A Home Sickness for God
Rev. Lily Lim | On 30, Jun 2015
Psalm 73:25-26 – Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.
(1) The birthplace of Christian fasting
The birthplace of Christian fasting is homesickness for God.
For many years, we have been fasting to engage in this outward war of revival, church growth and spiritual breakthrough.
But this morning, for the first time in 29 years, I want to direct our fasting to our inward war with our own appetites that compete with hunger for God.
Simply put, I want to change our inward motivation for fasting as we are going to launch our fasting month this July 1, 2015. Let’s for once in 29 years, not fast for benefits or blessings of God but to fast so that we can hunger for all the fullness of God. The thrust this year for our fasting is HUNGER FOR GOD.
This morning, in order to launch the fasting month of July, I would like to share a message entitled – A HOMESICKNESS FOR GOD.
1. THE ROMANCE AND THE RESISTANCE OF FASTING
Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness of God. Half of the Christian fasting is that our physical appetite is lost because our homesickness of God is so intense. The other half is that our homesickness for God is threatened because our physical appetites are so intense.
In the first half, appetite is lost. In the second half, the appetite is resisted.
In the first we yield to the higher hunger that is.
In the second, we fight for the higher hunger that isn’t.
Christian fasting is not only the spontaneous effect of a superior satisfaction in God; it is also a chosen weapon against every force in the world that would take that satisfaction away.
2. GOD’S GREATEST ADVERSARIES ARE HIS GIFTS
The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but mango pies. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ills that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.
Jesus said some people hear the word of God and a desire for God is awakened in their hearts. But then, “as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and PLEASURES OF THIS LIFE” (Luke 8:14). In another place he said, “THE DESIRES FOR OTHER THINGS enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).
“The pleasures of this life” and “the desires for other things” – these are not evil in themselves. These are not vices. These are gifts of God. They are your basic meat and rice and coffee and gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and TV watching and Internet surfing and shopping and exercise and collecting and talking. And all of them can become deadly substitutes for God.
3. THE DEADENING EFFECTS OF INNOCENT DELIGHTS
What does it mean when we say that the root of Christian fasting is the hunger of homesickness for God?
It means we will do anything and go without anything if, by any means, we might protect ourselves from the deadening effects of innocent delights and preserve the sweet longings of our homesickness for God. Not just food but anything.
E.g. A pastor of one church called his people to fast for a twenty-four-period once a week (breakfast and lunch on Wednesday, if possible) during the month of January. They needed the fullness of God’s presence with all his wisdom and purifying power. Within a few days, the pastor got this note in his mail: “I’m behind this. I think God is in it. It doesn’t work for me on Wednesday. I’m with people over lunch every day. So I have a couple of things I believe are from the Spirit that may be more of a fast for some than food. I thought not watching TV for a week or for a month or for a night of the week when I normally watch it, might be more of a fast than food. Instead of watching my favorite program, I might spend the time talking and listening to God. I wonder, if there might be others for whom this would be a fast and would be a focused time of prayer to them.
If your heart is right and you are open to the Lord for a spirit of awakening through fasting, He will show you. He will show you when and how. If your health doesn’t allow for that, if the doctor says, “No fasting for you,” that’s fine. The Great Physician knows all about that and something else will work for you.”
The issue is not food per se. The issue is anything and everything that is, or can be, a substitute for God. Anything can stand in the way of true discipleship – not just evil, and not just food but anything. Nor should it be surprising that the greatest competitors for our devotion and affection for God would be some of His most precious gifts.
That is why God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his long-awaited promised son, Isaac, at the altar. Why? To help Abraham from turning gifts into gods.
So does fasting. Fasting keeps us from turning gifts into gods. Fasting is not the forfeit of evil but of good.
Fasting is a test to see what desires controls us. What are our bottom-line passions?
In his book on The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says, “More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other things.”
