Episode 232:  The Means of Grace – Hope from Fasting

May 31, 2022

Fasting as a means of grace Transforming Mission

What’s the most unfashionable spiritual practice today?

If you said fasting, you’d be in good company. It’s the means of grace that many people have difficulty practicing. 

One of the many reasons we find fasting difficult is the consumeristic culture we live in. We live in a world with short attention spans, and normalized consumption of social media, news, and anything on our mobile devices. Additionally, consumerism shows up in the instant gratification of goods and services.


These examples point to fasting being counter-cultural in a world that is often surrounded by abundance. As a result, it’s possible to say, many of us are guilty of gluttony.

Biblical Basis for Fasting

In the Old Testament, fasting is done for primarily one reason: repentance for unfaithfulness. Sometimes it was individuals that fasted because of God’s judgment and at other times it was individuals (2 Sam 12:13-16, Nehemiah 9:1-2)

Unfaithfulness isn’t the only reason for fasting in the Old Testament. Sometimes leaders would fast to seek God’s assistance. (1 Sam 7:3-11, 2 Chronicles 20:3-12 and Ezra 8:21-23) And sometimes fasting was a result of grief. David’s fast following the death of King Saul and Jonathan (1 Samuel 11-12

There’s one more type of fast in the Old Testament. Jump over to numbers 6:1-21 for something known as the Nazirite vow. This was fasting as a form of purification. But there were specific behaviors like abstaining from alcohol, cutting their hair, shaving, and….touching a corpse. This was the fasting of self-denial

Fasting in the New Testament

If I can continue into the New Testament, probably the most known example of fasting is that of Jesus following his baptism (Luke 4:1-2) for 40 days and nights he fasted. But that isn’t the only place Jesus talked about fasting. In the sermon on the mount, I love his instructions not to look gloomy like the hypocrites, they disfigure their faces so their fasting can be seen by others (Matt 6:16-18)


Why is Fasting Important?

Fasting is about deepening our relationship with God. So for leaders, fasting can be an essential means of grace when you’re trying to make decisions, you feel the weight of those decisions and/or you find yourself being the center of attention, instead of Jesus being the center of attention.

At the center of fasting are humility and self-control. Like most things, it matters why you are fasting. If it’s about humbling yourself before God to seek God’s will and God’s way. Your motivation for fasting matters.

There are many ways you can fast. Whatever you choose, if it is for a specific period of time or a specific type of fast, fast from one of the things that pull for your attention. It might be food, technology, a habit, etc. Hope while fasting comes from drawing closer to the God that we know in Jesus and humbling ourselves to be in God’s presence and take God’s guidance.

Means of Grace Series

Missed the other episodes on the means of grace? Find them here:

Episode 227 – The Means of Grace: Where Hope Abounds

Episode 228 – Misunderstanding the Means of Grace  – There’s Still Hope

Episode 229 – The Means of Grace: Searching the Scripture

Episode 230 – The Means of Grace: Prayer

Episode 231 – The Means of Grace: Holy Communion

Learn More

Wesley’s Sermons:

Episode 232 - The Means of Grace - Hope from Fasting


[00:00:00] Sara: Welcome to leader cast episode 232.

[00:00:05] You're listening to Leader cast, Transforming Mission's podcast with Tim Bias and Sara Thomas. Providing you with resources to navigate the challenges and opportunities of courageous Christ- centered leaders

[00:00:21] Tim: Sara. What's the most unfashionable spiritual practice today?

[00:00:26] Sara: Is this going to be multiple choice? I'm just kidding. Hold on to that question. As I remind you that you can find show notes for this episode@transformingmission.org forward slash 2, 3, 2 on the show notes page, you'll find ways to share the podcast as well as information that we explore on this episode, Tim, what's the most unfashionable spiritual practice today.

[00:00:52] I'm guessing that it might be one of the means of grace since that's our focus today.

[00:01:00] Tim: Well, you're guessing, right? It is one of the means of.

[00:01:05] Sara: So I'm going to say fasting mostly because of all of the means of grace. It's the one that I find the most difficult and the one that I see others having the most difficulty.

[00:01:17] Tim: So today as we round third and head toward home and the hope and the means of grace series. you, this has been a two-fold purpose, the series number one, to encourage you as As Christians, but as Christ centered leaders, tend to your faith formation and number two, to revisit the means of grace as a source of hope.

