Abstinence from food or drink (commonly known as fasting) has long been practiced within religious circles for millennia and is not exclusive to Christendom. Many biblical characters practiced fasting as documented in the Holy Writ but what are the benefits of fasting, how long should one fast and should we still practice it today? Jesus said, ‘when you fast’, not ‘if.’ This infers we are to make fasting a part of our Christian walk. On this broadcast Carl shares his intimate experiences with fasting and why you should consider periodic fasting on an ongoing basis. Join him now…
Here is a complete transcript of the podcast…(below)
“Friend, I’d like to talk today about fasting. To ‘fast’, is to refrain from food of all kinds and in some cases water, but I would never personally recommend that. I know some people aren’t too keen on the topic, so I hope to cover it really FAST… Sorry about that. The purpose of fasting is to dissipate the power of the flesh and so that we become more sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. As you fast, certain bad habits or strongholds can weaken, and your spirit man will rise up in strength. I sincerely believe in fasting and I have a personal affinity for it because it’s how I came to the Lord. Back in the last century I went on an extended juice fast for 28 days and during that time, I came to the saving knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is still the longest I’ve ever fasted at one time, although numerous times I’ve fasted for a day, 3 days, 7 days and even ten days every year. It’s a testimony I will share at another time, suffice to say, during that period it was as if I came to a deeper realization that there was more to life than just the attainment of riches and success.
In fact, by age 26 I had achieved what I had set out to do but was left with an unfulfilled void on the inside of me. It was at this juncture, and in desperation I turned to fasting and this decision led me on a collision course with Jesus himself, praise God! Let me read now from Matthew 17:14-21, “14 And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, 15 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. 16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. 17 Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. 18 And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour. 19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? 20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. 21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and ifasting.”
The problem was the ‘unbelief’ of the disciples, which prevented the spirit from being cast out, not a lack of power on their part. The comment of ‘prayer and fasting’ is mentioned in Mark’s account but not in Luke’s. Mark’s account also claims the child was deprived of the power of speech during his seizures, and in others, ‘foaming at the mouth’ and ‘the gnashing of teeth’. Clearly the child was in great distress and the Greek manuscripts indicate he ‘suffered terribly.’ The parents of this child were desperate for a solution and evidently Jesus very upset with his disciples, who were unable to provide one.
Now there are two ways to interpret this passage, evidently this ‘kind’ of demon (or particularly its strength) was one the disciples had never encountered before, because prior to this they were successfully practicing the expulsion of demons and healing the sick after they were commissioned to do so. The word, ‘kind’ in this passage is the Greek word genos. Vine’s Expository Dictionary declares that it means, “family, race, generation, kind or class.” Perhaps it was this ‘type’ or ‘kind’ of demon of ‘another class’ entirely, that was unable to come out except by the powerful combination of prayer AND fasting…or was it?
Another more pertinent interpretation could be, this ‘kind’ that Jesus was talking about, was the kind of unbelief, not the kind of demon in question. Recall that Jesus could do know mighty works in his hometown of Nazareth because of the unbelief of the people there. In other words, Here comes Jesus, I remember when he was in diapers, he’s not the Son of God, he’s one of us. There were hindered by their familiarity with Jesus growing up. Unbelief, in essence is looking at the circumstances and being overpowered by the situation rather than looking to God. Doubt is merely not knowing something. Unbelief is knowing but choosing not to believe. I don’t know if you’ve ever witnessed anyone having a seizure but it’s not a pleasant experience at all and I believe the more the disciples got to looking at the situation, the more and more their unbelief grew, and they were unable to do as Christ commanded.
Instead of patting the disciples on the back and letting them know how proud he was proud of them for just trying to cast out this demon, Jesus was however most upset and openly rebuked them for their unbelief. If you recall Jesus already gave the disciples power over unclean spirits way back in Matt 10, so Jesus had every right to be upset. Now Fasting down the ages has long been associated with mourning, afflictions, distress and sorrow. In this unique example, the term ‘lunatic‘ is derived from the root word ‘lunar’ and lunatic conveys the idea of the person being demented and prone to random seizures as a result of paroxysm. A demented person under this influence would likely start to lose the cognitive function of his body, as we have no doubt witnessed for ourselves when in proximity to those experiencing an epileptic seizure for example. Epilepsy in that time period was believed to be affected by the transcendent powers of the moon and its monthly cycles. In olden times, they would label the person having a seizure as ‘moonstruck.’
