I believe there are people alive on earth right now who will witness the Second Coming of Jesus. While no one knows the day or the hour of His coming, the Bible says we are to know the season of His coming (1 Thess. 5:1-6). Jesus may return in 10 years or it may be 50, but regardless of the actual number of years, I believe we are at the beginning of the final generation. The Bible reveals a significant amount of prophetic information about the generation that will see His return. God will pour out His glory and release His judgments in an unprecedented way in that time. Jesus is zealous for His church and will lead her to victory, even in the midst of a world torn apart by the rage of Satan, the escalating sin of men and women, and the judgments of God.
The Holy Spirit is readying the bride of Christ—the body of Christ—at this time for the coming days of glory and opposition. How radically the Lord must change the church to prepare her for His return! What the Western church today accepts as normal values and practices will be dramatically altered as our minds are renewed and we are transformed into the people God originally designed us to be.
How do we prepare to experience the fullness of what God is about to release? How do we cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He leads us into the same intimacy and power seen in the New Testament church? Just as it was for the first-century saints and for the church throughout the ages, living what we at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Mo., call “the fasted lifestyle” will be integral to this process.
Fasting With the Right Focus
By definition, fasting is abstaining from food. The fast that we are after, however, goes far beyond just denying ourselves physical nourishment. Our desire is to position our hearts to encounter Jesus as the Bridegroom God. Throughout history, people have often fasted with a wrong focus, seeking to earn God’s favor and attention. But we can never manipulate God. We can embrace extreme self-debasement in our desire to prove our dedication to Him, but this is not what God is after. What He delights in is our obedience and our pursuit of intimacy with Him. More important to Him than fasting is that we do His will. The Lord spoke through Samuel the prophet, saying that it is better to obey God than to offer Him a special sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22-23).
How, then, should we approach fasting during this urgent time? When we fast, it must be as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. We do not fast to prove anything to God or to earn His favor. The Eastern religions practice fasting that is preoccupied with self, as their followers seek to earn God’s blessing, but Scripture teaches us to fast to strengthen us in our quest to be preoccupied with God and His will. The fasted lifestyle is about desire and wholeheartedness, about setting aside our physical hunger for things as we commit wholeheartedly to grow in intimacy with Jesus.
So what does this fasted lifestyle look like? Let’s examine five expressions of it, as Jesus revealed in His most important sermon, the Sermon on the Mount.
5 Expressions of the Fasted Lifestyle
Jesus described five types of “fasting” in the Sermon on the Mount. We fast food, time, energy, money and words. Matthew 6:1-21 describes the five main activities of the fasted life that correspond with these. They include giving, serving, praying, blessing our enemies and fasting food. Each is a form of fasting, in that we voluntarily embrace weakness, declaring to God that we derive our life and strength from Him and Him alone.
Jesus set forth these five activities as foundational to the kingdom of God. By giving, we fast our money and financial strength. In serving and prayer, we fast our time and energy, investing it in others and in intercession. Blessing our enemies requires that we fast our words and reputation. In giving up food, we fast our physical and emotional strength.
But again, unless these are done in a heart of love—pursuing obedience to God rather than sacrifice—these activities are empty and in vain. God does not keep score of our good works and bad works so that they may balance each other out. True love for Jesus is demonstrated in our obedience to His will (John 14:15, 21-23). Jesus is looking for undivided love and pure obedience. He has opened up His heart in this call and conveyed to us what He desires and requires from all of those who love Him. It is our marvelous privilege to respond.
Money is a form of social and material strength. Our personal resource base becomes weaker when we give it away, so giving to others is fasting part of our money (Matt. 6:3-4; 19-21). Instead of using all our money on ourselves, we give all that we are able to build God’s kingdom in others. We invest in “God’s bank,” an eternal investment with unmatched dividends. We know God will return blessing to us in great measure in this age and in the age to come (Luke 6:38), though we don’t always know when or how. The exchange rate in this bank is highly favorable, and we can give with confidence that God will reward us.
What’s more, we get more use out of our money by giving it to help build up kingdom people and projects than we would ever get by keeping it for ourselves. This giving may be hard temporarily, but God has more than enough wealth to reward everyone a hundredfold for their sacrifice. The benefits gained far outweigh the initial discomfort.
