Worship, Foot Washing, and Spiritual Formation

Being a 20th (and now 21st) century, individualistic, “everyone is equal” American, I had long been uncomfortable with the idea of worship. Worship is derived from the English phrase “worth-ship” which bears the idea of acknowledging the worth of something. Expanded as it refers to God, worship includes acknowledging Him, adoring Him and serving Him. I knew that God was great and powerful and I had no trouble acknowledging His greatness and power just like I might acknowledge the power of the ocean or the greatness of a mountain. However, the idea of God sitting in heaven and demanding that His followers constantly worship Him, giving Him adoring praise and service forever, seemed vain and even insecure. Actually, it was my own vanity and insecurity which caused my discomfort.

My thinking was poor on many levels. First, it was based on a misunderstanding of God. He is infinite and therefore has infinite power, knowledge. God also has infinite glory. Nothing that I do can ever add one bit to it. The angels in heaven, the planets in the universe, the trees of the field and even the rocks on the ground declare His glory (Psalm 19:1, Luke 19:40). Every bit of His creation worships Him. God is neither a boastful tyrant trying to puff Himself up at the expense of His subjects nor a famous actor now past his prime and desperate to regain past glory. God is the everlasting source of everything, the fount of every blessing and the center of all Creation. If we spent every moment of every day praising Him, adoring Him, and obeying Him, we could not come close to acknowledging His true worth.

My second misunderstanding was about Creation. When we see a lovely flower or a majestic sunset our natural reaction is to praise it (“How magnificent!”) and thereby acknowledge its worth. When a scientist makes a great discovery or an Olympic athlete wins a gold medal we praise that person (“What insight!” “What skill!”). If something truly strikes us as remarkable, we have a psychological need to remark on it. It is almost as if we cannot fulfill our appreciation of what we are admiring unless we praise it; we publicly, usually verbally, acknowledge its worth. C.S. Lewis wrote “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” Thus praise, acknowledging the worth of something, is more necessary for us than it is for the thing or person praised. Flowers and mountains couldn’t care less what we think about them. Even people, if they are truly walking in the Spirit, are ambivalent about others’ opinions unless those opinions accurately reflect the opinion of God.

Additionally, since God made everything, the acknowledgement of the worth of everything that He has made belongs to Him. We can praise a sunset or a man, but ultimate praise belongs to the One who made the sunset and the man.

Spiritual formation can be described as the process begun at salvation (justification), continued through life (sanctification) and completed in heaven (glorification). It involves daily becoming more like Jesus Christ, the Son of God and God the Son. Becoming more like our Lord includes gaining wisdom to see things as they really are and acting accordingly. Thus worship is the key to spiritual formation, and the goal of it. Worship, including acknowledgement of God, adoration of Him, and action in obedience to Him, is foundational. According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” To borrow an idea from Paul, someday evangelism and disciple-making will pass away, but worship will endure forever.

When modern Christians consider Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in John 13, we know that He was teaching one of the most important lessons of His ministry. However because our culture is radically different from that of first century Palestine, it is difficult for us to grasp the real significance of the act.

The act of foot washing is not part of the ceremonial law of the Old Testament but it is mentioned several times. When Abraham was entertaining his angelic guests in Genesis 18:4 he suggested that they wash their feet, an important part of foot hygiene when walking long distances in a hot, dry part of the world. In Genesis 19:2, Lot offered lodging to those same angelic visitors, allowing them to wash their feet during their stay. When greeting the messenger sent to fetch a bride for Isaac, Laban arranged for him and his men to wash their feet (Genesis 24:32). Genesis 43:24 described Joseph’s brothers being brought into his house and receiving water to wash their feet. In all of these cases foot washing was something a person did for himself and it was done for comfort, for courtesy, and for the practical reason of foot health. Modern soldiers and hikers know the importance of foot care under similar circumstances.

