I have been reading and reflecting on Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians in preparation for a new preaching series starting next month. In doing so a few things have jumped at me that I thought worth writing about, for examples crowns.
Whenever I think about crowns I immediately think of a royal crown. However, that is not what came to mind when Paul, or his initial readers came across the word crown. They would have thought of the laurel crown given to the winning athlete at the games. This is obvious in both 1 Corinthians 9v25 and 2 Timothy 2v5 where the laurel crown is specifically mentioned but is the case whenever crown is used. A crown in the ancient world was not a status you achieved but something you competed for.
This would have been what Paul meant when he says the following,
1 Thessaolians 2
18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way.19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.
Paul glories in the prize that he has competed to win, the crown given to him for winning the race. What is the crown? The members of the church in Thessalonica.
He says a similar thing about the church in Philippi,
Philippians 4 v1
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
Paul has been competing for them, the members of churches in Philippi and Thessalonica, he has won the race and they are the reward he has received.
This is powerful imagery from me as a church leader, but I think it works for all of us. All of us should be focusing on winning the race, being crowned at the end of our race. The crown we are looking to receive is healthy, vibrant, loving, faith filled Christians and churches.
Groaning comes naturally to us all. There always seems to be something to complain about, something that causes us to groan. Mostly it is things we look back to longingly. With the current impact of the pandemic our natural predisposition to groan is magnified.
We groan because things are not like they were. We groan that we cannot meet up with people like we used to; travel freely like we used to; live the lives we used to live.
As we get older, we groan because we can’t bend as we used to, remember things as we used to. We groan because things are not as good as they were, we long for the good old days. As is often said youth is wasted on the young.
Groaning is not a bad thing. It is part of what it means to be human. It is also part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. It is a consequence of being filled with the Spirit! However Christian groaning is different from much of our natural groaning. We do not groan looking backwards but forwards. We do not groan because things are not like they used to be but because they are not like they will be. Christian groaning is even a type of Spirit inspired prayer as we long for the future to burst into the present!
As Paul says in Romans 8.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies………..
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
May we cultivate healthy groaning as we long for the future rather than the past.
Sometimes this includes a physical journey, but more often than not it is the spiritual journey that has significance and is life changing. Love for the Family has been no exception.
As I read the words from Matthew 12 verse 7 again today ..
‘If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.’ I was reminded of Gods forgiveness and the call upon my life to love God, to love justice and mercy, to not judge and to love my neighbour as myself (Isaiah 61). I felt again the love of God for those that are hurting and in pain due to circumstances that can seem overwhelming: for those faced with an unexpected pregnancy and are unsure what to do or how they will cope: the physical and emotional pain, loss, confusion and unfulfilled dreams when a baby dies, and the haunting ‘what if’s?’ of those that have made the choice to end a pregnancy.
This journey of mine has involved repentance, training, patience, confusion, anger, sorrow, questions, renewed passion and much prayer. It has led me to a deeper understanding of the love of God for me, for the lost and broken, and for Gods Church. I have connected with the overwhelming passion of the Father in the story fo the prodigal son: the father who runs to the unrepentant son, covers his shame and his distress and restores his honour before the community. That is the God that I know and the God that I worship. That was Jesus on the cross, that is my call and the reason I live. I thank God for pouring out undeserving grace on my life and for revealing that grace to me.
Love For The Family has applied for Charity status and is looking to expand and grow in its areas of work. ( Unplanned pregnancy, baby loss, post abortion recovery and Love Baby Essentials.) It has three underpinning values:
Approachability. (Everyone is welcomed)
Empowering. (Enabling others to make decisions)
Grace. (Caring for others with the unconditional love of God.)
If you would like to hear more about my journey, have questions about Love For The Family, or feel that God may be calling you to walk alongside women/ men or families in this way, then do come along to our Vision and Values evening on Thursday 22nd April, 8pm on zoom. Contact email@example.com or 07516001924 for zoom details.
If you would like to partner with us in prayer and receive regular updates please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Are there any people who should not consider fasting?
