Twenty-first century American Christianity is not known for self-denial. Most of the American church’s marketing mirrors the world’s. The church sells good-looks, fashion, and personal happiness. No doubt, following Jesus makes your life better, but true discipleship promises hardship and absolute surrender along the way.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23
How have you denied yourself and taken up your cross lately?
Many American Christians face little opposition or even inconvenience living as a Christian today, whereas early Christians and persecuted Christians around the world today may lose their job, their possessions, their wealth, their home, their family and friends, and their own life if they follow Jesus. What should we do about this discrepancy between our lives and such believers, and more importantly, between our lives and Jesus’ words? We need not wish for persecution, but we can voluntarily deny ourselves and die to our desires by fasting – choosing to abstain from food for a period of time.
You can do something about that. Sign up today to join fellow American Christians for 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting for 2021, January 4-24. Here are three biblical reasons to fast and two common issues many people face.
1. Jesus teaches all Christians to fast.
In his most well-known “sermon” – the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus teaches His disciples three essential practices: giving financially, praying, and fasting (Matthew 6:1-17). In Matthew 6:16-17, the Lord says, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites...But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.” Fasting is not a practice for only a few Christians at some distant time or place; fasting is for all Christians everywhere. Each one of us should regularly fast as a core aspect of following Jesus.
2. There is great reward in fasting.
Fasting is not enjoyable, hence the term “hangry” (hungry + angry). But, Jesus promises that the sacrifice of fasting will be rewarded. “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.” (Matthew 6:17-18). Sometimes the reward of fasting is immediate and you feel a greater closeness to God and you see His hand intervening in your circumstances. Other times the reward of fasting follows later and remains unseen for a period of time. But Jesus would not lie to you; the Father rewards those who fast for His sake. What future blessings might you forfeit if you neglect fasting?
3. There is spiritual power in corporate fasting.
Fasting with others multiplies the reward of the fast. Corporate fasting opened the door for Esther to save the Jewish people (Esther 4:3, 16). Corporate fasting secured God’s protection for a dangerous journey (Ezra 8:21-23). Corporate fasting changed the world when the Holy Spirit called Paul to take the gospel to the nations (Acts 13:1-3). How will our communities and our nation as a whole be impacted in 2021 if American Christians choose to fast together?
You may still have questions about how you can fast for 21 days.
1. You do not need to abstain from food 24 hours each day for 21 days.
Most fasts in the Bible were done until evening unless the Scriptures specifically state that the individual(s) fasted “day and night” (Judges 20:26; 2 Samuel 1:12; Ezra 9:5; cf. Esther 4:16; Matthew 4:2). Some Christians don’t fast because they think that it is too hard. However, it is much more achievable and even physically beneficial than you may think. If you’ve never fasted before, you may want to skip just one meal each day for now. If necessary, consult your doctor.
2. What do I do if I am scheduled to have a meal with family or friends?
You can still sit at the table with friends and family at a meal even though you don’t eat. Remember to keep watch over your heart so that you are not seeking the approval of others in your fasting. Then, Jesus says, you will have already gotten your reward (Matthew 6:15). It helps to tell your dinner guests ahead of time that you are not eating. You can also assure them that you still want to enjoy their company. Your decision to fast can create spiritually beneficial conversations and help other American Christians to recover this lost but potent discipleship practice of fasting.
Join 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting for 2021, January 4-24, today, and invite your friends and family to join you. You will be so glad that you denied yourself and followed Jesus into this new year!
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