Psychologically, that sort of thing is spoken of a lot today, especially in regard to people who have much pain in their lives. We would say they “medicate” their pain with food. They anesthetize themselves to the hurt inside by eating. But this is not some rare, technical syndrome. All of us do it. Everybody. No exceptions. We all ease our discomfort using food and cover our unhappiness by setting our eyes on dinnertime. Which is why fasting exposes all of us – our pain, our pride, our anger. Then what are you are going to do with all the unhappiness inside? Formerly, you blocked it out with the hope of a tasty lunch. The hope of food gave you the good feelings to balance out the bad feelings. But now the balance is off. You must find another way to deal with it.
How? By fasting and recognizing that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
4. JESUS’ 40-DAY FAST
The Son of God began his earthly ministry with a forty-day fast. Why did Jesus do this? Why did the Holy Spirit lead him to it immediately after he was baptized in River Jordan?
It is to expose him to Satan’s testing.
Under the Spirit’s leading Jesus prepared himself for this testing by fasting. “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days…” The Spirit of God willed that the Son of God be tested on his way into the ministry and he willed that Jesus triumphed in this testing through fasting. It must not go unnoticed that Jesus triumphed over the great enemy of his soul and our salvation through fasting.
Here is Jesus, standing on the threshold of the most important ministry in the history of the world. On His obedience and righteousness hangs the salvation of the world. None will escape damnation without this ministry of obedient suffering and death and resurrection. And God wills that, at the very outset, this ministry be threatened with destruction – namely the temptations of Satan to abandon the path of lowliness and suffering and obedience. And of all the hundreds of things Jesus might have done to fight off this tremendous threat to salvation, He is led, in the Spirit to fast.
If Satan had succeeded in deterring Jesus from the path of humble, sacrificial obedience, there would be no salvation. We would still be in our sins and without hope. Therefore, we owe our salvation, in some measure to the fasting of Jesus. This is a remarkable tribute to fasting. Don’t pass over this quickly. Think on it. Jesus began his ministry with fasting. And he triumphed over his enemy through fasting. And our salvation was accomplished through perseverance by fasting.
Now to see the fuller meaning of this, we must look at the book of Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 8:2-3 – And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and LET YOU BE HUNGRY, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your father know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.
Each time Jesus responded to the three temptations of the devil in the wilderness He quoted from Deuteronomy.
“Man shall not live by bread alone.” – Deuteronomy 8:3.
“You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”- Deuteronomy 6:16
“You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” – Deuteronomy 6:13
This is very significant. Here is Jesus led by the Spirit into the wilderness – mark this, THE WILDERNESS – and to counter the temptations of Satan, Jesus quotes passages from Deuteronomy, all of which are spoken by Moses to the people of Israel about their time of TESTING IN THE WILDERNESS.
Matthew 4:3-4 says, “The tempter came and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’ But He answered and said, ‘It is written, Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Now compare Deuteronomy 8:2-3 and notice the parallels between that situation in the wilderness and Jesus’ situation in the wilderness.
God is teaching us something here. The Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness. What does this mean?
It means that the Old Testament shadows are being replaced with New Testament reality. It means that something greater than Moses and the wilderness and the Law and Joshua and the Promised Land is at stake here. It means that the time of fulfillment is at hand. The promise to Moses is coming true. “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15). It means that God is now, with the incarnation of His Son, preparing to deliver his people – the new Israel – from the Egyptian bondage of sin into the Promised Land of forgiveness and righteousness and eternal life. To do this he has sent a new Moses, or in this case, a new Joshua [Jesus reenacts both roles and the name “Jesus” is identical to “Joshua” in New Testament Greek]. This new Joshua stands as the head and representative of the whole new people that Jesus will gather from Jews and Gentile. On their behalf, Jesus will now be led by the Spirit into the wilderness. He will stay 40 days to represent 40 year. He will be tested as Israel was tested. And He will hunger as Israel hungered. And if He triumphs, he and all his people go safely into the Promised Land of forgiveness and eternal life.
Now we can see the meaning of Jesus’ fasting more clearly.
