The purpose of the book of Joel is to call the people of Israel to repentance. In chapter 2, he pairs repentance with fasting. If you sit in a typical Protestant church in 21st century America, though, and one will rarely hear a sermon on repentance, and may never hear a message on fasting.
In our first lesson on fasting, we learned that a fast that pleases God includes charitable actions towards the needy. In the second lesson we learned that a fast was not simply a desperate petition before God, but also a way to grow close to God. In this post we learn that the repentant can and, perhaps, should fast.
I wrote yesterday that God knows our needs before we ask. He doesn’t need us to fast to call attention to those needs. He also knows the heart of a repentant sinner. If that is the case, then why fast? God knows our hearts and minds better than we do.
It is the same for prayer. In Luke 18, Christ tells the parable (vv 1-8) of a widow who begged a judge persistently until she received an agreeable answer to her petition. Why would an all-knowing God expect us to be so persistent in prayer? Why is it that God asks sinners to repent? Why would He pair repentance with fasting? Why would He relate fasting with charity?
Am I making it too complicated? Maybe we should just leave it at this: we should simply skip a few meals, lose a pound or two and go away feeling good about ourselves. Sure… do that if you want to continue to live a shallow life.
If you want to grow to be more like Christ, then follow along. Christ’s example to us is two-fold. His actions can be cast in two extremely broad categories. One, He perfectly obeyed the will of His Father. Two, He was the perfect servant of others.
If you, like me, wish to be more like Christ, then spend time in prayer and fasting. Fasting when we have sinned, teaches us true heartfelt repentance, which, in turn, teaches us to obey God. Fasting when we have a dire need, brings us closer to God, which in turn leads us to more perfectly obey God. Pairing our fasts with charitable acts leads us to more readily serve our brothers and sisters. Prayer and fasting makes us more Christ-like.
Do I need to prove my need to God? No. Do I need to prove my repentance to God? No. Do I need to grow ever closer in my love and obedience to God? Yes. And I can start through proper biblical prayer and fasting.