[00:01:40] Sara: I see what you did there, Tim. You dropped a little baseball metaphor. And so in each of the episodes, we'll explore one big idea, as well as answer two questions. What's the leadership message. And where is.

[00:01:55] Tim: So today we're exploring hope in fasting, as we've already said. So first I'd look, let's look at the challenges that come up in our current culture around fasting. You have a, have a challenge, Sara.

[00:02:09] Sara: I don't know if it's it's, it's a big, a big category consumerism. So do I need to say more?

[00:02:21] Tim: well, I think we can make the assumption, but since it's a podcast, yes.

[00:02:26] Sara: Okay folks, this might be a long episode or a short episode, depending on the way that you look at it. So I say consumerism because it's counter to fast. We're in a world that has an attention span of a flea, consuming, social media news, anything on our mobile devices, but consumerism also in the instant gratification of, oh, Amazon two-day delivery, order it online, get it now.

[00:02:54] And since you brought up a baseball, Tim, last year, my mom ordered a Miguel Cabrera baseball bat for my nephew. I think it was in celebration of the number of hits that he had. She ordered it and then found out it would be a three to six month wait before arrived. His birthday was still a couple of months away, having to wait for something you order online is contrary to how we think about things.

[00:03:21] So that's just an example of how consumerism plays into being counter to fasting.

[00:03:29] Tim: And you have me thinking about shipping delays that moves those things that we've experienced during this. Pandemic.

[00:03:37] Sara: Or the pants that I ordered two weeks ago that still haven't arrived. you can sense the annoyance in my voice. You know, it shouldn't take something two weeks to get from California to central Ohio, but sometimes it does.

[00:03:52] Tim: Well, I think television and the internet have created consumers of all of us. You know, social media is added to the challenge, our appetites, for knowledge, information, entertainment, and other stuff. It's continued to grow. It hasn't lessened. And since I've mentioned appetite, food can be delivered to our doorsteps and little or no time.

[00:04:17] Sara: I think what we're pointing to with these examples is fasting is counter-cultural in a world that is often surrounded by abundance, to the point that in some form, many of us are guilty of gluttony, but that's a topic for another day. let's look at some biblical examples of fasting to get to the leadership message around fasting as a means of grace.

[00:04:42] Tim: sure. Let's, we'll start in the old Testament. I think the image is in the old Testament fasting was done primarily for one reason. And that was repentance for unfaithfulness. I think you can look in Samuel second, Samuel and Nehemiah, and you can see that sometimes it was tribes that fasted together community because of God's judgment.

[00:05:07] And at other times it was just individual things. And when we look at unfaithfulness, it, it, it's not the only reason for fasting in the old Testament. Sometimes leaders would fast to seek God's assistance. And again, I just you'll find these, I think, in the, in the show notes, but we can reference first Samuel second Chronicles Ezra SRE, and sometimes fasting was a result of grief.

[00:05:34] David fasted following the death of. King Saul and Jonathan, you can find that in first Samuel, there's one more type of fasting in the old Testament, I think. And we jump over to one of my favorite old Testament books and that's numbers. And you, you read a numbers six chapter, there was something known as the Nazarite vow and this was fasting as a form of purification. This might give more of a foundation to why we fast today. But there were specific behaviors like abstaining from alcohol, cutting hair, shaving, touching a court's wonder how that worked for for undertakers.

[00:06:23] Sara: They had some bodies sitting around

[00:06:27] Tim: these this was the fast thing of self know. Those are some images from the old Testament.

[00:06:33] Sara: and wasn't it. An ax? It's not entirely clear, but some people suggest that Paul took a form of a Nazarite vow in acts 18. And if I can continue in the new Testament, probably the most known example of fasting is that of Jesus following his baptism for 40 days and nights he fasted. But that's not the only place that Jesus talked about.

[00:06:56] Fasting in the sermon on the Mount. I love, I love his instruction. In the sermon on the mountain and fasting to don't look like the gloomy hypocrites, they just figure their faces. So their fasting can be seen by others. I think that's one of the best lines in scripture, just because of the way that it said.

[00:07:15] Now I'd love to hear it in the Greek, but get my point. So Matthew and that's Matthew six, 16 through 18. If you want to fund passage to preach on there.

