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The Purpose and Power of Fasting

Fasting is the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity

The disciplined person is the person who can do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Now I can take a basketball and I can get it into a basketball hoop eventually, but I cannot take a basketball and get it into the basketball hoop when it needs to be gotten into a basketball hoop. That is, I am not a disciplined basketball player. Now this ability to have the power to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done is so crucial in all of life, but it is never more central than in the life of the spirit because it is this life that impregnates and infiltrates and dominates literally everything that we do.

Now this morning I'm speaking on the topic fasting 20th century style. But, please, don't you dare turn that into another soul killing law, because there is a time to feast and there is a time to fast, and it is the disciplined person who can feast when feasting is called for and fast when fasting is called for. In fact, the glutton and the extreme ascetic have exactly the same problem. They cannot live appropriately in life. They cannot do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.

Now in a world dominated with pizza temples and shrines to the golden arches, fasting seems out of place, out of step with the times. And, in fact, fasting has been in general disrepute in the church for some time. In my research, as far as I know there was not a single book written on the subject of fasting from 1861 to 1954, a period of nearly one hundred years. Now what would account for such an almost total disregard of a discipline so frequently mentioned in Scripture and so ardently practiced by Christians throughout the centuries? At least two things, I believe.

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Richard Foster is professor of spiritual formation at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California, and author of Celebration of Discipline (HarperCollins, 1988).

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Sermon Outline:


I. Fasting is a valid, biblical tradition

II. Fasting reveals what controls us

III. Fasting should be our response to urgent needs

IV. We need times of fasting from people

V. We need times of fasting from the media

VI. We need times of fasting from the telephone

VII. We need times of fasting from conversation

VIII. We need times of fasting from billboards

IX. We need times of fasting from our consumer culture