In one instance in the Old Testament, 1 Samuel 25:41, someone mentions washing the feet of another. Abigail, wife of the late Nabal, calls herself “a maidservant to wash the feet of my lord’s servants.” In this instance a woman humbles herself to wash the feet of honored guests. It was customary for a rich host in the ancient near east to have the lowliest of servants wash the feet of special visitors in his home, or at least give them water to wash their own feet (cf. Luke 7:44) (Kostenberger 146).

Against this backdrop Jesus acted. Foot washing generally occurred before dinner, because guests did not sit in chairs, they reclined, and in that position one person’s feet might be close to another’s face. In John 13 dinner was already over and no one had volunteered this simple courtesy to the others, even so much as bringing water. Jesus laid aside his coat and, now dressed as the humblest of servants, filled a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet.

Such an act was puzzling at best and scandalous at worst. There was no Messianic prophecy that Jesus needed to fulfill and no Old Testament precedent or ceremony that He needed to follow; Jesus just did it. That He washed their feet instead of them washing His was unthinkable; no self-respecting rabbi would have washed the feet of his minions; rather he would have rebuked his students for not washing his. The disciples were undoubtedly ashamed that He did it because none of them would. They were also mystified by His humble spirit (Culver 588).

Jesus’ lesson is simply to serve humbly in His kingdom even as He did. Men are constantly fighting for the top position (Mark 10:35-45) while Jesus, in the top position for all eternity, did not strive for it (Philippians 2:6). As JRR Tolkien would have said, we are obsessed with gaining the ring of power and do not want anything that would make it seem that we don’t have it.

There is significance today for believers in this example. Just like James and John, we strive for top position, even if it requires sin for us to get it. Few people want to be second, to be a follower, or to be “behind the scenes”. We all want to be first, be the leader, and be on stage. In our society, which is crazed with the need to measure everything, we want ways to measure our wonderfulness so we can surpass others.

Another important lesson is that believers are to show such love and service even to those who hate and abuse them. Jesus washed all of the disciples’ feet, including Judas. How hard it must have been to wash of the feet of the man who was about to betray Him! We must note that Jesus’ example was for believers to serve other believers; He did not set up a foot washing service in Jerusalem to wash the feet of whoever happened by.

Another important contemporary lesson, although by no means the last, was that Jesus noticed needs and He met them. Oftentimes believers fail to do what the Lord commands simply because we are too self-absorbed to notice what needs to be done.

Bibliography
Culver, R.D. “Foot Washing” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. Ed. Merrill C. Tenney. Grand Rapids: Regency, 1976.
Kostenberger, Andreas J. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999.

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Simplicity and Frugality in the Bible

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right

Shaker Hymn, Joseph Brackett (1797–1882)

“The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged. The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell, and we must keep them doing so”. CS Lewis, Screwtape Letters

“…riches and abundance come hypocritically clad in sheep’s clothing pretending to be security against anxieties, and they become the object of anxiety…” Soren Kierkegard

As I was praying this morning, the Lord brought to mind the fact that the ultimate purpose of the spiritual disciplines is to quiet the shout of the temporal so we can hear the whisper of the eternal. It fades the colors of the here and now so we can see faint outline of the past and future.

What are Simplicity and Frugality?

Foster describes simplicity as an inward reality centered on God which manifests itself in an outward lifestyle of Godliness. Simplicity is related to integrity in that the simple man is consistent within himself and consequently consistent with others.

Willard describes frugality as “abstaining from using money or goods at our disposal in ways that merely gratify our desires or our hunger for status, glamour, or luxury.” Frugality is related to simplicity; with a simple love of Christ in the center of our being, we no longer need things to give us status, glamour or luxury. As a result, debt fades as a problem and slavery to debt is replaced by freedom from things.

