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– BEGIN TRANSCRIPT –
Welcome again to the Kingdom Hero Blogcast. I am your host, Stace Massengill. In this episode, I want to discuss the importance and the benefits of fasting. We’ll look at different ways to fast, how it isn’t just about abstaining from food, and also the relationship between fasting and prayer.
With all the social and political upheaval going on, why would I choose now to talk about the topic of prayer & fasting? Well, there IS some precedent – January is typically a month when many Christian churches will focus on fasting. It’s the beginning of a new year, so it’s a great time to remind ourselves of the biblical reasons for doing this. But also, the fact that there is indeed so much unrest afflicting our country and the world right now is precisely why we need all the more to turn our eyes and our hearts toward heaven and seek God. Prayer & fasting is of paramount importance to us in this present time.
So stick around, folks. There has probably never been a more pertinent moment in history to refocus ourselves on what’s truly important and on the One that we should turn to in this current hour. As always, I encourage your feedback. If you want to send me your comments on any given topic, please do so by going to the website – kingdomheroblog.com/contact [repeat] – or you can choose to leave a voice message at anchor.fm/kingdomhero/message [repeat]. For now, let’s hunker down and do this…
– Show Intro –
We’re going to be relying heavily on passages from Matthew 6, so if you’d like to get that handy, go ahead. But before we dive into the scriptures, let’s look at where we are currently here in the stuff happening in the USA, and hopefully we will see just how applicable the topic of Prayer & Fasting is right now.
Here we are, a week into 2021, and there is some major social and political unrest going on within our nation. There has been heated debate about the elections and the likelihood of fraud. The implications of that are frightening to some and angering to others. There is a distinct divide occurring and many political – as well as societal – issues that have been brewing for years. A great number of people seem to believe that these things are all rapidly coming to a head, and it’s thought by some that yet another revolution may be coming.
In light of all this, it seems to many of us as Christians that we are caught up in the midst of the most chaotic time of our lives – and perhaps, in our country’s history. Some of us, then, could be finding it difficult to know how we ought to respond to these turbulent times. If there are those of us who truly feel that our nation is slipping down a steep slope toward socialism, for instance, should we advocate for taking back our country at any cost? Do we hear the drumbeats of impending revolution and think a violent revolt is the answer against an oppressive and controlling deep state? Or do we struggle with the idea of sitting back and allowing this perceived evil takeover of America?
While we read in God’s Word that “the battle is the Lord’s” and tend to think that we Christians probably shouldn’t be trying to take matters into our own hands, how do we reconcile that with history? If the patriots of the 1700s hadn’t fought a revolutionary war against the oppressive British king and his army, we wouldn’t have a nation today. If we hadn’t fought a war against Hitler and the Axis powers in the 1940s, we might not have a country today either. There are times to stand firm and fight, right? But – at the same time – how do we know whether or not we’re facing one of those times in history?
The reality is that, in this current age, there is rampant disinformation being spread. Historically, this was always a tool used to influence people. But today, with the internet and all the modern ways anyone can influence anyone else‘s thinking, we need a lot of wisdom to discern who’s lying to us and who’s telling the truth. We need a standard that we can rely on. We need a perspective that transcends our own limited worldview. More than ever before, we cannot afford to lean on our own understanding. This, my friends, is why we have to turn to God – for His guidance, His wisdom, His perspective, and His understanding.
And that leads us to our topic of Prayer & Fasting. But we need to also come to a true understanding of what these concepts are really about. As we have learned before, our true enemy – satan – perverts and counterfeits everything of value. There’s not much I can think of that’s more valuable to a believer’s walk than prayer and fasting. We’ve discussed in the past the importance of prayer, but on this show I’d like to talk about how it relates to fasting. So, where do we start? Let’s go to the Bible and make sure that, when we engage in something as important to our walk as fasting, we are doing it in a manner that is right and thereby effective. We will soon see that, if it’s done the wrong way, it becomes useless to us.
We’ll get specifically into prayer and fasting in a bit, but Matthew 6 begins with a very poignant concept that is echoed throughout the chapter. Verse 1 says this:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
This verse speaks clearly about doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. And there are plenty of applications to that. The verses that follow talk about giving to the needy, for example. Obviously, supplying the needs of those in need is a good thing – it’s something that we definitely should do. But if I give to someone only to be seen doing it by others, hoping they we think highly of my generosity, that’s a prideful act of self-exaltation. We talked some about that in the last episode. If I’m giving for the purpose of my own glorification, there is nothing Godly in it. My actions wouldn’t be seen as faithful by God, and there is no heavenly reward for that.