[00:07:25] Tim: It seems like the me, not that I can add to it, but just what's coming to mind. It seems like to me that if fasting is truly a spiritual discipline, other people won't know anything.

[00:07:39] Sara: Right.

[00:07:42] Tim: So we've talked about biblical reminders about fasting. Let me jump to John Wesley since that's where these means of grace surface,

[00:07:50] Sara: Let's do that.

[00:07:51] Tim: It's one of the means of grace that Wesley thought people had the least understanding of and they practice the least. So he brings up brings us closer to our leadership message around hope.

[00:08:07] And here's what he had to say in his sermon. It was entitled upon the Lord, the Lord sermon on the Mount number seven. I'm quoting Wesley. And with fasting, let us always join fervent prayer, pouring out our whole souls before God confessing our sins with all of their GRA aggravations, humbling ourselves upon his mighty hand, laying open before him all our wants all our guiltiness and help and helplessness.

[00:08:45] Sara: Okay. I think there's a couple of things in that that I think we need to unpack.

[00:08:51] Tim: Well, most of the time when we read Wesley, we have to unpack.

[00:08:54] it. So maybe the F the first thing is, is that the means of grace in this case, fasting is about humbling yourself before God seeking to draw closer to God. And it's, we've said many times to be in relationship with.

[00:09:15] Sara: Yeah in second. If I heard it right at the beginning of that passage of Wesley's sermon that you read fasting and prayer were to be joined together. And didn't, he also joined fasting and works.

[00:09:29] Tim: I, I, I'm pretty sure he did because when he talked about feeding, hunger, feeding the hungry and clothing, the naked and visiting the sick and those that are imprisoned, welcoming the stranger. It seems he took a direct line from the prophet, Isaiah and living out his example. That's the same sermon I mentioned before he draws upon Isaiah 58.

[00:09:55] And, and this again, quoting Wesley is not this, the fast that I chose to lose the bonds of wickedness undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break everything. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry

[00:10:16] Sara: So Tim, what's the leadership message there.

[00:10:21] Tim: Sara, I'm going to turn this back around on you. You tell me what is the leadership message there?

[00:10:27] Sara: Okay, I'll get us started. I hear two things unfolding, one echoes what we've explored in previous episodes. It's about deepening our relationship with God. So for leaders, fasting can be an essential means of grace when you're trying to make decisions. you feel the weight of those decisions and or you found yourself at the center being the center of attention, instead of Jesus being the center of.

[00:10:53] As important as all of that is, we've said something similar about the other means of grace. When we were talking in previous episodes about searching the scriptures and prayer and holy communion, I think the unique element of fasting for leaders that's related, I want to call it out is humility. And self-control you humble yourself in fast?

[00:11:18] Fasting is humbling. There's only one person you can depend on and it's God, it's a way to practice self-control. So you want to to that, unpack that more, do something with those two things that I've missed.

[00:11:37] Tim: Sure. You always bring something else to mind when you say something. So I think humility and self control are two reasons we do fast. So as you've heard me say before, it matters where you start. And so what's the reason for your fast w when I would ask quiet at that point, it's not that I'm questioning the fast it's, what's the purpose of the fast.

[00:12:05] So your, your motivation for fasting matters. If it's about humbling yourself before God to seek God's will and direction God's way. If it's because you ate too much chocolate cake over the weekend, that's not fasting. I think that's called a diet.

[00:12:23] Sara: To shape.

[00:12:25] Tim: Well, let me say, something more about self-control and connect it to where we started. And and I think this is where it gets confused in our day cravings, things that have our attention and our allegiance things like our possessions. Well phones technology, desire for entertainment, food, sex.

[00:12:51] I think probably I need to stop there. Fasting is a way to say I'll not be controlled by my appetites and there isn't a leader. I know that can't benefit from that message.

[00:13:07] Sara: And isn't that the hope fast and guises as leaders and abstaining from the idols of our day. If I can say it in just a little bit of a different way, that could be a whole different topic of conversation, but fasting draws us closer together.

[00:13:24] Tim, what wise words would you like to offer to close out this episode?

