Disciple = Discipline

Pastor Jeff Struecker

I want to talk about fasting and I want you to hear right out of the gate that the undisciplined life will be your undoing.

 

When we start to talk about fasting, would you please eliminate the distractions? I need you to focus because this sermon is actually dangerous to your soul if you don’t hear what I’m going to say.

 

If there’s some big stuff that’s going on in your life and you’re thinking about that, would you ask the holy spirit to help you focus right now because I need you to understand people have got this spiritual concept wrong for over centuries. Sometimes people treat the topic of fasting like they’re doing something for God. “I just did something and sacrificed for you, God, you owe me,  so you go to answer my prayers” – that’s a dangerous way of approaching fasting.

It’s the way that Jesus describes in Luke 18 when he says that this super-spiritual hypocrite goes to the temple and says God I fast twice a week, so you owe me. And Jesus says that guy goes home without his prayers being heard, but this simple humble sinner who can’t even lift his head up to heaven, says God forgive me. And Jesus says those are the prayers that God hears. 

There are also the people that distort fasting and denominations, whole churches do this, they treat food like it’s evil, and use it to bring some discipline in your life, but they basically treat it like you should avoid it as much as you’re able to.

I Timothy chapter 4 talks about false preachers, it says, fasting can be really dangerous to your soul if you do it wrong. But let’s just be honest, maybe the only other thing that can be more dangerous to our soul here in the West, living in the land of milk and honey is a life that never sacrifices, never gives up anything. Maybe it’s not so much having to give up something, it’s the everyday numbing of ourselves with what this land has to offer that does even more danger to our soul. And pretty soon our soul will start looking at something other than Jesus. And it doesn’t matter what it is. Looking at something other than Jesus even if it’s a good thing, will do danger to your soul. That’s why my very first words right out of the gate is an undisciplined life can become our undoing. 

Every disciple should also be disciplined, the exact same root word, do you know? The Latin root word for discipline is the exact same root word for disciple, it’s the word pupil, it’s the word student, follower and a student or a follower of Jesus should be living a self-disciplined life. 

If you’re not living a disciplined life, it says something about your relationship with Jesus. It says something about the kind of disciple that you are now. I’ve been preaching for decades and I don’t think I’ve ever done an entire sermon on fasting. I did a lot of work and a lot of preparation just to make sure that I understood what the Bible has to say about this topic.

We are going to try to answer the question, what is fasting and why do people fast and how should we fast? And by the time that we get done with this sermon, I’m going to ask you if you will join 2 Cities Church in a 21-day fast starting today.

Disciple = Discipline

 

A lot of what you’re going to hear from me comes from a book called a Hunger for God by pastor and author John Piper. The basic essence of that book says that “what you hunger for most you worship”. What John Piper is saying is anything that you hunger for becomes more desirable for you. And let’s just be honest, it can even be good stuff. But the Bible says this in Philippians, chapter 3, that sometimes people have been tempted and led astray because of some good things. The Bible describes this as people who chase after food like a false idol. Their god is their stomach. The Bible literally says their end is destruction because food has become a false god to them.

 

When you fast.

So the essence of everything you’re going to hear from me today comes from Jesus’ three words and it’s just assumptions about Christians. 

Matthew chapter 6, starting in verse 16, describes Jesus’s own words, what it looks like when Christians fast. Whenever you fast, don’t do it like this, don’t be gloomy, like the hypocrites. 

Now you already know the word hypocrite means you’re acting one way on the outside. But let’s just be honest on the inside, your heart is very different. You’re acting all pure, you’re acting all holy on the outside, but on the inside, you’re not nearly as pure and nearly as holy as you’re pretending to be. That’s hypocrisy whenever you fast, don’t be gloomy, like the hypocrites for they make their faces unattractive so that their fasting is obvious to people. Like everybody notices that brother is suffering right now and Jesus says truly, I tell you they have their reward. If you’re doing this to get other people’s attention when you get their attention, you’ve got your reward. Not so with Christians look two times in three verses, but when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face so that your fasting isn’t obvious to others, but to your Father who is in secret and your Father who sees in secret, we will reward you. 


Matthew 6: 16-18

“Whenever you fast, don’t be gloomy like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so that their fasting is obvious to people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting isn’t obvious to others but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

That’s the kind of fasting that Jesus is describing for us. That’s the kind of fasting that Jesus wants from us. We’re not doing it for spiritual reasons to get other people’s applause. We’re not doing it to try to convince God or try to blackmail God into answering our prayers. We’re doing it as a spiritual discipline. Fasting is a way of depriving ourselves for a little bit to remind ourselves of our dependence on God and desiring anything. Any, even a good thing can quickly get out of balance if the thing that you are desiring becomes too much and it starts to replace a desire for God. 

You see in our society, Christians will sometimes develop an unhealthy relationship with food and they start to look to food to do something in their soul that food was never designed to do for you. They’ll start to develop this unhealthy relationship. It’s always been a habit of God-fearing people too fast. 

