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WHY WE FAST

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, October 7, 2012


Please turn with me in your Bible to Isaiah 58:6. Let us stand together for the reading of God’s Word.

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6).

You may be seated.

The people of that day fasted by not eating for a period of time. Earlier in this passage of Scripture God told Isaiah why He rejected the people’s fasting. Fasting itself was not rejected by God. The Bible gives us many good examples of people fasting. But at this time they were fasting for the wrong reasons. It was only an outward form of religion to them. They were arguing and fighting while they fasted. They neglected kindness and love for others. Their religion was cold and heartless. They were fasting, but they were only doing it as a ritual. They weren’t thinking about pleasing God when they fasted.

The Lord Jesus Christ condemned this kind of fasting. Christ said,

“When ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Matthew 6:16).

Their “reward” was to be seen by others, to show others how good they were. They didn’t expect anything from God when they fasted. They only did it to show off, to make people think they were religious.

But notice that Christ did not condemn all fasting. He said to His Disciples, “When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites...” Again, Jesus said,

“But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:17-18).

Christ did not condemn all fasting. But He told us how to do it, “when ye fast,” “when thou fastest.” Real Christianity consists in a personal relationship with Christ. And real fasting should also be personal and private. Nobody should go around boasting that they are fasting!

Unfortunately, most American church members know very little, if anything, about fasting. I was a member of a Southern Baptist church for six years without hearing one word about fasting. It came as a new revelation to me when I joined a Chinese Baptist church and heard about fasting for the first time in my life. My pastor at the Chinese church, Dr. Timothy Lin, often spoke about fasting. And some people were fasting and praying when God sent a mighty revival to that church. Later I learned that fasting and prayer was very common in the house churches in China. I believe that this is one of the main reasons God has sent such a powerful revival to the house churches in the People’s Republic of China. Literally millions of people are becoming Christians in China today. I am convinced that the tremendous revival they are experiencing has come from God in answer to their prayers and times of fasting. James Hudson Taylor, the great pioneer missionary to China, said,

      In Shansi I found Chinese Christians who were accustomed to spend time in fasting and prayer. They recognized that this fasting, which so many dislike, which requires faith in God, since it makes one feel weak and poorly, is really a divinely appointed means of grace.

The prayer warrior Andrew Murray said,

Fasting helps express, deepen, and confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.

The Reformers Luther, Calvin and Knox often fasted. All of the early Methodist preachers were required to fast two days every week. Our Baptist forefather John Bunyan often fasted before he preached. David Brainerd, an early missionary to the American Indians, said,

I set apart this day for secret fasting and prayer...in view of preaching the gospel.

Brainerd saw a very powerful revival among the Indians when he preached.

I have had the rare privilege of being an eye-witness to three very unusual outpourings of God’s Spirit in revival. Two of those remarkable revivals came during a time of fasting and prayer. The First Great Awakening also came in this way. John Wesley, one of the great leaders in that revival, said,

Have you appointed any days of fasting and prayer? Storm the throne of grace, and persevere therein, and mercy will come down.

Wesley himself fasted for two days every week for many years during that season of revival.

We are now living during an extremely dry period in the churches of America and the Western world. Our churches are struggling. Literally millions of people are leaving the churches. Many are turning to Buddhism, Eastern meditation, and other false ideas. In his inaugural address three-and-a-half years ago, President Obama said that America is no longer a Christian nation. Every sign seems to indicate he was right.

How did this happen? It happened largely because of the worldliness of so many American pastors. They have brought junk music into the churches. They have given rambling verse-by-verse “expositions,” rather than real sermons, like the great preachers of the past. Many of them have closed their Sunday evening services. And many more have given up their prayer meetings, turning their midweek services into yet more Bible “exposition.” The old-fashioned prayer meeting is almost extinct. They let their people come to church dressed like they were going to the beach. Drums, pulsating music, and even dancing are featured in many so-called “worship services.” And far too many preachers don’t know how to lead people into a real conversion. The only way they can add anyone to their churches is by luring people to leave another church and join theirs. The only way they know how to add people to their churches is by “stealing sheep” from other churches.

