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.