Did you know that back in the old testament, Christians would fast typically twice a week, they would usually do it on Mondays and Thursdays and that’s why when Jesus is describing this hypocrite in Luke 18, the hypocrite is praying, “God, I need you to hear my prayers because I’m fasting twice a week”. And Jesus says you just got all that you’re asking for when you showed other people how much you are depriving yourself. If that’s all you were looking for, you just got what you were looking for by the time that you get to Christianity. 

In the new testament, Christians believed they are still supposed to fast but don’t do it just like they did it in the old testament. So they changed the dates that they would fast and typically early Christianity would fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, Wednesday because it was the anniversary of the day that Judas betrayed Jesus. Friday because it was the anniversary of the date of Jesus’ crucifixion and they would willingly sacrifice or suffer a little bit to remind themselves of the suffering of their savior. 

Fasting is our way of putting things into perspective and reminding us of our dependence on God. 

Now there is great danger in our relationship with food and I try to describe it for you like driving down a dangerous mountain pass and a very narrow road. You see if you go too much onto one side of the road. If you’re not careful, you’re going to fall into the ditch of what I like to refer to as self-indulgence, it’s when you’re looking for food to satisfy you. When you’re looking for food to serve as more than it’s ever supposed to be, that’s one danger. But sometimes we can overcompensate steer all the way to the other side of the road, go into the other side of the ditch and the other side of the ditch is not self-indulgence. The other side of the ditch is self-denial. Where we say that food is bad and I need to try to not look to food for good. 

Either one of those ditches is dangerous for us so fasting is designed to put us right in the middle of the road and it’s what I am referring to today is like how the Holy Spirit inspired self-discipline of saying, “Hey, I’m giving something up, willingly, giving something up to focus on my relationship with Jesus for just a little bit.” 

I need to remind you that when we start talking about food, the same God that created the human body that needs food to survive. Also said, “man should not live by bread alone”.

What I’m asking us today is to guard our soul to make sure that we don’t get so comfortable with comfort food that it starts to try to become the thing that we use to satisfy our soul because food cannot do that for us.


Prayer with fasting.

 

Listen, you can pray without fasting. But by the time you get to Jesus’ resurrection and return back to heaven when the Christians of the new testament are fasting, it’s always fasting and prayer. You can pray without fasting. But by the time you get to the church age in the bible, you really can’t fast without praying. 

I want to show you from the Book of Acts. This startling connection between the word fasting and the word worship really describes why would we do this as Christians, why would we give up food or something very specific and very significant in our lives? Why would we do that?

Acts describes in chapter 13, it says as they were worshiping the Lord and fasting. The Holy Spirit said, set apart for me, Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them and after the church had fasted and prayed, they laid hands on these two brothers, Barnabas and Saul and they sent them off. 

Acts 13:2-3

As they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.

Fasting is an act of worship. And worship has something to do with fasting and fasting has something to do with worship because in the old testament, when I read the word fast, it’s almost always associated with grieving or mourning or sadness. But by the time you get to the Book of Acts, it’s no longer about sadness. It’s about an act of prayer to the Lord our God. 

I want you to think about it this way, ladies, what kind of a relationship would you have with your husband? Prayer is simply talking to God your father. 

What kind of relationship would you have with your husband if you never spend any time talking with him? How would that marriage be months or years later? Prayer is just are communicating with our creator. But fasting is a way of sacrificing a little bit and now guys, what kind of relationship would you have as a husband? If you never sacrifice? Never gave up a little bit of your personal gain or your personal good for the sake of your family. What kind of marriage? What kind of relationship would you have? Prayer is us communicating with God.

Fasting is our way of self-sacrifice or self-discipline to remind us of how much we need God to remind us how dependent we are to him.

When the stomach corrects the heart.

 

The new testament describes fasting as grabbing or grasping something. I hope you’ve just made the connection, giving up food, releasing some food in my life, helps me to grab hold of Jesus.

How do we do this? And the answer to this comes from the old testament more vividly than anywhere else in the Bible. God is going to describe for his people, Israel, what it looks like when their heart and their stomach are not in alignment with each other. Basically, He’s saying, you need to get the heart right before that fast is going to be acceptable to me or maybe what you need to do is let your stomach correct how far apart your heart is. 


Isaiah 58: 3-7

“Why have we fasted, but you have not seen? We have denied ourselves, but you haven’t noticed!” “Look, you do as you please on the day of your fast, and oppress all your workers. You fast with contention and strife to strike viciously with your fist. You cannot fast as you do today, hoping to make your voice heard on high. Will the fast I choose be like this: A day for a person to deny himself, to bow his head like a reed, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast and a day acceptable to the Lord? Isn’t this the fast I choose: To break the chains of wickedness, to untie the ropes of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to tear off every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and not to ignore your own flesh and blood?