• His Fasting Was Both War and Weapon, Testing and Triumph
It was not an arbitrary choice of something to do in the face of Satanic temptation. It was a voluntary act of IDENTIFICATION with the people of God in their wilderness deprivation and trial. Jesus was saying in effect, “I have been sent to lead the people of God out of the bondage of sin into the Promised Land of salvation. To do this I must be one of them. That is why I was born. That is why I was baptized. Therefore I will take on the testing that they experienced. I will represent them in the wilderness and allow my heart to be probed with fasting to see where my allegiance is and who is my God. And, with the Spirit’s help, I will triumph through this fasting. I will overcome the devil and lead all who trust me into the Promised Land of eternal glory.
In other words, Jesus’ fasting was not only preparation for testing, it was part of his testing, in the same way that hunger was a test of faith for the people of Israel in the wilderness. Moses said, “God led you in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you be hungry” (Deuteronomy 8:2). So it was with Jesus. The Spirit led him in the wilderness and let him be hungry that he might test him to see what was in his heart. Did he love God or did he love bread? But that doesn’t mean that his fasting was not also, even at the same time, a weapon in the fight against Satan. Fasting tests where the heart is. And when it reveals that the heart is with God and not the world, a mighty blow is struck against Satan. For then Satan does not have the foothold he would if our heart were in love with earthly things like bread.
• Fasting as a Heart-revealing Forfeiture
The people of God are often called to go without the ordinary means of life.
Fasting is a brief, voluntary experience of this deprivation. When we experience this willing forfeiture, the Lord reveals what is in our hearts. What are we controlled by? What do we value and trust? What are we slaves to? What are we most hungry for – food or God? Fasting is God’s testing ground – and healing ground. Will we murmur as the Israelites murmured in the absence of bread? For Jesus, the question was: Would he leave the path of sacrificial obedience and turn stones into bread? Or would he “live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God”? Fasting is a way of revealing to ourselves and confessing to our God what is in our hearts. Where do we find our deepest satisfaction – in God or in his gifts?
And the aim of fasting is that we come to rely less on food and more on God. That’s the meaning of the words in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Every time we fast we are saying with Jesus, “Not by bread alone, but by you, Lord, Not by bread alone, but by you, Lord.”
That is why for this coming launch of fasting, we are incorporating a 15 minutes of meditation on the word of God [above and beyond your daily devo] in accordance to what Pastor Toh Nee has shared last Sunday. Instead of being homesick for food; instead of using food to medicate our sadness, we want our soul and spirit to quiet down before God every night for 15 minutes and think over, reflect, and chew on one verse of rhema or one portion of the promise again and again. We want to gratify our appetite with the living word of God and not bread.
• Fasting for God, Not His Miracle Bread
When Jesus quotes, “Man shall live on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God,” he means that that we must trust in God and not in bread.
The key is found in the context of Deuteronomy 8:3 where Jesus gets the word in Matthew 4:4:
God fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your father know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.
Notice carefully- Jesus is saying that the giving of manna is the test. Not the WITHHOLDING OF FOOD, but the GIVING OF FOOD – to teach them that man does not live by bread alone. He gave them manna, an utterly unheard-of food falling from heaven. Why? So that they would learn, Moses says, to live on everything that comes from the mouth of God. Now how is that? How does the giving of miraculous manna teach that? Because manna is one of the incredible ways God can, with a mere word, meet your needs when all else looks hopeless. So Moses’ point is that we must learn to depend on God and not ourselves. We must trust him for every utterly unexpected blessing that is commanded for us from the mouth of God.
But now watch what Satan does with that truth in dealing with Jesus. Satan says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread (Matthew 4:3). In other words, “Make manna for yourself, like your Father did in the wilderness.” Satan is crafty in the extreme. He has seen that the manna was meant to teach the miracle-working power of God to provide for his people in distress. So he argues with Jesus, “The reason your Father gave manna in the wilderness was to teach the people to expect miracles in distress; so treat yourself to some miracle bread and you will be obeying scripture.”