It’s important to establish this upfront, before diving into prayer and fasting, because we must have a firm foundation to build on first. And from these first few verses of Matthew 6, we see that – not only are we to do right things for right reasons, but also – these things are between us and God. If others see us doing right, perhaps they will be inspired to do similarly – and that’s all well and good – but having others see our deeds should not be our motivation for doing them. Our motivation when helping others can’t be selfish or it’s counterproductive. Further, there are crucial parts of being a Christian that are meant to be between us and the Lord.
Moving on down through this chapter – and remember that this is Jesus who is doing the talking here – we see next where the Disciples are instructed in how to pray. Here we see the Lord’s prayer given as an example of how we ought to address God the Father with respect and praise, acknowledging His holiness and authority, bringing our petitions, and so on. While these verses illustrate the manner in which we should pray, we need to also keep it in the perspective established earlier. When talking to God, it is a conversation between us and Him. He should be our focus. Others hearing our prayer isn’t something that should enter into the equation. Prayer is a personal thing.
That leads us to the concept of fasting. The two things are deeply related. As we will see shortly, the act of fasting should help bring us into a closer and more focused communion with the Lord. And again, it is something that must be done in the right manner and with the correct motivation in order for it to be effective and beneficial for us.
– Break Transcript –
So far, we’ve learned that it’s not enough to do right things, but we need to do those right things for the right reasons. Now we come to fasting. What does the Bible say about how we ought to fast? Well, let’s look on down in Matthew 6, where we’ve been focusing today. In verses 16 through 18, we see once again see that our motivation plays a huge role. Much like the first 4 verses of the chapter told us that we shouldn’t give to the needy only to be seen doing it and be praised by our peers, this passage has Jesus dealing similarly with the concept of fasting. He says…
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.“
Now obviously, there were those then who were making a show of their fasting publicly. Jesus speaks of hypocrites who made themselves look all tired and weakened from their fasting so that it would generate the “awws” and pity and looks of admiration from those who saw their feigned devotion. This is similar to how some people today will post their good deeds or fake devotion on social media in order to be seen by their peers. They do it for the recognition and praises of others, seeking validation for their selflessness. But this is not how we should be. Again, fasting is a personal thing which is between you and God. The passage we just read tells us that, if we are only seeking accolades and the adulation of our peers, then that empty gratification is all the reward we will ever get. What is more desirable for us is to please our Father and gain His favor and His reward.
The theme which resonates throughout this chapter of Matthew is one that reminds us where our priorities should be. Rather than being self-seeking and prideful, desiring to be revered and praised by others, we should be seeking after God and His will and His righteousness. The rewards of this life on earth are often appealing to our flesh, but fasting is about denying the wants of the flesh in favor of renewing the spirit within us and drawing us closer to God.
So ask yourself, what are the things in this life that tend to distract you from spending time alone with God? What stuff, even if it isn’t bad in itself, can become a barrier to a deeper connection with the Father because that stuff seems to preoccupy so much of our time and focus? These are the things that we should regularly take time away from in order to refocus on communing with the Lord. That’s the heart of fasting.
We tend to think of fasting as being about food, and it certainly can include that. But food isn’t the only area in which we can fast. Watching TV shows and spending vast amounts of time on social media can become addictive distractions that get in the way of a closer walk with God. There are plenty of things that we could cut out of our daily routine that would clear up more time to devote to seeking God’s face. And it’s good for us to recognized what those things are and to make changes accordingly. But there is a unique relationship between our food intake and our spiritual well-being to consider.
Often times, we turn to food for the wrong reasons. Eating when you’re hungry or in need of nourishment is one thing, but many people have real issues with eating food in an attempt to cure emotional needs or to calm anxieties. Sometimes, we just eat food because it’s there. I often have the bad habit of eating a snack simply because I’m watching a game or something on TV, and the two things just seem to go together. But it’s the act of consuming food that gives us a sense of satisfaction. Not just a physical satisfaction, but an emotional or psychological one. And yes, the satisfaction of food can become our substitute for doing things that would be much more beneficial to us, like exercise. Ah, but exercise is a discipline. Well, guess what? So is fasting.
The act of fasting from food doesn’t merely deprive us of sustenance. No, it refocuses us to lean on a spiritual sustenance. This denial of the flesh for the sake of the spirit puts us in a place where our reliance upon God is again in the forefront of our minds. It tends to bring us into an attitude which is more conducive to hearing from God, as well. The spiritual benefits of this go far beyond the physical benefits of consuming food. It helps us realize our need to consume the Word of God, as well as our need of Him in general.