Those who are physically unwell, have a long-standing medical condition, are pregnant or know of any other physical reasons why they shouldn’t be fasting.
What constitutes ‘food’?
Anything of nutritional value whether it is a solid or a liquid.
How can I use my time most wisely whilst fasting?
Plan well before you fast and have some clear prayer objectives.
Seek to remove as many, if not all, distractions.
If you are working whilst fasting plan times during your day when you will be able to stop work to pray, for example at mealtimes.
You will require more rest than normal so exercise wisdom in planning when you can rest. Decide your level of activity accordingly.
Keep yourself well hydrated. You will need to drink almost double the amount of water you normally would.
If you are fasting corporately with a small group or your church make sure that you stay connected for support, encouragement and accountability.
Benefits of Christian fasting
The fasting that God blesses is not a declaration of our own strength, but an expression of our desire for intimacy with Him and our dependence upon Him. Genuine and authentic Christian fasting can only come from a heart that God himself gives us (Philippians 2:12-13) and a strength that He supplies (1 Peter 4:11).
Fasting comes alongside our prayer as a companion to bring about a heightened sense of earnestness and expectation of breakthrough. Fasting is a special measure that is an interruption of normal life. It is a time for unusual prayer that shows God that we want to enjoy Him for who he is, not for the gifts that He gives us.
More of God Himself
For the believer the ultimate purpose of fasting is God himself. More important than earthly guidance, protection, deliverance and provision is our immediate and eternal rejoicing in him, and knowing that He in himself is enough.
Fasting reminds us that God is himself the Great Feast: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1).
God satisfies us more than the best of foods and quenches our thirst more than the purest water “eat what is good” and we “delight [our]selves in rich food” (Isaiah 55:2)
When we fast our stomach aches remind us that Jesus is our best and most satisfying food, not our daily bread. Jesus is the truest drink, not our typical beverage.
Christian fasting is not concerned with what we go without, but who we want more of.
What do you do when you’ve exhausted all your options, when you believe God wants to bring breakthrough, but you can’t see how it will come about. We can and will continue to cry out to God in prayer but we can also begin wielding our weapon of fasting. In this instalment I want us to consider why we fast. Why should we fast?
The purpose of (Christian) fasting
Fasting is fashionable in many quarters today — which means Christians need to be all the more careful to take our cues on this from Jesus, and not popular culture. Just a generation ago, numbers were claiming that fasting is bad for your health. Now it’s flipped. Today, more and more dieticians are preaching, “When done correctly, fasting can have beneficial physical effects” (Celebration of Discipline, 48). But what’s the difference between fashionable fasting and Christian fasting?
The key difference is Christian purpose. We could say Spiritual purpose — with a capital S for the Holy Spirit. Not just spiritual as opposed to material, but Spiritual as opposed to natural. For Christians, an essential, irreducible aspect of Christian fasting is a Christian purpose. Whether it’s strengthening earnest prayer (Ezra 8:23, Joel 2:12, Acts 13:3). Or seeking God’s guidance (Judges 20:26, Acts 14:23) or his deliverance or protection (2 Chronicles 20:3-4, Ezra 8:21-23). Or humbling ourselves before him (1 Kings 21:27-29, Psalm 35:13). Or expressing repentance (1 Samuel 7:6, Jonah 3:5-8) or grief (1 Samuel 31:13, 2 Samuel 1:11-12). Or concern for his work (Nehemiah 1:3-4, Daniel 9:3 ). Or overcoming temptation and dedicating ourselves to him (Matthew 4:1-11). Or best of all, expressing love and devotion to him (Luke 2:37), and saying with our fast, “This much, O God, I want more of you.”
Without a Spiritual purpose, it’s not Christian fasting. It’s just going hungry.
The Bible lists a variety of reasons for engaging in a fast:
To strengthen prayer (seeEzra 8:23)
Numerous incidents in the Old Testament connect fasting to prayer. Fasting does not change whether God hears our prayers, but it can change our praying. As Arthur Wallis says, “Fasting is calculated to bring a note of urgency and importunity into our praying, and to give force to our pleading in the court of heaven.”