Simplicity and Frugality in the Bible

Topic Citation Notes
Elijah fed by the ravens 1 Kings 17:1-6 Avoiding King Ahab, God provided for His prophet.
Stewardship Proverbs 12:27 The diligent man takes care of what the Lord has given him.
Inheritance Proverbs 13:22 The good man stores up enough to leave to his heirs
Indulgence Proverbs 21:17 Indulging expensive appetites leads to poverty
Is wealth OK? Proverbs 21:20 It is not bad to have a few good things, but fools devour everything they possess
Debt Proverbs 22:7 The borrower is the slave to the lender
Indulgence Proverbs 23:20-21 Avoid the self-indulgent
Simplicity, frugality and faithfulness to the Lord Proverbs 30:7-9 Too little and too much material wealth impairs a person’s ability to be faithful to the Lord.
Industry, simplicity, and frugality Proverbs 31:27 The excellent wife is responsible and industrious
God rewards our faithfulness Malachi 3:10 Give the Lord His portion and He will reward you.
Every material thing will be lost Matthew 6:19 Do not accumulate things that can (and will) be taken away.
The Father is the source to meet our needs Matthew 6:31-33 Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteous, and all these things (food, clothing, etc.) will be given to you.
Avoiding waste Matthew 14:20 Jesus’ example of minimizing waste – having the disciples pick up 12 baskets of leftovers after the feeding of the 5000.
Avoiding waste Matthew 15:37 Jesus’ example of minimizing waste – having the disciples pick up 7 baskets of leftovers after the feeding of the 4000.
Simple as a child Matthew 18:2-3 Simplicity does not only refer to possessions but also to having simple faith in the Lord.
Not focused on money Luke 9:58 Son of Man had no place to lay His head
Man is more than the sum of his stuff Luke 12:15 A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
The danger of trusting in material things Luke 12:20 The rich man, trusting in his many possessions, was unprepared for his imminent disaster.
Debt Romans 13:8 Owe nothing to anyone except love
Simplicity of character, integrity 2 Corinthians 1:12 The affairs of Paul and his fellow believers was conducted in simplicity, not duplicity.
The idle must work Ephesians 4:28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
The idle must work 2 Thessalonians 3:10 He who does not work, neither let him eat.
Simplicity, frugality and power Philippians 4:12-13 I know how to get along with humble means and I also know how to live in prosperity…I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Simplicity, frugality and faith Philippians 4:19-21 God will supply our needs according to the abundance of Christ.
The purpose of simplicity and frugality Hebrews 12:1-2 Lay aside every encumbrance to run the race for Christ.

How to practice simplicity and frugality

O. Hardman, a 19th century Anglican clergyman, wrote:
It is an injury to society as well as an offence against God when men pamper their bodies with rich and dainty foods and seriously diminish their physical and mental powers by excessive use of intoxicants. Luxury in every form is economically bad, it is provocative to the poor who see it flaunted before them, and it is morally degrading to those who indulge in it. The Christian who has the ability to live luxuriously, but fasts from all extravagance, and practices simplicity in his dress, his home, and his whole manner of life, is therefore, rendering good service to society.” (Willard 169)

 
1. Buy what you need to accomplish your God-given mission in life. Anything else is an encumbrance.
2. Dispose of anything that is causing addiction (a form of idolatry) in you. This may include pornography, video games, computer games, sports, etc.
3. Give things away – as much as you can and as often as you can.
4. Do not believe modern advertising. People are told that they can never have lasting peace and prosperity without the latest product that each advertiser is peddling.
5. Enjoy without owning. We can enjoy books, magazines and videos without owning them at the library. We can enjoy beautiful environments without owning them at parks.
6. Enjoy creation. The greatest things in life are free.
7. Be skeptical about all credit. Debt is bondage.
8. Engage in honest speech and actions.
9. Reject anything that causes others to stumble or causes injustice to them.
10. Lay aside every encumbrance.

What you own owns you. Your stuff needs to be stored, cleaned, maintained, repaired, and eventually disposed of. Every moment you spend taking care of stuff is time you cannot spend doing other things. Everyone needs some stuff, but our needs are likely to be far less than most of us have.

