On Fasting

Becoming the Answer to our Prayers

Hebrews 12:1-3

By Patrick Nafziger

 

I’ve always envied people who run. 

I admire the discipline that it takes and the endurance that it builds in people who choose to do it regularly.  I understand fully well that there are infinite benefits that go with the running lifestyle.  I am a firm believer that people who run on a regular basis are physically healthier than people who don’t. 

For much of my life I’ve been friends with people who do run——many of my friends in high school were on the cross country team or ran track or played soccer or basketball.  I learned from these friends that running is an important thing for them.  I’ve been encouraged to become a runner by lots of these friends over the years.  Their faith in running is almost contagious. 

I’ve also lived long enough to see some of my friends stop running.  Maybe after high school was over and there were no more sports to play, they didn’t have anything to run for.  Maybe they just lost their faith in running, or got tired of taking time and putting forth the energy day after day, and week after week. 

I’ve seen what can happen when a runner stops running.  I’ve seen my friends go from having excellent health to having ‘normal’ health, gaining a few pounds, taking up less healthy activities to cope with stress.  When they used to run, they now use tobacco or alcohol to get a similar mental and emotional effect. 

But you know, even though I’ve seen the benefits and been envious of the running lifestyle, even though I’ve gathered together regularly and developed deep friendships with people who run…even though my life has been filled with mentors and coaches who trained many of my peers to run and have taught me early on that running is a good thing to do—even though I’ve professed my belief in running, fellowshipped with runners, and seen the consequences of runners who have put aside that lifestyle …none of that has made me a runner. 

I’ve never been able to call myself a runner because I lacked that one simple thing—the discipline to put my running shoes on and simply run.  When it gets right down to it, I’ve always preferred to do other things that take less physical effort. 

Running is such a simple thing to do—all you really need is a good pair of shoes.  Running is simple, but simple things are sometimes the most difficult to do, aren’t they? 

I can believe all the right things about running and I can hang out with other runners for the rest of my life…I can read articles and get magazines and learn all there is to learn about techniques and races and different kinds of shoes…I can buy the right kind of clothing and dress up like a runner –I can learn all I can about running. 

But in the end, unless I’m willing to put on my sneakers and hit the road, I’m no runner at all.   

But I want to say that a couple of weeks ago, I made the conscious decision to start running.  I’ve gone running maybe 6 or 7 times in the past 2 weeks… so am I a runner?  

I run until my lungs hurt (which isn’t very far), and then I walk for awhile, and then I run until my lungs hurt again and then I walk…and I don’t mind saying that those first couple of times I probably walked more than I ran…and the ratio still might be about half and half…so am I a runner? 

How do I know?  Is there a time when it becomes clear that I’m officially a runner?  When do I get my badge? 

The scripture for this morning says Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 

Church is like running.  Being a Christian is comparable to being a runner.  Any one of us can hang out with the right people, we can learn the language, we can buy the right gear, we can read the right books and even believe the right things about God and Jesus and His preferred future for the world we live in. 

But none of that makes us Christian people.  It’s not until we’re willing to make the sacrifice of time and energy, day after day, it’s not until we actually walk in the simple way that is quite difficult that we become Christian people. 

It takes discipline and commitment to be a Christian—Just like it takes discipline and commitment to be a runner. 

For the next couple of weeks, we’re going to talk about seeking after God through spiritual disciplines.  Spiritual disciplines are those things that Christians do in order to become more and more like Christ. 

For the most part, they are very simple things. 

For example, what could be more simple than the act of fasting—of going without food?  It’s not complicated.  It doesn’t require a proper understanding of systematic theology or even the ability to read.  It doesn’t cost any money—in fact it saves you the cost of a meal or two. 

But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.

The author of Hebrews tells us to look to Jesus as we run this race.  And in the gospel of Matthew, in chapter 6, we hear Jesus say this: 

Do not be worried about the food and drink you need in order to stay alive, or about clothes for your body.  After all, isn’t life worth more than food?  And isn’t the body worth more than clothes?  Look at the sparrows:  they do not plant seeds, gather a harvest and put it in barns; yet your Father in heaven takes care of them! 

Aren’t you worth much more than many sparrows? 

