Skip to main content

Fasting Study Guide

Jesus said, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).

A few weeks ago, our church joined together in a very unique way. Over 40 hours, more than 80 of our members and friends joined their hearts and souls in prayer out of love for Jesus and his church. Some prayed at home, some in our Sanctuary. It was a time of great unity, knowing so many PUMC folk were joining in a common purpose. I was so proud of our congregation over that last weekend of February.

Last Sunday, I issued a similar challenge to the church. We would join together again in a spiritual way, but using a different form of prayer: fasting. Many people missed church due to the snow last Sunday; if you are one of those, let me take a moment to recap the thoughts I shared on the ancient discipline of fasting:

* It was ancient when Jesus practiced it, meaning it is very, very old. In fact, almost every world religion in existence calls for fasting at one time or another.
* By far the majority of Christians who regularly fast are Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox. For the most part, Protestants, until very recently, did not fast. This is an ironic turn, because many of the leading reformers: John Calvin, Martin Luther, and yes, John Wesley, fasted regularly. In fact, Wesley fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays.
* Fasting acknowledges God as the center of our life, and Christ as our Lord. When we fast, our grumbling stomachs remind us that without God we would starve-- in fact, we would not exist at all.
* In our raging consumer culture (yes, even in the recession) we are driven to constantly feed ourselves in every way-- to consciously choose otherwise is thought to be foolish. But the truth is, the more we say 'no' to the demands of the culture the more we say 'yes' to God.

So as a means of uniting our congregation under the Lordship of Christ, I am asking all who are physically able to fast this Saturday evening, as a means of preparing ourselves spiritually for the beginning of Holy Week. Below is a study guide.

Fasting Study Guide
Individuals Fast as part of spiritual preparation and practice
Exodus 24:28 and Deuteronomy 9:9, 18: Moses receives the tablets of stone containing the 10 Commandments after fasting 40 days and 40 nights
Matthew 4:1-13: Jesus fasts 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness preparing for the beginning of his ministry. At his weakest point, he was tempted by Satan.
Acts 9:1-9: Saul (who would become the apostle Paul) fasts after his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.
Acts 13 & 14: Paul and Barnabus fast before being sent into the world by the original apostles.

Nations Fast as a unifying act
Esther 4: Queen Esther learns of a near-Holocaust campaign against the Jews. She calls the entire Jewish population to fast and pray for God to save them
Jonah 3: Jonah delivers God's message of coming destruction against the great city of Ninevah unless it repents. The king, who is not a Jew, calls for not only humans to fast, but animals too. God relents and does not strike out at the people.

Fasting as a call for justice for the poor and hungry
Isaiah 58:6-9

Fasting was a regular part of Jewish spirituality during Jesus' lifetime (Matthew 9:14; Luke 2:37), yet Jesus often criticized the religious leaders for outwardly fasting: "When you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others they are fasting...When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret..." (Matthew 6:16-17).

Quotations about fasting
A life that recognizes no limits cannot recognize the sovereignty of God."
-- Marjorie Thompson

God is always trying to fill our hands with good things, but our hands are too full to receive them.
-- St. Augustine

Ultimately to fast means only one thing-- to be hungry-- to go to the limit of that human condition which depends entirely on food and, being hungry, to discover that this dependency is not the whole truth about [us], that hunger itself is first of all a spiritual state and that it is in its last reality hunger for God."
-- Alexander Schmemann

Study Questions from Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson
What images are associated with fasting for you? What are your reactions to fasting as a spiritual discipline? What anxieties or reservations do you have?
Do you believe limits can be life-giving?
Do you think the motive behind your fast affects your experience of it?
What do you think about the connection between fasting, prayer, and worship?

FAQs and Tips:
# Check with your doctor if you have questions about skipping a meal. Women who are pregnant should not fast.
# Yes, water-- even fruit juices-- are acceptable. The goal is to go without solid food. If that is not possible for you, give up something else as a fast: something that grabs a little too much of your attention. TV. Your cell phone. Work.
# I encourage you, as a family or on your own, to record your insights during your fast in a journal. If you like, you are welcome to post your thoughts on my blog or the PUMC Facebook fanpage.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Famous Black Cat Band

This week my former high school band director, Mr Reinke, died. Mr Reinke is a legend in my hometown of Bay City. He was the leader of our Black Cat Band for many years. He was a fiery man, a perfectionist with extremely high standards. He was a gifted musician. He and I both played the trombone; one of us sounded like a goose being strangled. The other sounded like... well I can't think of a metaphor to properly describe Mr Reinke's horn. It was amazing. He would pull that thing out occasionally to show us how to properly play a part of a song and the sound was spellbinding. 
Mr Reinke was very innovative in his music selections. He had us playing the most random music, from popular stuff of the day by Michael Jackson to Also Sprach Zarathustra (popularly known as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. This song in particular was a great choice-- it's amazing, complicated; however, this was the late 1980s. The song was originally released…

Grief Is a Powerful Thing

"So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the Gospel of God but also our own selves." 1 Thessalonians 2:8
My first couple of Sundays at Grace, early in July, a couple of different people asked me this question immediately before worship: "How are you feeling?" My response: "Terrified." This was met with sort of shocked looks, then afterward the same person would say something like, "See that was ok." I've always been nervous before preaching-- the ramped up nerves help me to focus on my task and give me energy. But this seemed stronger. On Saturday nights my first couple of months at Grace I would hear an inner critic saying, "You're not prepared." "You're going to bomb today." Most Sundays he was wrong. A couple of sermons did bomb, but that happens. I decided to seek out a spiritual director to help me discern what was going on with me. I knew it was internal, but couldn…

a response to gideons international

last sunday prosper united methodist church welcomed representatives of the gideons to share about their ministry. how many times have you stayed in a hotel or visited someone in the hospital and found a gideons Bible there? and while no one can argue that reading the Bible is a bad thing, or that distributing Bibles to others in native languages is inherently harmful, i would like to offer some thoughts on the practices of the gideons, as they were described at church.

1. bravo to the gideons for distributing 73 million Bibles last year. however, most of the Bibles they sent were tiny new testaments with psalms. i am a Christian, and i love the words of the new testament. but those words have their foundation in the old testament, and to remove thousands of years of traditions and stories of God's powerful love and acts of salvation diminishes the power of the whole Bible. we must never forget that the old testament (or "first" testament or "hebrew Bible"…