Limitations of simplicity and frugality

 
Like all of the spiritual disciplines, simplicity and frugality are not ends in themselves but means to the end of becoming more like Jesus Christ. Simplicity for its own sake becomes dead legalism, while frugality for its own sake becomes hoarding. There is no magic in denying oneself unless the focus of that denial is outside of oneself, and the only right and eternal focus is Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Truly, the purpose of the spiritual disciplines is to diminish the clamor of our day to day lives and open our eyes to the faint outline of eternity. They can be a source of great spiritual power when they improve our focus on Christ, and they can be a source of great spiritual devastation when we focus anywhere else. The greatest saints in history have practiced the spiritual disciplines, including simplicity and frugality, with a focus on Jesus Christ. The greatest sinners in history have also practiced such disciplines, resulting in unmitigated spiritual pride, with a focus on anything else.

Silence and Solitude in the Bible

“I am rather inclined to silence, and whether that be wise or not, it is at least more unusual nowadays to find a man who can hold his tongue than to find one who cannot.” Abraham Lincoln

Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline defines the discipline of silence as “saying what needs to be said when it needs to be said”. An important aspect of silence and solitude, along with simplicity and frugality, is that we must deny ourselves some of this overload of sensation to listen to the voice of God in our spirit. Modern people, especially in Western Culture, eschew silence and solitude for several reasons:
1. They require great trust in God because, as Foster wrote, “the tongue is our most powerful weapon of manipulation.” We feel that if we are not shaping events in our favor, no one is.
2. We want to experience as much as possible, and the sensations available to experience today are essentially limitless.
3. We want to use every minute doing something that we can measure, such as making money or gathering experiences. With poor spiritual resources within, we seek to define ourselves in terms of outward things…money, accomplishments, fame, that can be quantified.

Bourgeois society is infected by monomania: the monomania of accounting. For it, the only thing that has value is what can be counted in francs and centimes. It never hesitates to sacrifice human life to figures which look well on paper, such as national budgets or industrial balance sheets.  Simone Weil (1909-43), French philosopher, mystic. “La Rationalisation” (written 1937; published in La Condition Ouvrière, 1951).

Albert Einstein provided a clever rejoinder :
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Albert Einstein

God does not define us by what we accomplish but by whose we are. He wants us to develop the spiritual resources we can only gain from Him, our ultimate source. The spiritual disciplines can help us do exactly that. The paper discusses silence and solitude as paths to the person and power of God.

What are silence and solitude?

As mentioned above, silence and solitude involve creating space in our lives to encounter God. Creating this space requires hushing our own grasping sinful natures and hushing the clamor of the world around us. Once this is done, we will be able to “say what needs to be said when it needs to be said”.

We create this space not to focus on ourselves but to focus on our Creator.

Silence and Solitude in the Old Testament

Stillness (חשה chashah – to be silent, to make quiet, to be inactive) is a common concept in the Old Testament. Sometimes it refers to inactivity in times when the people of God should be active (Judges 18:9, 1 Kings 2:3, 2 Kings 7:9, Isaiah 62:6) but other times it refers to peaceful trust in the Lord without work. Another commonly used term is דמם damam (to be silent). A third is הסה hacah (to keep silent, to hold your tongue).

Scripture Examples of Silence and Solitude in the Old Testament

Topic Citation Notes
Elijah in the cave 1 Kings 19:11-12 Shortly after the confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Elijah fled south to the wilderness and encountered God in a cave. God came to him in the stillness, not in the noise.
Stillness in times of anxiety 2 Kings 2:3-5 Elisha was about to lose Elijah, his mentor for many years.  He encouraged the sons of the prophets to be still.
Stillness in times of insecurity Psalm 37:7-8 Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him.
Stillness in times of trouble Psalm 46:10 Be still and know that I am God.
Waiting silently during adversity Psalm 62:1, 5 My soul waits in silence for the Lord for my hope comes from Him.
Hope for the future is in the Lord Psalm 131:2 As a young child is comforted by the presence of his mother, so the godly man is comforted and silent by the presence of God.
The wise restrain their lips. Proverbs 10:19 Where there are many words, sin is unavoidable.
Do the right thing at the right time. Ecclesiastes 3:7 A time to be silent, a time to speak
Admonition to silence Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 Be cautious in your words before the Almighty
Gifts of God in faith Isaiah 30:15 Salvation and strength in repentance and rest, quietness and trust
Silence in hard times Amos 5:13 Keep silent during times of evil
Be silent before God Habakkuk 2:20 The Lord is in His holy temple so let all the earth keep silent.
Be silent before God Zephaniah 1:7 Hold thy peace in God’s presence
Be silent before God Zechariah 2:13 Let all mortal flesh keep silent before the Lord.