Our obedience, trust and loyalty in the area of finances bring honor to the Lord. It is not just a quaint saying that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:6-7). His heart moves when we sow bountifully and readily into the lives of others with certainty that He will replenish our lack. When we give joyously rather than grudgingly because of our confidence in His generosity, we move the heart of the God we love.
Serving others is the second of the charitable deeds Jesus spoke about in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:1-4). In spending our time and energy on others, we are fasting what we could have used to further our own interests. It is biblical to use a portion of our time and energy to provide for ourselves, our family, our business or ministry, or just our resource base in general. However, as we participate in charitable deeds—acts of kindness and service to others—we are spending that time for the benefit of others.
This is at the heart of what it means to have a servant spirit. The time “wasted” in serving is time we cannot use to jockey for position or establish our personal comfort and pleasure. Thus, we trust the Lord to work for our increase in a way that surpasses what we could have accomplished by spending that very same amount of time establishing our name, cause and comfort. In the big picture, we get more done by investing time in serving and allowing God to reward our labors.
Jesus exemplified the life of servanthood more than anyone. He came “not to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). He does not call us to anything that He Himself has not exceedingly surpassed us in doing. In the laying down of our lives for others, we are embracing what He embraced and thus embracing Him.
Some of the sweetest intimacy with God can be found in pouring out our lives in service. Jesus did not call us to this simply because it is a good and godly way to live. He called us to it because in serving others, we come face to face with the Servant of all.
Jesus went on to call us to a life of prayer (Matt. 6:6)—the third expression of the fasted lifestyle. Prayer is difficult in that our flesh so fights against its seeming lack of productivity. To pray to an invisible God is a taxing endeavor. The impact is usually delayed and is most often not discernible, and the reward promised by God is not always what we would have guessed.
Prayer and reading the Word of God are forms of voluntary weakness that fast our time and emotions. Instead of using all of our time for the advancement of our status or success, we use some of it to seek the face of an invisible God. Instead of being entertained by the TV or surfing the Internet, we intercede for those He loves.
When we give our time to God, we miss other opportunities to network; to build up our ministries, businesses, or personal status; or to recreate and be entertained. In my early years I complained, “Lord, I could do a lot more for You if I did not have to spend time in prayer.” It seemed like a waste.
This type of fasting, though, is actually the opposite of wasting time. True, we have not used those hours to socialize, fellowship or advance our position, but because of that, we are forced to entrust ourselves to the Lord for favor and promotion, and we quickly find that we will never be able to out-give God, even in issues of time and energy.
We are also fasting our emotional energy during prayer as we pour ourselves out and intercede for God’s blessing on others. As we do this, we trust God to touch those we love. That would be reward enough. However, God also returns that very time and emotional energy to us in order to bless us personally. He often multiplies it via greater productivity. We get more done for others and ourselves by asking God than we would have accomplished by working without prayer. Some of that heightened productivity will not be seen until the age to come, but He does reward us during this age.
Pressing into a life of prayer and searching out His Word brings both difficulties and rewards. Though we fast our emotional energy and our time, we are brought into fellowship with the burning heart of Jesus, the great Intercessor. We come alive on the inside by these encounters of love in the inner man that He pours out as we wait before Him. This call to prayer is arduous, but it also comes with the promise of a profound increase in our intimacy with God.
4) Blessing Our Enemies
In Matthew 5:44, Jesus told us, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” Later, He reinforced this with the element of forgiveness (6:14).
Blessing and forgiving our enemies is an expression of fasting related to our relationships and position before people. When we bless our enemies, we fast our words and reputation. To avoid speaking negative words about our enemies is a true fast. Our silence can hurt our reputation because we refuse to come to our own defense.
Instead of making full use of our words to defend and promote ourselves, the Lord calls us to restrain our speech and focus on others, including blessing our enemies. An enemy, in the most general sense, is one who blocks our goals. They speak and act in ways that hinder our plans and purposes. What our enemies do often results in us losing honor, time, money and even relationships. No one appreciates this loss.
However, the Lord calls us to act in the opposite spirit when we encounter such a loss. Just as He did, we must actively forgive and bless our enemies. This means refraining from words that would have exposed our enemy, defended our position, and strengthened us with the sympathy and support of others. When we lose that natural strength, imitating the Lord’s silence before His accusers, we are forced to gain our strength and comfort from God.