[00:13:31] Tim: Sara I confess I have not been one in terms of practicing. The spiritual dis discipline of, of a fast in terms of food, that's just not been what I've done. I'd like to say that there were times over my ministry that I would fast for. From television even, but that's not been what it is, but I have discovered in terms of what we talk about fast with self-control.

[00:14:02] I don't know if there's a whole lot of humility with it, but there is self-control and that is with the, with this little computer I carry around with me all the time. I'm at somebodies dispose of. 24 hours. I can get email, text messages. I at, at any time they are night and I've made a decision myself, is that there only four or five people that could probably get me after a certain time in the evening or before eight o'clock in the morning, I've made that decision.

[00:14:41] I don't return emails unless it's an emergency over a weekend or a day off. I build announce when those things are. But sometimes when people send me something on a Saturday evening, they may not hear from me until Monday morning, but it's not because I don't want to respond it's because if I'm, if I'm in this 24 7.

[00:15:10] Without giving myself a break, not, not for me, my physical or emotional or mental health, although that's helpful. Those are the times that I actually am spending time more intentionally with, with God in prayer all the time, every evening in reflection, very seldom sometimes. Sometimes somebody will get an email late at night for me or texts because I'm saying I appreciate them.

[00:15:47] That's because of, of my pattern, never will anybody get an email from me or a text late at night about work?

[00:15:59] Sara: Yeah.

[00:15:59] Tim: So part of this for me is that's what fast is for me is, is setting boundaries, living into those boundaries. And, and the times that you've set aside for yourself as much as sometimes I like to be alone, I'm never alone. I've got a God who loves me and is always with me. I have a few people surrounding me, who I love, and I think who love me.

[00:16:26] And because of that I can set aside the time I need to be the person God created me to be, or continue to grow in.

[00:16:37] Sara: Yeah. What I'm hearing you point back to is the whole piece that we talked about in terms of our appetites and. Eh, we've everybody listening to this has probably heard the talk and the research around the addiction that has come around our, our cell phones and that constant need for gratification and being able to see the, see the, like, see the posts, see the, see what is happening in the world.

[00:17:07] And, and, and literally the research has shown is it changes in impact? Oh, our brain and our being. So the spiritual is connected to the physical and giving ourselves that space. And isn't that what fasting.

[00:17:28] fasting.

[00:17:29] Tim: what it is.

[00:17:30] Sara: It gives us the space to be present to God. And I would also say to be present to one another, especially as I think about the past two years.

[00:17:43] Because that has been so much more difficult. I I'm sensing an increased urgency around it. Maybe urgency. Isn't the right word, an increased desire around the need to be together and to be present together. Is one, this is silly. And then we'll wrap up the episode. I don't know that I'll even include this, but it was a post on Facebook that I saw that a restaurant would give you a discount.

[00:18:12] If you put your phones, they had a little basket. If you put your phones in the basket for the meal and were simply present to one another, but now there's a good motivation,

[00:18:24] Tim: It's a great motivation,

[00:18:26] oh, so fasting as a means of grace bringing us closer to God, developing that relationship, doesn't have to be a 12 hour period of not eating it's a time where we set aside specifically to be with God.

[00:18:42] Sara: Yeah. And, and I think as I went back and was reviewing some of what Wesley wrote about fast. That was part of what he encouraged people to do was to find what is the fast that you need to tend to. It wasn't always about fasting from food. It wasn't always about fasting from drinking. And in that specific sense, I think he was referring to alcohol.

[00:19:10] Not water or in my case, diet Coke, he was choosing and being able to identify what is the, I would say, what is the idol? What is the thing that is calling for your attention that you need to make a conscious decision to step away from? Just coming back to your example and your wide wise words, Tim bias that being able to set boundaries around, one of the things that I would say has become an idol in, in our current culture or cell phones and that constant ability to be able to connect with one of another.

[00:19:49] So whatever form of fast, you choose a fast for a specific period of time, a fast from one of the appetites. We pointed to that pull for our attention, whether it be food, technology, money stuff, hope, and fasting comes from drawing closer to God. Hope and fasting comes from drawing closer to the God that we know in Jesus and humbling ourselves to be in God's presence and take God's guidance.

[00:20:15] As a reminder, he can find show notes for this episode, including references to Wesley sermons and the scripture references that we called out in this episode@transformingmission.org forward slash 2 3 2. And remember who you are is how you lead bye for now.