Silence and Solitude in the New Testament
The Greek word σιγή sigē is commonly used for silence in the New Testament. A derivative of this (σιγάω sigaō) suggests a person keeping a secret or holding his peace. Another (φιμόω phimoō) suggests being put to silence.

Scripture Examples of Silence and Solitude in the New Testament

Topic Citation Notes
Jesus’ temptation Matthew 4:1-10 Jesus used 40 days of silence and solitude to encounter the Father.
Jesus’ solitude in times of sadness Matthew 14:13, 23 Jesus had just learned of John the Baptist’s execution.  His own would soon follow.
Jesus’ devotions Mark 1:35 Every day, Jesus arose in the early morning darkness to seek the Father.
Jesus’ instruction to the disciples on silence and solitude Mark 6:30-32 Jesus taught His disciples to use silence, solitude and rest to prepare them for future ministry.
Jesus’ solitude before major decisions Luke 6:12 The choosing of the disciples was probably the greatest decision of Jesus’ ministry.  He spent the whole night before choosing them in silence, solitude and prayer to seek the will of the Father.
The silence of amazement Luke 20:26 The Pharisees tried to trap Jesus in the question of whether or not to pay taxes to Caesar.  His answer silenced them.
The silence of expectation Acts 15:12 The Christians in Jerusalem silently waited to hear the testimony of Paul and Barnabas regarding the Gentiles.
The silence of expectation Acts 21:40 Paul’s enemies silent before his testimony
Paul’s training in the desert Galatians 1:13-17 Paul spent three years in Arabia immediately after his conversion, learning the ways of the Lord.
The silence of expectation Revelation 8:1 Heaven silent before the opening of the 7th seal

How do we practice silence and solitude?
1. Use the “little moments” of silence and solitude that we each encounter every day to reflect on the Lord; His nature, His love and His goodness. This may involve turning off the car radio, the home television, or the computer game.
2. Step away from commitments that do not contribute to our service to God in our lives.
3. Develop a quiet place in our homes for silence and solitude.
4. Keep our words few and full, stopping the frenetic stream of self-justification and explanation. Consider living one full day without words. I did this when I had a rare day off in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2004.
5. Quarterly, withdraw for several hours to ask the Lord to help you reorient life goals.
6. Combine silence and solitude with weekend study retreats.

In one of the stories of the sisters Mary and Martha in the Bible, Martha is scurrying about preparing dinner and Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet learning from Him. Martha was cross at working alone and asked Jesus to tell her sister to help her. Jesus’ replied “you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 11:38-42
Jesus was not saying that Mary never had to help with preparations, nor that the basic work of life did not need to be done. He was saying that they needed far less than Martha imagined, and that some time needed to be devoted to encountering Him. God has the same message for us today.

Limitations of silence and solitude

“The whole value of solitude depends upon one’s self; it may be a sanctuary or a prison, a haven of repose or a place of punishment, a heaven or a hell, as we ourselves make it.” John Lubbock

Silence and solitude are not an end in themselves but a means to the end of a closer relationship with God. The Pharisees practiced some spiritual disciplines but did so for the purpose of looking good to others and thereby enriching themselves.

If silence and solitude end up focusing our attention on ourselves, they will turn out worse than if we had not practiced them at all. Self-focus is deadly.
In a study published in the Harvard Business Review, a computer program counted words used by writers. It found “when we analyzed poems by writers who committed suicide versus poems by those who didn’t, we thought we’d find more dark and negative content words in the suicides’ poetry. We didn’t, but we did discover significant difference in the frequency of the words like “I”.