To this Jesus responds, “Satan you are so close and yet so far. You have always handled the word of God that way, so subtly and so deceptively. You sound like you approve but you turn every word against God. The point of the manna was this, Satan: Don’t trust in bread – not even miracle bread – trust in God; Don’t get your deepest satisfaction in life from food – not even God-wrought miracle food – but from God. Every word that comes out of the mouth of God reveals God. And it is this SELF-REVELATION that we feed on most deeply. This will last for ever. This is eternal life. Be gone, Satan, God is my portion. I will not turn from his path and his fellowship, not even for miraculous manna.
This is the deepest lesson of Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness. It was a weapon in the war against satanic deception because it was a demonstration that Jesus hungered more for God and God’s will than he did for God’s wonders. He might have rationalized that turning stones to bread is precisely what the Son of God should do as he reenacted the wilderness experience of God’s people. They got manna. He would get manna. In that case, fasting would be a religious prelude to miraculous provision. That is why I stated in my introduction that the thrust of our fasting this July is not for outward gains like breakthroughs or answered prayer but more for inward warfare – that we will hunger more for the fullness of God Himself.
But that is not how Jesus reasoned. And that is not what fasting was. Instead, Jesus reasoned like this: “I have been sent to suffer and to die for my people. The only hope of carrying this through is to so love God, my Father, that he is more precious to me than even the demonstration of his miraculous power to relieve me of my distresses. I know it is his will to crush me and put me to grief for the sake of his people. I have read it in Isaiah 53:10. I will not use fasting as an effort to escape this calling. That is what Satan wants me to make of it – a prelude to the miraculous divine provision of bread, just like Deuteronomy. But here’s the difference. They were tested a little and I will be tested much. For much more hangs on my test than on theirs.”
5. THE TRIUMPH OF HUNGER FOR GOD
What then was fasting for Jesus? It was both test and triumph. It was the test of his deepest appetite and triumph of his hunger for God above all things. And therefore it was also a triumph over Satan. The Calvary Road was the way to his own death and the defeat of the devil. At the Cross Jesus “disarmed the ruler and authorities and make a public display of them, having triumphed over them” (Colossians 2:15). The road that led to this defeat started with a forty day fast [that is why we are also launching a 40 day fast this July 1]. And in that fast Jesus demonstrated the power that enabled him to bruise the serpent’s head at Golgotha. It was the power of faith, that is, the power of a superior satisfaction in God above all things, even the miraculous gifts of God. This deep confidence and contentment in God sustained Christ all the way to the end.
Fasting is a periodic and sometimes decisive declaration that we would rather feast at God’s table in the kingdom of heaven than feed on the finest delicacies of this world. Jesus knew what he had left in heaven. And he knew what he was returning to. That was his given hope and joy. To return to the Father with “the fruit of the travail of his soul” – the church – (Isaiah 53:11) was Jesus’ greatest desire. On this his soul feasted, and this is what sustained him in fasting and dying.
Is your soul homesick for God or is it homesick for all the innocent delights of the world? Have the gifts of God become the gods of your soul? Has your soul lately be deadened by the deadly substitutes of God that may include good things like basic needs, answered prayers or even bread and food? Have you been using food to medicate for your sadness?
It is time that we be like Jesus – set aside 40 days to fast that we may regain our homesickness for God – that we may be like Jesus – to hunger for God and God alone.
Joseph Wimmer says, “The weakness of hunger which leads to death brings forth the goodness and power of God who wills life. Here there is no extortion, no magic attempt to force God’s will. We merely look with confidence upon heavenly father and through our fasting say gently in our hearts; “Father, without you I will die; come to my assistance, make haste to help me.”
Every time we fast we are saying with Jesus, “Not by bread alone, but by you, Lord. Not by bread alone, but by you, Lord.”
Use this 40 day fasting period to fast and meditate on the living word – Jesus. He is our true portion!
END OF SERMON
Preached on 28 June 2015 at 1st English service