Listen, now watch this. It isn't just, Lord, what did You say to Paul? I get that. But what are You saying to me in that verse? In other words, I know that You're trying to say something to me. You're gonna be able to hear God much clearer because your heart, mind, soul, and spirit is committed to Him. Likewise, you're gonna have a spiritual discernment. You're gonna be able to discern things that you overlooked before.
Likewise, you're gonna have, and can have victory over strongholds and habits in your life, whatever they may be, because what? Your heart's pure, the power of God's released in your life and He can break any stronghold, whatever it might be. A greater intimacy with the Lord, you're gonna feel closer to Him. Why? Here's the reason. The clutter is out and you have a straight line. And the things that have been important, while they have their place of importance now, you keep them where they are. And now that channel between you and Him, that intimacy, that oneness, your prayers, everything is going to begin to change. Why? Because now you're getting in a position, you're in a position for God to pour out His fullness of joy in your life.
And listen, there's gonna be a greater hunger and thirst for the Word of God. I don't know of anybody who fasts, genuinely fasts, who doesn't have a hunger for the Word. You know what's gonna happen? While you are fasting, you're gonna begin to search the Word of God and saying, Now Lord, exactly what are You saying to me? And oftentimes His answer's gonna come through verses that you've read. You've read 'em over and over and over again, they never said a thing to you. All of a sudden, there it is in black and white. Then of course, listen, all of us at times have had prayers that have just stalled. They just don't move. There's just no answer.
Now God, what's going on? And what happens? You begin to fast and pray and God cleans your heart out. And God says now you're ready for it. And God begins to answer prayer. And the last benefit, and there are many others, the last benefit I would say is simply this. Physically you're gonna feel better. Physically you're gonna be better. There's something about fasting, especially food for example, that gives your body a break. And most people gonna live their whole life and never give their body a twenty-four-hour break. But of all the things I've mentioned, that's the least important, because the most important thing is this. You're gonna position yourself with the Lord God Almighty.
He's gonna be able to do things in you, through you, and for you, you never even dreamed that God cared that much about ya. It's not for anybody to tell you when to fast or what to fast. I'm simply saying this. Here's a principle of scripture. Powerful principle of scripture, often overlooked, that can absolutely transform your life, set you free, and listen, set you on a course in your relationship with Jesus Christ more intimate than you have ever known, with the blessings that follow you never dreamed of in your whole life. And that's my prayer for you.
And Father how grateful we are that something so simple, and yet so profound, so available to every single person, but so overlooked, so ignored, and oftentimes just out of ignorance. I pray the Holy Spirit will take this message. Drive it home to every single heart. And when I think about how many, what a large portion, the vast percentage of people struggling over difficulties, don't have any solution, don't have an answer, don't have any idea which way to turn, when it's offered and can be experienced if they're just willing, in Jesus's name, amen.