Pronouns tell us where people focus their attention. If someone uses the pronoun “I,” it is a sign of self focus. If someone asks “what’s the weather outside? you could answer “it’s hot” or “I think it’s hot.” The “I think” may seem insignificant but it’s quite meaningful. It shows you’re more focused on yourself. Depressed people use the word “I” much more often than emotionally stable people. People who are lower in status use “I” much more frequently. (World Magazine, 25 Feb 2012)

Silence and solitude must focus on Christ, not on us.

Conclusion

God is the source and focus of all things in the universe. Our lives are filled with things that distract us from Him. Believers should practice the disciplines of silence and solitude as men in the Bible did, focused on God, to help us become more like our Lord. Silence and solitude can be paths to His person and power.

Fasting in the Bible

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

“This world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians and business leaders. They have done the best they could, no doubt. But this is an age for spiritual heroes – a time for men and women to be heroic in faith and in spiritual character and power.” Dallas Willard

Einstein spoke of thought, and diplomats, politicians and business leaders are generally intelligent people. But Willard wrote of thought and far more, because mere thought is not enough to rescue mankind from himself. In The Spirit of the Disciplines – Understanding How God Changes Lives, he was speaking of the sorry state in which we find the world today and how restoration can only be found in spiritual renewal. His book is a powerful survey of practices of world-changing Christians throughout history. Richard Foster writing in the Christian classic Celebration of Discipline – the Path to Spiritual Growth, also discussed these practices. The lists of spiritual disciplines are as follows:

Willard Foster
Disciplines of Abstinence Disciplines of Engagement The Inward Disciplines The Outward Disciplines The Corporate Disciplines
Solitude Study Meditation Simplicity Confession
Silence Worship Prayer Solitude Worship
Fasting Celebration Fasting Submission Guidance
Frugality Service Study Service Celebration
Chastity Prayer
Secrecy Fellowship
Sacrifice Confession
Submission

Many, and some would argue all, of these disciplines are not confined to Christians. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle fasted as did Zoroaster and Confucius. Muslims and Jews and many others pray. The difference between the Christian practice of these spiritual disciplines and the practices of the same actions by non-believers is the presence and activity of the Spirit of God within believers (John 16:5-15).

Due to the abuse of spiritual disciplines in the Middle Ages, often associated with groups such as the Flagellants, the use of such practices declined after the Reformation. There is no example in the Bible of self-torment as a route to personal holiness and service to the Lord. When Bible personalities denied themselves, for example, when Ezekiel was told to lie on his side for 390 days (Ezekiel 4:4-8), it was always to advance the work of God.
In Corinthians, Paul wrote “The kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power.” Nonetheless, sometimes it seems like there is little power in the Church today. Believers who transform cultures like St. Paul, Saint Boniface, John Knox, and George Whitfield seem to be people of the past. Against the onslaught of postmodern thought and the march of secularism, the church, at least in the West, seems vulnerable.

Ultimately, Christians need have no fear of the future because Jesus Christ is the Lord of the future and His church will prevail (Matthew 16:13-20). However, the world desperately needs men and women with the power that only the Holy Spirit provides. The spiritual disciplines can help ordinary people gain such spiritual power and be used extraordinarily by the Lord. This paper describes the discipline of fasting.

Fasting, or really denying ourselves anything, is nearly unheard of in the modern world. Why would anyone deny themselves of anything if they don’t have to? If we are the center of the universe, why restrain anything? Among people who riot at the very mention of austerity, demand their “rights” even at the expense of the lives of others, and who spend themselves into debt oblivion, self denial is not only inexplicable but perhaps even evil.
Nonetheless, we are not the center of the universe, and we must remind ourselves of this fact while coming into better communion with the One who is. Fasting is a good place to start.

Fasting in the Old Testament

Fasting is one of these disciplines and was important part of service to God in the Old Testament. The following table summarizes information about fasting in the Old Testament.

Topic Citation Notes

The Command to Fast

The Day of Atonement (10th day of 7th month) Leviticus 16:29-31, 23:26-32, Numbers 29:7 The phrase translated “humble your souls” in the NASB and “afflict your souls” in the KJV uses the phrase ענה `anah נפש nephesh.  The idea is to bow yourself down and deny yourself of normal things, such as happens when you fast.
National repentance Jeremiah 36:4-8 Jeremiah commanded the people to hear the Law and fast for repentance of sin.