The hypocrites that Jesus may have been thinking about in Luke chapter 18. Isaiah 58 describes them in vivid detail. Look at verses 3 and following and this is God speaking to his own people about fasting, they say to God we fasted, but you have not seen we have denied ourselves, but you haven’t noticed this is specifically talking about prayer. God, we gave up some food we prayed for, but it doesn’t sound like you’re even listening to our prayers. Look, at God’s response. Look, do as you please. On the day of the fast and a press all of your workers, you fast with contention and strife to strike viciously with your fist. Now God is going to vividly describe what’s wrong in their heart, not their stomach. You cannot fast as you do today, hoping to make your voice heard on high. You think that because you’re fasting, your prayers are going to get heard by me. Well, they’re not and it’s not a problem of the stomach. It’s a problem of the heart. But let me show you the fast that I choose. The fast that I choose is to break the chains of the wickedness to untie the ropes of the yoke to set the oppressed free and to tear off every yoke. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and to bring the poor and homeless into your house. 

He didn’t say, hand him some food on a street corner, he said, to invite the hungry and the homeless into your house and to clothe the naked when you see him and not to ignore your own flesh and blood. This is what I expect in your heart while your stomach is going without food and until your heart starts to get pure, it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing with your stomach. Depriving ourselves and we’re depriving ourselves to remind ourselves that every good gift comes from God and without him, I am hopeless and helpless, but I’m not going to let the gift become more important than the gift giver. 

And so I can’t let food become my God and my stomach and idle because the bible says, the end for that person is destruction. Jesus also says if you’re not careful, this religious ritual that you do will just become a religious ritual with no meaning whatsoever, and you’ll get your own reward for it. Because what you’re doing is you’re trying to impress other people. Get your heart right, and let the act of fasting become something that focuses on your relationship with God. 

The most powerful temptations in your life are usually not the great evils out there. The most powerful temptations in your life come one morsel at a time, and we start to look to those good things and they start to become more important than they should be. And then the good things start to numb our hunger for Jesus. When that good thing starts to numb your hunger for Jesus, we’ve got a problem because the good thing has now started to take place over the best thing. 

I want to tell you how we should fast.  First, we don’t fast trying to trick God or convince God into giving us something. Secondly, we don’t fast to try to lose weight. That’s not fasting, that’s called a diet and if you need to lose weight by all means lose weight, but don’t call that fasting. Third, and I just need us to be really careful here. The third danger about fasting is that we would give up a little bit of food and we would think that by giving up a little bit of food, God’s gonna be impressed with us and God’s going to do something good for us and actually what we’re doing is we’re thinking about ourselves more than we’re thinking about Jesus when we’re fasting. That’s called hypocrisy. 

There’s a different kind of fasting or say, “God, I’m going to give up something really important in my life”. And for most of us out there, very practically speaking, I’m going to ask you, would you give up if you’re in the habit of eating three meals a day, would you give up one of those meals every day for the next 21 days? 

Some of you have a medical condition and you can’t give up meals. I’m specifically thinking about a pregnant woman right now or a nursing mother or maybe you have a health condition and it would be wrong and dangerous if you were to give up a meal. If you’re a person like me and you normally do six small meals a day instead of three large meals, maybe you can give up two consecutive small meals a day. And in the place of those meals, would you focus on prayer and focus on Jesus?

Now, for those of you out there that have like some medical reason why you really shouldn’t give up food. I’m going to ask you to give up something equally important if you’re married, will you fast, the act of sex with your husband or your wife for the next three weeks. 

The I Corinthians Chapter 7:5 specifically talks about a husband and a wife who choose not to come together in a sexual relationship in their marriage. For the purpose of some translations, they used the phrase prayer and fasting and then they come back together again. Maybe you shouldn’t, because of medical reasons, withdraw or withhold food. Maybe you should be willing to withhold something as important as the act of sex. That needs to be an agreement between husband and wife. Maybe you’re single and have a medical condition. Would you give up an hour of sleep and instead of sleeping, would you spend that time depriving yourself and focusing on Jesus in prayer for the next 21 days. I’m going to drop a music video, some scripture, and very focused prayer every day on social media Facebook, YouTube and live on social media to guide your prayers.

Recognize that people are watching this broadcast from all over our community and around the world. So you don’t, we don’t, we’re not all trying to do this at the same time of day. But I’m trying to focus our prayers a little bit by giving you a song to sing and praise God, a scripture to focus your mind on for just a second, and then some very specific prayer requests to just guide your prayer for the next 21 days starting today. Would you join 2  Cities Church in a fast? And then three weeks from now, we’ll break this fast together by sharing the Lord’s table and going to communion and fellowship with one another.

You see a disciple is disciplined and I’m asking you if you’re a follower of Christ and connected with 2 Cities Church, maybe you just check this out for the first time and you’re thinking these people are crazy. Why would I do that? Why would I give up sleep or sex or food? Well, if this doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because you’re not really a disciple of Christ and maybe what you need right now is God to do a miracle inside your soul and let me just help you.