Dr. A. W. Tozer was called “a twentieth century prophet” in his own lifetime. What Dr. Tozer said is even more true today. He said, 

      A religious mentality characterized by timidity and lack of moral courage has given us today a flabby Christianity, intellectually impoverished, dull, repetitious and to a great many persons just plain boring. This is peddled as the very faith of our fathers...We spoon-feed [this tasteless baby food] this insipid pablum to our inquiring youth and, to make it palatable, spice it up with carnal amusements filched from the unbelieving world. It is easier to entertain than to instruct, it is easier to follow degenerate public taste than to think for oneself, so too many of our evangelical leaders let their minds atrophy while they keep their fingers nimble operating religious gimmicks to bring in the curious crowds (A. W. Tozer, D.D., “We Need Sanctified Thinkers,” The Set of the Sail, Christian Publications, 1986, pp. 67, 68).

For revival to come in our churches, we need something better than what these preachers offer, with their dry-as-dust “expository sermons,” with scattered ideas culled from the modern commentaries of a few shallow contemporary authors. We need something better than their “flabby Christianity” that cannot attract young people in the world to become disciples of Jesus Christ!

Yet, when we come to that question ourselves, we often wonder how we can effectively win lost young people from the world. After a great deal of soul-searching and prayer, I have become convinced that nothing we do can win young people from the world without the intervention of God Himself. God said to the prophet Zechariah,

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

The only possible way we can win lost young people to Christ and to our church is “by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”

The Disciples saw the Rich Young Ruler walk away from Christ, going back to a life of selfishness and sin. The Disciples asked Christ, “Who then can be saved?”

“And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:26, 27).

There you have it! Humanly speaking it is impossible to convert the Rich Young Ruler, or any other young person! “With men it is impossible.” No program can do it! No clever sermon can do it! No sort of entertainment can do it! “Who then can be saved?” “With men it is impossible.” He did not say, “It is improbable.” No, no! He said, “It is impossible.” ONLY GOD CAN DO IT! “With men it is impossible, but not with God.”

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

Only God can make a young person see the emptiness of this life – and the hopelessness of this world! Only God can make a young person feel the need to be in church every Sunday! Only God can strip away their self-confidence! Only God can bring them under conviction of sin! Only God can draw them to Christ for justification by His Blood! Only the power of God can draw them to His Son, and make them live in His sight!

But how can we have the power of God among us? That brings us again to our text,

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6).

Here God told us why we should fast:


1.  To loose the bands [or chains] of wickedness.

2.  To undo the heavy burdens.

3.  To let the oppressed go free and break every yoke.


If you are with us this morning and you are not yet a born again Christian, I want you to know that there are many young people here who fasted for you yesterday. We are not announcing their names. But many of them fasted and prayed for you in secret. They did not eat all day, not until we came to church last night and had a meal together. Why did they fast and pray for you? They did it because they are very concerned for you. They want you to be set free from the chains of sin. They want you to be set free from the heavy burdens and oppression of Satan. They fasted and prayed all day yesterday for God to come down and set you free from sin, and draw you into the full fellowship of our church, and draw you to Christ for cleansing by His precious Blood. Dr. Elmer Towns of Liberty University said,

      When you fast and pray, you can ask God to open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing on others...You can bang on the gates of heaven so that God will convict the lost person of sin and bring him or her to Jesus Christ (Elmer L. Towns, D.Min., The Beginner’s Guide to Fasting, Regal, 2001, p. 124).

Most of our people fasted and prayed for you yesterday. They asked God to open your eyes to see the emptiness of life without Christ. They prayed for God to draw you into the warmth and friendship of our church. They asked God to illuminate your heart, so you can feel your sin, and see your need for Christ. They asked God to show you that Jesus died on the Cross to pay the penalty for your sin, and shed His precious Blood to cleanse you from all sin. They prayed for you, that God would show you Jesus, in all His beauty, up in Heaven, in another dimension. They fasted and prayed for God to draw you into our church, and to draw you to Christ, so you can be converted and have eternal life in Him. That old song, Mr. Griffith sang before this sermon, expresses their prayers for you.

I have a Saviour, He’s pleading in glory,
   A dear, loving Saviour, though earth-friends be few;
And now He is watching in tenderness o’er me;
   But oh, that my Saviour were your Saviour, too!
For you I am praying, For you I am praying,
   For you I am praying, I’m praying for you.

If you are praying for our friends who are not yet saved, sing that chorus to them!

For you I am praying, For you I am praying,
   For you I am praying, I’m praying for you.
(“I Am Praying for You” by S. O’Malley Clough, 1837-1910).

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Matthew 6:16-18.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“I Am Praying for You” (by S. O’Malley Clough, 1837-1910).