Length of Fasts

One day Judges 20:26, 1 Samuel 14:24, 2 Samuel 1:12, 3:35 Sunrise to sunset (like Muslims do at Ramadan)
One night Daniel 6:18 King Darius ate nothing while Daniel was in the lions’ den.
Three days Esther 4:16
Seven days 1 Samuel 31:13, 1 Chronicles 10:122 Samuel 12:16-18 The death of Saul and his sons, also David’s fasting for his sick newborn.
Forty days Exodus 34:28 Deuteronomy 9:9 Moses and Elijah

What is Fasting?

Partial Daniel 10:2-3 Daniel restricting certain types of food and drink to seek the Lord.
Normal Abstaining from all food but drinking water
Absolute Jonah 3:5-10Esther 4:6Deuteronomy 9:9

1 Kings 19:8

No food or water.  This is physiologically impossible for more than three days.  Such 40 day, absolute fasts as Moses and (and maybe Elijah) did must have been miracles.

Prayer and Fasting for Forgiveness

One man for himself 1 Kings 21:17-29 Even the weak King Ahab, incited by his evil wife Jezebel, humbled himself before God and received a blessing.
One man for the sins of others Deuteronomy 9:15-18 When Moses saw the Israelites worshipping the golden calf, he denied himself, humbled himself, as he interceded for them before God.
One man for the sins of others Daniel 9:3-5 Daniel humbled himself and confessed the sins of His people.
A city for itself Jonah 3:4-10 Ninevah prayed and fasted for forgiveness at the preaching of Jonah
People for themselves Nehemiah 9:1-3 After the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt, the Feast of Tabernacles was reinstituted.  As part of the ceremony, the Law was read and the people repented of their sin.
To avert God’s judgment Joel 1:14, 2:12- 15 Humble yourselves to return to the Lord.

Fasting in the Old Testament (continued)

Topic Citation Notes

Prayer and Fasting for Victory in War

Civil War in Israel Judges 20:26 The tribe of Benjamin was defeating the other tribes in war.  The others humbled themselves in fasting and prayer and the Lord answered, destroying Benjamin for their sin regarding the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19).
Battle of Mizpah 1 Samuel 7:6 The Philistines were threatening Israel at Mizpah.  The people were terrified so they prayed and fasted, confessing their sins.  God gave them a great victory.
Judah against Moab/Ammon 1 Chronicles 20:1-25 Moab and Ammon invaded Judah and King Jehoshaphat proclaimed a nationwide fast to seek the Lord.

Prayer and Fasting to Mourn the Death of Others

The Death of Saul and Jonathan 1 Samuel 31:132 Samuel 1:12 1 Chronicles 10:12 David, his followers, and the people of Jabesh Gilead mourned the deaths.

Prayer and Fasting for the Healing of Others

The illness of David’s son 2 Samuel 12:16-23 The child of David’s adultery was perishing and David sought the Lord for his life.
Interceding for others’ health Psalm 35:11-13 David prayed and fasted for the healing of his enemies

Prayer and Fasting for Help

Journeys Ezra 8:21 Ezra proclaimed a fast for all of the people traveling with him back to Judah after the Exile in Babylon
Homeland Nehemiah 1:4 Nehemiah fasted and prayed several days to mourn his destroyed homeland and get guidance on what to do about it.
Deliverance Esther 4:3 The Persian king had decreed the extermination of the Jews.  They fasted to be saved.
Personal protection Esther 4:16 Esther, her maidens, and Mordecai and the Jews in Susa prayed that Esther would be favorably received by the king.
Personal protection Psalm 69:10Psalm 109:24 David humbled himself with fasting to be delivered from his adversaries.

