Improving Our Practice of Group Fasting
by Larry McKain
Fasting is not something very many of us hear about these days. In many cultures of the world, the spirit and discipline of fasting is a way of life among Christians. As a general rule, in churches across the United States, it is not. In our culture, the landscape is dotted with shrines to the golden arches of McDonalds and we have a dozen different kinds of pizza parlors. Living in this culture, we must confess that fasting seems “out of step” with our times, in all too many churches.
The disciplines I need in practicing my devotional life with GOD, call me not just to meditate, pray, read the Scriptures, but also to fast. I have a brother, Ron McKain, who is a lay leader and attends a church from another denominational family in southern Missouri. He is a godly brother. He just came off of a 30 day fast, seeking God for a breakthrough in key areas of his life and the life of their church. I am challenged and blessed by his passion and desire.
In my life, I need to be surrounded by people who practice the discipline of fasting. I need to be challenged, not only to pray and give, but to fast. We all need to improve our practice of group fasting. The Bible makes clear it is not a virtue to satisfy every human appetite. One of the main values we have in America is convenience. Fasting is not convenient. A growing group of church leaders have made a commitment to practice some form of fasting. Our sense is that the Upper Room and the disciple’s growing spiritual desire for a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit…included fasting.
As I reflect on my own need to improve fasting and practice it within the church more effectively, there seems to be a natural need to talk about the 5 different kinds of fasts mentioned in the Bible. The Normal Fast, The Partial Fast, The Absolute Fast, The Regular Fast and The Group Fast. #1, is a normal fast, which is, "abstaining from all food, but not from water or juices" (Luke 4:2). #2, is a partial fast. This is a restriction in diet, but not abstaining from all food. (Daniel 10:3). #3, there is an absolute fast. This is where a person abstains from both food and water. In the Bible this kind of fast is used only in dire emergencies (Esther 4:16, Acts 9:9). #4, a regular fast. Zechariah 8:19 mentions the Jews had four regular fasts every year—in the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months. In Luke 18:12, the Pharisee of Jesus' parable said, "I fast twice a week." This was a regular fast of the Jews.
The fifth fast, is a group fast. Jesus prayed that we would be one. This can be very powerful and effective, provided there is a prepared group of people who are of one heart and mind to fast. In Joel 2:15, a group fast is described. The prophet declares, "Blow the trumpet in Zion. Declare a holy fast. Call a sacred assembly and gather the people." In Acts 13:2, the early church…"while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Paul for the work to which I have called them."" A group fast was used in the launch of the first Christian church planting movement! Both Old and New Testaments support the value and spiritual power of a group fast.
As we seek spiritual renewal and spiritual breakthroughs, let us call the church to group fasting. I need to improve my own practice. I am responsible to also help others in this process. I need discipleship accountability. I think it is possible to participate in a group fast and not violate the instructions Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:16-18). In the first 18 verses of chapter 6, Jesus talks about praying, giving and fasting. And it seems obvious here that Jesus assumes all three of these habits will be part of our devotion and our practice as Christians.
In an affluent culture, fasting calls for just as much of a sacrifice to God as the giving of our money, maybe even more. Our fasting must be for God, not other people. Fasting is an act of worship. In Luke 2:37, the Bible says of Anna that she worshiped God, by fasting and praying. In Acts 13:2 the Bible says, "They worshiped the Lord and fasted.” John Wesley wrote about fasting, the following words:
"Let fasting be done unto the Lord with our eyes fixed alone on him. Let our intention be this alone, to glorify our Father which is in Heaven. This is the only way that we will be saved from loving His blessings more than Him as the Blessor."
Spiritual fasting intensifies spiritual desire. More than any other spiritual discipline, when we fast, fasting begins to reveal the things that control us. To become more like Jesus, we must begin to let God weed out of our lives those things that still hold us in bondage. What really controls us, what is the real center of our affections, comes to the surface of our mind and our heart. Fasting humbles us. David writes, "I humbled my soul with fasting." (Psalms 69:10).
We welcome your feedback on how we can primarily make our call to a group fast more effective, not only in our own lives, but also in the life of the church.