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own.  There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings.  (Matthew 6:25-34)

When we fast, we declare to God and to ourselves that food is not the most important things in our lives.  When we fast, it’s our way of saying with our bodies, with our minds, and with our spirit that we trust God to provide for our physical needs, that we don’t have to keep striving for this or that. 

It’s something that puts everything in perspective. 

But like the act of running, it can be hard to make part of our lifestyle.  It doesn’t come easily, and so for many of us, it just doesn’t come. 

We know it’s a good thing to do, we understand it’s something that helps us to become more and more like Christ, but when it comes down to it, we often choose to do other things that require less effort. 

It’s easier to carry on as we have been than it is to make some changes in the fabric of our routine. 

Change is hard.  But thankfully we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses—witnesses who testify to the work that God has done and is doing in their lives. 

Change is hard.  But thankfully we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses—witnesses who testify to the work that God has done and is doing in their lives. 

It is this great cloud that gives us the strength, the determination, and the willpower to lay aside the every weight and the sin that clings so closely.  It’s this cloud of witnesses that helps us to run this race with perseverance—but we’re mistaken to think this cloud of witnesses will run the race for us. 

Running is something only we can do for ourselves. 

Fasting is something only we can do for ourselves.  Spending time in silence and solitude in order for God to find us more deeply—is something we can only do for ourselves.  Repentance is something we can only do for ourselves. 

These are the spiritual disciplines that help us become Christian people. 

We could name other things—things like humility, kindness, gentleness and self-control.  We could look at scriptures in Galatians where Paul talks about the fruits of the spirit as opposed to the ways of the world; but trying to grow those fruits in our lives without seeking after God through spiritual disciplines like fasting and prayer—it’s kind of like buying all the right running gear but neglecting to run. 

We are not called to look like runners. 

We are not called to buy Christian decorations for our homes. 

We are not called to put the Jesus fish on our vehicles. 

We are not called to listen to Christian radio or watch Christian television. 

Those are all things that might be beneficial, that might remind us of God in the middle of the day…they might reflect a good attitude or a reality that we want others to see in us…but they are not ends in themselves!!  They are not the primary marks of Christianity!!

We are called to run the race set before us with perseverance, looking to Jesus who is the pioneer and the perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame and now sits at the right hand of the throne of God. 

It’s this Jesus who tells those who follow him not to worry about what you will eat or drink…to not worry about what you will wear, how to decorate your house, or a million other things we get caught up in today. 

It’s this Jesus who seemed more interested in being with people on their terms, on their turf, It’s this Jesus who worked his way into their lives like yeast works its way into dough…who sent his disciples as guests into a hostile world. 

It’s this Jesus who we follow—but following this Jesus is hard to do with full stomachs all the time.  He moved around a lot and n3ever got too comfortable in one place. 

We’ve got to get in shape to follow this Jesus.  We’ve got to train or else we’ll quickly fall behind. 

Running and faith are two things that you just can’t do from the sidelines. 

Fasting, Prayer, repentance, spending time in solitude and silence while you wait on God to speak—these are spiritual disciplines that build endurance so that we become more and more like Jesus. 

These aren’t things that you get good at.  You might be more disciplined sometimes than others…but we don’t ever stop needing to do them.  

  We are called to look like Jesus more and more every day—and that means choosing to train ourselves to follow Jesus whether or not we’re comfortable and whether or not the change comes easy. 

Fasting isn’t just a matter of skipping a meal.  It’s a matter of feeling an empty stomach. 

Neither is Fasting a weight loss plan or a way to cut down on snacks.  It’s more of a reminder about what you’re living for. 

And we don’t just have to fast from food.  There are alternatives.  Fasting from movies, from Television, from sporting events or from eating out, all of these can be good ways to experience life without something you’ve come to rely on for one things or another. 

And so the challenge this week is to take some time to think about your life. 

Where have you become too comfortable?  In what ways do you enjoy too much of something?  Has something taken the place of God in your life, and if so, are you willing to give it up for a period of time in order to refocus your eyes on Jesus, to put on your running shoes and simply run the race that has been set before you? 

It’s not easy, but it’s the only way to train for this race of faith.

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