Prayer and Fasting to Commemorate Important Events

Siege of Jerusalem 2 Kings 25:1 The 10th day of the 10th month – the beginning of the final siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
Fall of Jerusalem 2 Kings 25:3-4 The 9th day of the 4th month – the fall of Jerusalem to the armies of Babylon.
Political assassination 2 Kings 25:23-25Jeremiah 41:1-3 The 2nd day of the 7th month – the assassination of Gedeliah
Jeremiah 52:12-13 The 10th day of the 5th month – the burning of the Temple.
Feast of Purim Esther 9:31 The 14th day of the 12th month – the deliverance from the destruction planned by Haman.

Limitations of Prayer and Fasting

Prayer Psalm 66:18 God will not hear a prayer from a heart that hides sin.
Fasting Isaiah 58:1-12 Fasting with injustice and an unrighteous heart has no good effect.
Ceremonial fasting Zechariah 7:1-14 The ceremonial fasts that the Hebrews instituted were not of God but of themselves.  The Lord wants righteousness, not empty ceremony (Psalm 51:16-17).

Fasting was not to be done simply for its own sake, but in accordance with prayer and the other spiritual disciplines to accomplish some important work in obedience to God. Prayer usually accompanied fasting as did the offering of sacrifices as taught in the Law of Moses.

Fasting in the New Testament

Fasting is less prominent in the New Testament but was still an important part of the spiritual practices of people such as Anna the Prophetess and the Apostle Paul. Even more, Jesus fasted.

Fasting was not to be done simply for its own sake, but in accordance with prayer and the other spiritual disciplines to accomplish some important work in obedience to God.  Prayer usually accompanied fasting as did the offering of sacrifices as taught in the Law of Moses.

Fasting in the New Testament

Fasting is less prominent in the New Testament but was still an important part of the spiritual practices of people such as Anna the Prophetess and the Apostle Paul.  Even more, Jesus fasted.

Topic Citation Notes
To become closer to the Father Matthew 4:1-9Luke 4:1-2 Jesus had no sin of which to repent and at this point no earthly enemies from which to be delivered.  This fasting was to prepare Him at the beginning of His earthly ministry.
To please the Father Matthew 6:16-18 Fasting humbly before the Lord and not to impress others pleases God and helps us to know Him better.
Done at the right time Luke 5:33-35 Jesus’ followers were to fast but only at the right time for the right reasons.
Fasting enhances the power of prayer Matthew 17:14-21Mark 9:14-29 Verse 21 in the Matthew passage is not found in some of the earliest and best manuscripts, but given all of the evidence, fasting probably enhances the effectiveness of prayer.
Seeking guidance on a call to missions Acts 13:1-3 The church at Antioch fasted and prayed to decide whom to send out as missionaries.
Seeking guidance on a call for elders Acts 14:21-23 The churches in the province of Galatia prayed and fasted for guidance from God on whom to appoint as elders for the churches.
Seeking to grow closer to God as a couple 1 Corinthians 7:5 Prayer and fasting are suggested while abstaining from marital relations.
Seeking a life close to the Lord Luke 2:36-38 Anna the prophetess made a life of seeking God in prayer and fasting

Having done a brief survey of fasting in the Bible, we realize that God’s people fasted to grow closer to Him through repentance of their sins. Once the relationship was restored, they fasted to gain some special blessing such as healing of the sick, protection from enemies or victory in war. They also fasted to remind themselves of past failures so that they would avoid such failures in the future.

Conclusion

God has called His people to put Him first in their lives, which is only logical since after all, He is God and therefore first in the universe. New thought is not enough to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and bring justice to the oppressed. New thought will not overcome selfish hearts and vengeful minds. As man accepts the reality that God is the center of existence, not him, he will begin to align himself with reality, rather than the fantasy that man is the measure of all things.

Christians do not engage in the spiritual disciplines to gain the power to change the world. Rather, they engage in the spiritual disciplines to know and love their Creator more. In so doing, however, they will gain knowledge of what is right and the power to do it. The world will be better. Einstein was right but incomplete. Willard is right and complete. Men and women filled with the Spirit and exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), gained by the work of the Spirit through the faithful practice of the spiritual disciplines, including fasting, will change the world.