Granted, there are health reasons why abstaining from food might be problematic for some people. In those cases, there are still ways to fast. Perhaps abstaining from one meal, or cutting back meals to a light but healthy snack, or any number of other methods. The point is to commit to an act that refocuses our minds and spirits on God and devoting time to Him in prayer and meditation on His Word. In some way or another, anyone can fast. And we must discipline ourselves to do it for the benefit of our spiritual connection to the Lord. It’s not to be seen suffering through the process for the sake of getting a pat on the back from others, but rather it is a deep personal act of devotion between you and God.
– Break Transcript –
Our discussion about prayer and fasting has greatly been about how these are things that are between us and God. They’re not for the recognition of others. They’re not about getting noticed. And as we’ve moved through this passage in Matthew 6, we have seen a central theme of doing these things for the right reasons – that we should be seeking a heavenly reward from the Father rather than an earthly reward from our peers. Moving further in this chapter, we see Jesus drives this point home. In verses 19 through 21, He says…
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The treasures of this world, as stated earlier, can seem desirable to us. But we just learned when talking about fasting that it is preferable to discipline our flesh in favor of aligning our spirit to be in tune with the Holy Spirit. These verses suggest that what a person desires reflects the condition of his/her heart. If I desire the praise and admiration of man, that’s where my heart lies. That’s my treasure. But the treasures of this world are subject to the elements of this world. They are fleeting. They can decay or be destroyed. They can be taken.
If I do something to be noticed by men, someone else can do something to take that attention away. But when I focus on pleasing God and doing His will, nothing can diminish the reward He has waiting for me in heaven. And God isn’t fickle like man is. He’s not gonna reduce my heavenly treasure just because someone else pleases Him, too. It’s not a competition with God like it is with man. And He has plenty to go around. He has the vast riches of heaven to generously bestow upon His children. And He wants bless us.
But there’s another aspect to this which bears mentioning. The attitude of the heart that we just touched on holds a deeper truth. Jesus talks about this in verse 24…
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Now He mentions money here, and we usually think of this scripture solely from the vantage point of money being the big bad of this scenario. But I tend to believe Jesus was using money as one example of what was really the main thrust of this passage. We can’t serve two masters. God is who we should serve. No one and nothing else. Not money, not material things, not the treasures of this world, and not ourselves. This goes back to doing right things for wrong reasons. Whether it’s giving to the needy or fasting or whatever, when we make a public show of it to gain the accolades of other people, then our motives are purely self-serving. That means we are placing our own desires above God’s will and trying to be masters of our own lives. But if we’re serving ourselves, we are not serving God. We can’t serve both.
Finally, let’s bring all this home. How does everything we’ve talked about here in Matthew 6 apply to our lives today in light of all the civil unrest we see going on around us? We can lose our focus easily when we see high-level corruption in our government. We can quickly become preoccupied with all the rioting and division and talk of oppressive government lockdowns and overhyped viruses. All the stuff happening today can make your blood boil and make you question everything. Where should we stand on the issues? How far should we go in the name of preserving our nation? Dear God in heaven, what do I DO!?!
There’s an answer for that in the closing verses of this chapter. We read in verses 25 through 27, Jesus says…
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
Now, I’m no stranger to anxiety. And I know that there is plenty going on in our country and our world today that can cause us to be anxious. But Jesus tells us plainly here that anxiety serves no purpose. It doesn’t make things better, only worse. If our focus is on everything bad happening, we can’t see any of the good, and we’ll be distracted from doing the things that we ought.
You might say, “Yeah, but what about the corruption and election stealing and the threat of rising socialism?” And while I may think there are some very real and looming issues to be dealt with, I also have to believe this: If the time comes when revolution is the only recourse we have for preserving our nation, surely it will be obvious and no questions about it will remain. But in this moment, I must trust that God is still at work, and His will cannot be thwarted. All these worries and concerns which seem so big to us are minuscule to Him. Instead of worrying, the words of Jesus in verses 33 and 34 say…
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, clothing, and even security] will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Again, this is all about refocusing ourselves on the right things. He tells us to seek after the kingdom of God FIRST. The kingdoms of this world rise and fall. It has been that way throughout history. And while it may be a cause for some concern to us, our focus should be on the things of God first and foremost. We have to trust that God will take care of the things that we cannot. But that’s hard for us to do when we don’t know what’s coming next or how God plans to work things out. How do we get some peace here and now? How can we lay aside all these worries we have and just trust in God? The answer to that lies within allowing ourselves to become more in tune with the heart and Spirit of God. How do we do that? Through prayer, through fasting, and through communion one-on-one with Him.
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