Blessing others in the face of their accusation requires that we entrust ourselves to God. This is rare. To be silent and let God answer on our behalf is perhaps the most difficult form of fasting.
Abstaining from food (Matt. 6:17-18) is what we typically think of when we refer to fasting. The great difficulty of fasting food is not so much hunger as it is weakness—our natural strength is diminished when we fast from food. When our flesh rises up against fasting, it is not only because we are hungry and want to gorge ourselves; it is also because we are tired of feeling physically and mentally weak. We do not like feeling this way. It is a burden.
The paradox of fasting becomes apparent as we realize that in the grace of God, we will get more done by investing our energy in fasting food than we would have accomplished by working without fasting. The energy “used up” in fasting is not used to comfort our bodies. We are forced to entrust ourselves to the Lord for both strength and comfort, and as we do so we become focused on encountering God. Though there is most often a delay element in seeing the rewards of fasting, the wisdom of surrendering ourselves to the Lord in this way is no less real.
This Is Normal Christianity
Possibly the greatest lie about the fasted lifestyle in the body of Christ is the false notion that fasting is radical Christianity, an optional exercise for the healthy Christian life.
It is not.
Fasting is normal and basic to the Christian life—it is Christianity 101. Yet most of us grew up in settings where fasting was rarely mentioned. It was either ignored or treated as something unusual; but there is no such thing as New Testament Christianity without regular fasting.
It is not possible to live biblical Christianity without being committed to a lifestyle of praying, fasting, giving, serving and blessing our enemies. A form of Christianity devoid of any of these five elements is not New Testament Christianity. We are all called to fast regularly.
Granted, there are obvious exceptions; people who are pregnant or have health problems should consult their doctors before fasting from food. But the rule of the Christian life is to fast regularly, and even if someone cannot fast from food because of health issues, there are still four other ways in which they can fast.
There is no Bible passage that excludes 21st-century people in the Western world from the fasted lifestyle because we are too busy or too important, or for any other reason. When we come face to face with Jesus one day, He will not make an exception for us because we lived in the 21st century. What He called the early church to do is what He calls all believers to do, and He provides the same grace to us to respond.
Unfortunately, some of us have a distorted idea of what this grace entails. We think that if our activities are motivated by grace they will be easy. Jesus said that His yoke is easy (Matt. 11:29-30). It is easy because in our weakness we can have confidence that we are acceptable and pleasing to God. It is easy because we do not have to produce anything to receive God’s enjoyment. God helps to motivate and sustain us and gives us confidence that He delights in our obedience and will reward us in eternity for it. It is easy to be in God’s favor and receive His love. Thus, on one hand, Christianity is easy.
Yet, on the other hand, the way is difficult. Jesus said to enter by the narrow gate, a gate that is difficult but leads to life. Only a few find it (Matt. 7:13-14). It takes a resolute heart to stay the course over the months and years. Grace does not mean that the way will never be hard. It means God will always supply what we need to walk in it.
I am deeply committed to calling people to live this fasted lifestyle. I encourage our staff members at the International House of Prayer to pursue the Lord in prayer, using the Word. I urge them to read 10 chapters of the New Testament each day; in doing this, they will read through the entire New Testament once each month. I urge them to fast at least one day a week; two days a week is better. In the financial arena, I encourage them to give beyond their tithes and to give until they feel the cost of giving. I also exhort them to serve others and bless their enemies.
These are all part of normal Christianity and should not be treated as optional or unimportant. Our treasure in heaven does not correspond just to our giving habits here on earth, but is laid up as we engage in all five of these kingdom activities day in and day out (Matt. 6:19-20). God esteems and remembers these acts for eternity.
Because of this, remember that the fasted lifestyle is a long-term commitment to these five expressions. No one graduates from these to go on to the “deeper things” of God. It is in the walking out of these five expressions, in the routine and mundane existence of our everyday lives, that we reach the deepest places in intimacy with God. As we are consistently faithful to walking in these manifestations of the fasted lifestyle, we will chart our course down the narrow way of life and discover the abundance of joy to be found there.
Mike Bickle is the director of the International House of Prayer Missions Base in Kansas City, Mo., and author of several books, including The Rewards of Fasting. For more information, visit mikebickle.org or ihopkc.org.
Mike Bickle explains how we can better understand the New Testament call to fasting at bicklefasting.charismamag.com