God Rewards Sincere Fasting*

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By Rich Carmicheal

"But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matt. 6:17-18).

One of the main issues to the Lord regarding fasting is the attitude of the heart. Through the prophet Joel, the Lord declares, "Even now...return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments..." (Joel 2:12-13). The kind of fasting the Lord notes and responds to is that which is done with a broken and humble heart. Therefore, fasting is often done in the context of confession of sin, remorse over sin, and repentance from sin. If we continue on in sin, the Lord will not listen to our prayers, even if we fast (Jer. 14:12).


The need for a broken and humble heart is illustrated in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (see Luke 18:9-14). In this parable, Jesus teaches that even though the Pharisee fasts twice a week and tithes faithfully, God is not pleased with him because of his self-righteousness. On the other hand, the tax collector, who sought God’s mercy because of his sin, is justified before God because of his humility.

The Lord is also concerned about whether the focus of our fasting is ourselves or Him. For example, He instructs Zechariah to "Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for Me that you fasted?’" (Zech. 7:5). While we may have particular needs drawing us toward fasting, we must make certain that our focus is not upon ourselves, but upon the Lord, and His desires, purposes and ways (see also Isaiah 58).

The Lord Intervenes and Delivers Us

One of the ways the Lord responds to fasting is by coming to our rescue when we face desperate situations. A classic example of this is the story of when Jehoshaphat and the Israelites faced a vast army that would have certainly destroyed them if not for the Lord’s intervention. Alarmed by this terrible threat, "Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek Him" (2 Chron. 20:3-4). In the midst of this assembly, Jehoshaphat acknowledged their helplessness and their complete dependence upon the Lord: "For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You" (20:12). In response, the Lord miraculously intervened, fought the battle for them, and delivered them from their enemies.

The story of Esther also shows how the Lord works through fasting to deliver His people out of a seemingly impossible situation. When the Jews learned of Haman’s plot to annihilate them, they began to mourn greatly, "with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes" (Esther 4:3). When Mordecai sent word to Esther about the urgent need for her to intervene with the king about this, she knew that going before the king uninvited almost certainly meant death. However, she sent this word back to Mordecai, "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish" (4:15-16). Following this period of fasting, Esther approached the king, was welcomed by him, and through the series of events that followed, the Lord worked through Esther to deliver the Jews from their enemies.

The Lord Grants Protection

The account of Ezra illustrates how God also grants protection in response to fasting. As Ezra prepared to lead a group of God’s people and all their possessions on the dangerous journey from the Ahava Canal to Jerusalem, he shares that he "proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask Him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions" (Ezra 8:21). He could have asked the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect them, but instead trusted the Lord through fasting and prayer. In response, the Lord protected them from enemies and bandits (8:23, 31).

The Lord Gives Encouragement and Guidance

Another way the Lord responds to those who fast is that He gives encouragement and guidance. For example, in the case of Jehoshaphat and the Israelites mentioned above, in the midst of their fasting and seeking the Lord, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel, and he declared, "...This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. ...You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you’" (2 Chron. 20:14-17).

Consider also the guidance the Lord gave to the church in Antioch. It was while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting that the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them" (Acts 13:2).

The Lord Diverts or Delays Judgment

The Lord sent the prophet Jonah to the people of Nineveh to preach against their great wickedness, and to proclaim the impending destruction of the city. The people, however, believed God’s word toward them and "declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth" (Jonah 3:5). The king’s decree shows how seriously they responded to the Lord: "Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from His fierce anger so that we will not perish" (3:7-9). When the Lord saw their repentance, He "had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened" (3:10).

The Lord Gives Us Deeper Revelation of Himself

Perhaps the most significant benefit of fasting is that it helps turn our attention away from ourselves and toward the Lord. On the one hand, fasting humbles us and helps us express our awareness of how limited or helpless we are. On the other hand, fasting helps us focus on the Lord, including His nature, His character, His power and His resources.

Consider again the example of Jehoshaphat. In the midst of the fast, he turned the attention of the Israelites toward the Lord as he prayed, "O Lord, God of our fathers, are You not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in Your hand, and no one can withstand You. ...our eyes are upon You" (2 Chron. 20:6, 12). And after hearing the word of the Lord through Jahaziel, Jehoshaphat further encouraged the people that God could be trusted: "Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld..." (20:20). He then appointed men "to sing to the Lord and to praise Him for the splendor of His holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever’" (20:21).

This same truth was evident in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah when the people were also in great distress and "gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads" (Neh. 9:1). Notice how the Lord turned the people’s attention toward Him through this encouragement from the Levites: "Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. ‘Blessed be Your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship You...You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love...O our God, the great, mighty and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love, do not let all this hardship seem trifling in Your eyes...In all that has happened to us, You have been just; You have acted faithfully, while we did wrong...’" (see Neh. 9:1-37). While the Israelites certainly had reason for great distress because of their sin and hardship, they also had reason for great hope because of the Lord’s faithfulness, forgiveness and power. Fasting was one of the means that helped them get a bigger vision of Him.

Encouragement for Fasting

In the hour we are living in, the need for seeking the Lord through fasting seems as urgent as ever. We need a greater brokenness over sin and a greater revelation of the glory and power of God. We need His mercy, His forgiveness, His holiness, His healing, His Word, His guidance, His encouragement, His intervention, His victory, His blessing, His protection and His Presence. Jesus teaches us that our Heavenly Father rewards sincere fasting.

[Special Note: Those who consider fasting should take into account any medical conditions or other conditions that may prevent or limit their ability to fast.]

 

*God Rewards Sincere Fasting By Rich Carmicheal, from Herald of His Coming, used by permission:
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