To seek God’s guidance (seeJudges 20:26 )
As with prayer, fasting to seek God’s guidance isn’t done to change God, but to make us more receptive to his guidance.
To express grief (see 1 Samuel 31:13)
Expressing grief is one of the primary reasons for fasting. Ever notice that when you’re moved to tears by grief you lose the urge to eat? When we grieve, our family/friends often have to plead with us to eat because our body’s response to grief is to fast. An example occurs in 2 Samuel 1:12 where David and his men are described as having “mourned and wept and fasted till evening” for their friends, their enemies and their nation.
To seek deliverance or protection (see 2 Chronicles 20:3-4)
Another common reason for fasting in the Old Testament was to seek deliverance from enemies or circumstances and is generally carried out with other believers.
To express repentance and a return to God (see 1 Samuel 7:6)
This type of fasting helps us to express grief over our sins and shows our seriousness about returning to the path of Godly obedience.
To humble oneself before God (see1 Kings 21:27-29)
“Remember that fasting itself is not humility before God,” reminds Donald Whitney, “but should be an expression of humility”
To express concern for the work of God (see Nehemiah 1:3-4)
As with Nehemiah, fasting can be a sign of our concern over a work God is doing.
To minister to the needs of others (see Isaiah 58:3-7)
We can use time we’d normally spend eating to fast and minister to others.
To overcome temptation and dedicate yourself to God (seeMatthew 4:1-11)
Fasting can help us focus when we are struggling with particular temptations.
To express love and worship for God (seeLuke 2:37)
Fasting can show, as John Piper says, that “what we hunger for most, we worship.”
Fasting is grace fuelled discipline – not a command. (Matt 6:16)
The purpose isn’t to….. Earn God’s love (futility)
Impress God (legalism)
Impress people (hypocrisy)
Conclusion: Fasting was never intended to be a religious exercise that will somehow enable us to accrue more, “brownie points with God”, nor is it supposed to be an outward show of spiritual piety that lets other people know, “just how spiritual we are”. Rather it’s a voluntary (not commanded) spiritual discipline that God will bless when our motives for doing so are first and foremost to pursue and hunger after God himself.
Definition: Fasting is not an exclusively Christian practice. It plays an important part in most of the world’s religions e.g. Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism etc… There can also be legitimate non-religious reasons why people fast. i.e. on medical grounds, dieting (some weight loss plans incorporate a form of fasting). Put simply, fasting is the discipline/practice of going without food for a period of time. It could last for many days, one day (this would be more typical), or a shorter portion of time within the course of a day.
Let us look at fasting from a Christian perspective.
What does fasting mean for a Christian?
It is a grace of God which allows His people to respond to His provision and kindness by humbling themselves before Him. In practice, fasting normally means going without food for the sake of seeking God, either personally or as a group. In the Bible, this most often means eating nothing and only drinking water for a period of time. Some Scriptural examples exist of partial fasting through dietary adjustment (such as Daniel 10:3) but that is not normative. In Scripture, fasting is often accompanied by mourning a lack or loss and undertaken in hope of God moving powerfully to bless His people, and achieve His work by accomplishing breakthrough for his people .
What does the Old Testament say about fasting?
Fasting is mentioned over 70 times throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, there were two types of fasting: public and private. Public fasts were accompanied by prayer, supplication, and sackcloth, while private fasts were seen as expressions of repentance . Below are some examples of fasting in the old testament and there are many more to be found.
Moses fasted before receiving the Ten Commandments
“So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” Exodus 34:28
Moses fasted for 40 days and forty nights, without food and water Scripture says. It’s not possible for humans to survive that long without food or water. Here, we witness a supernatural fast in the pages of Scripture. Only God could sustain Moses for that long without substance. At the end of the fast, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.
Daniel fasted and prayed to understand a vision
“I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.” Daniel 10:3 ESV
This particular fast is in response to a vision Daniel had, but this is not the first time that Scripture records Daniel fasting. Daniel 1:8 reads, “But Daniel resolved he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.” The food and drink the king’s court was consuming violated the laws God’s people followed, and so David denied himself in obedience to the Lord. For Daniel, fasting preceded revelation in regard to his vision as to what would happen to God’s people in the future.
David fasted in mourning the loss of his son and best friend
“And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.” 2 Samuel 1:12, ESV
It’s common to find fasting, especially in the Old Testament, as an expression of grief and sadness. Though King Saul had chased David viciously, the king’s son Jonathan and David were best of friends. Later in David’s life, he also mourned the loss of his own son. “David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died” (2 Samuel 12:15-18 ESV).
According to the NIV Study Bible, his servants were afraid to tell David his son had died, fearing his reaction. If the child in fact was only seven days old, he was not even named or circumcised yet, and so not counted among the Israelites.
What did Jesus say about fasting?
Jesus made some key references to fasting in his teaching to his followers. In Matthew 6:16-17 Jesus is teaching on the futility of making a holy spectacle of things that should be done for God; specifically giving money, praying and fasting. In this statement a couple of things are interesting.
Firstly, Jesus mentions fasting in the same breath as two other important Christian disciplines, praying and financial giving.
Secondly, He says ‘when’ you do these things and not ‘if’, which tells us that fasting is just assumed as normal for (and expected of) a Christian in the same way as prayer and giving.
It is worth noting that, even though Jesus assumes that the spiritual discipline of fasting will be a normal part of the believers life, he does not issue it as a command. We ought to remember therefore that the discipline of fasting, whether practiced individually or corporately as a church, should be a response of love to the God of grace who has already saved us in Christ. Let us examine our motives before we embark on a fast to ensure that we don’t do it with a religious spirit or out of a sense of legalistic duty, but rather that it is an overspill of our love for the God who already has accepted us freely in Christ.
What are the different types of fasting in scripture?
The Bible mentions three kinds of fasts:
Regular/Normal : – abstaining from all food and drink except for water
Partial/Daniel fast :- abstaining from meat, sweets, bread or you can only eat bread.
Absolute fast:- going without all food and drink including water.
1.The regular fast
The regular fast is done by abstaining from all food, both solid and liquid, except for water. This is the type of fasting Judah’s King Jehoshaphat called for when his country was confronted with invasion (2 Chronicles 20:3). The Lord defeated their enemies, and the men of Judah blessed the Lord (2 Chronicles 20:24–27). After the Babylonian captivity, the people returning to Jerusalem prayed and fasted, asking God for His protection on their journey (Ezra 8:21). The Lord Jesus fasted during His forty days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan (Luke 4:2). When Jesus was hungry, Satan tempted Him to turn the stones into bread, to which Jesus replied, “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4).
2.The partial/Daniel fast
The prophet Daniel spent three weeks fasting from certain foods. In Daniel 10, the prophet says, “I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over” (Daniel 10:2–3). Note that Daniel’s fast to express his grief on this occasion only omitted “choice” food, and it also involved relinquishing the use of oils and “lotions” for refreshment. Today, many Christians follow this example and abstain from certain foods or activities for a short time, looking to the Lord for their comfort and strength.
3.The absolute fast
Also mentioned in the Bible is the absolute fast, or the full fast, where no food or water is consumed. When Esther discovered the plan for all the Jews to be killed in Persia, she and her fellow Jews fasted from food and water for three days before she entered the king’s courts to ask for his mercy (Esther 4:16). Another example of an absolute fast is found in the story of Saul’s conversion. The murderous Saul encountered Jesus in His glory on the road to Damascus. “For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything” (Acts 9:9). Immediately following that time of blindness and fasting, Saul dedicated his life to preaching Jesus Christ.
Note: I would not recommend that anyone pursue an absolute fast for any more than part of a day (certainly no more than 24hrs ) and only after you have sought advice from a doctor.