Hence on certain occasions, (possibly when the moon was full) the child in this passage, would be thrown into fire or water uncontrollably, likely with gnashing of the teeth and foaming at the mouth; hence the distraught father, seeking deliverance from the disciples. Of course, I am not saying that everyone today has a demon if they are prone to epileptic seizures, but we should not discount this scriptural passage either. Jesus said, ‘when you fast’ (Mt 6:16), not ‘if’ you fast, meaning it was something he practiced regularly on a personal level and likely expected his disciples to also, although he never explicitly commanded them to do so. The primitive church did set aside weekly fasting, but this was a tradition from Judaism and for no special reason.
Although Christ did not oppose fasting, he fiercely condemned the ostentatious fasting of the Pharisees which was hypocritical in the sense that its main aim, was to be lauded by men for their open expressions of piety as their onus was on the superficial ‘outside’ appearance of fasting, rather than the inside (the heart). While we are on the topic of extended fasts, there are only four men who fasted for forty days in the Bible, but we should certainly not use them as guidelines for fasting as these were unique cases:
- Moses (Deut 9:9, Deut 10:10).
- Joshua (Ex 24:13-18; Ex 32:15-17).
- Elijah (1st Kgs 19:7-18).
- Jesus (Matt 4:1-11; Luk 1:1-22).
Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights supposedly without food or water, just as Moses had done on Mt. Sinai—perhaps a near impossible human feat in each case; but God empowered each one to do so. In Jesus case, he was ministered to by angels after his ordeal. One needs to be very careful, as prolonged fasting brings on weakness in the body (Ps 109:24, 1 Sam 28:20) and several zealous men have even died trying to fast for excessive periods. It’s interesting to note that the other three examples of men, who fasted for forty days in addition to Jesus, were types and shadows of Jesus to come. Some people in sharp contrast, have made fasting a form of works, piety or badge of honor amongst their friends, to show how ‘spiritual’ they are but we must believe upon the name of Christ alone for effectively destroying the works of the devil, not by prolonged fasting (1 Jn 3:8).
Did you know Jesus never once condemned fasting and in this particular passage (Matt 17:14-21), this strong demonic entity could only be expelled apparently by the combination of both ‘prayer and fasting.’ Nowhere in the New Testament did Jesus initiate any kind of fast. In His commands to His disciples, Jesus never enjoined any fast to be kept. Paul did fast, but in all his letters to the Church, there is not a single reference telling the Church to fast. Although we do know, that fasting was practiced by the early Christians according to the law of their fathers (Acts 13:3, 14:23, 2 Cor 6:5). In Paul’s particular case he did express his own frequency of ‘fastings’ as ‘often,’ and lists them as one of his sufferings (2 Cor 11:27 and 2 Cor 6:5).
One could speculate these fasting’s were involuntary when you consider these hardships which no doubt occurred on his missionary journeys. A deeper word study of this term ‘fastings’ mentioned by the Apostle Paul comes from the Greek word ‘nestia.’ It does indeed refer to skipping or foregoing meals involuntarily in these passages. Paul and his team probably skipped meals many times, because there was no time to eat. The word ‘often’ is pollakis, and it means, ‘many times, often or frequently.’ The likelihood is that due to Paul’s altruistic focus on the Gospel and its dissemination; he chose to skip meals where he labored, to further the work of God. In addition, some of the early church Fathers like Polycarp, Origen and Tertullian spoke of fasting prior to water baptism, as a means to conquer temptation and in preparation for worship. I’d now like to share some key takeaways about fasting from the word of God:
- Fasting does not change God, it changes you. God is the same before, during and after your fast.
- It will help keep your flesh under and strengthens your spirit man. You can also become more sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit during a fast.
- Fasting is desirous in times when an answer is needed from the throne and there is an urgent situation that needs resolution.
- Fasting will NOT increase your faith, that comes by hearing God’s word, but it will help you hear guidance more clearly from the Holy Spirit.
- Fasting can dissipate unbelief in your life and switch your focus away from personal strongholds or hindrances, toward God.
- In all the Epistles, not one time is the Church told to fast nor is it even encouraged to fast.
In summary, we are not in the spiritual position that the disciples were, during the Gospel transitory period, as we have a far better covenant today and have been endued with power from on High (Acts 1:8, Acts 2:3-4). Regarding exorcism, the authority of Christ is enforced when we speak the ‘name that is above all names‘ (Eph 1:21, Phil 2:96) which is Jesus Christ and all demons must flee as a result, just as they did in the Book of Acts, without the need for fasting. Jesus said, “in my name they shall cast out devils.” If we are called upon to cast out a demon right after eating a Big Mac and fries, we should be just as confident of its expulsion because the power lies in ‘the name,’ not in our growling stomach! But remember, one of the purposes of fasting is to curtail any unbelief within us, so that when we give the command for some spiritual obstacle or hindrance in our life to depart from us, then our faith will not be impeded by unbelief.”
Related keyword searches: