Remember when Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44)? He said that we do this so that we “may be the children of your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:45). This is hard. Our resentment seeks to lash out against our enemies with an “eye for an eye” and a “blow for a blow.” But Jesus enjoined on us the attitude that when we are persecuted for doing good, we should respond positively: “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Mt 5:12).
David took this one step further. We struggle under the instructions of Jesus to love and pray for our enemies. The carnal side of our humanity seeks to retaliate with equal harm to our enemies. But what if the Holy Spirit called on us not only to pray, but also to fast for our enemies? This is what David, the “man after God’s own heart,” did in response to his enemies. We humbly listen to the Holy Spirit speak to us through David in Psalm 35:
They [David’s enemies] rewarded me evil for good to the sorrow of my soul. But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth. I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer returned to me unanswered. I behaved myself as though he [my enemy] had been my friend or brother. I bowed down heavily as one who mourns for his mother (Ps 35:12-14).
Would we mourn in sackcloth with fasting for those who lash out against us? David turned his enemies over to the Lord through prayer and fasting. “And let the angel of the Lord persecute them” (Ps 35:6). But as for him, he would fast for them as one would fast for his own brother or mother.
In view of one’s struggles through fasting, we find it amazing that David would behave so toward his enemies. It is easy to utter a momentary prayer for an enemy and move on. We comfort ourselves that we have legally satisfied Jesus’ command to pray for our enemies. But with a lingering and prolonged fast, it is not so easy to dismiss our responsibility to “pray for those who persecute us.”
A prayer is for a moment, but a fast is for a prolonged period of time during which one is self-inflicting oneself on behalf of his enemy. In this behavior we realize the longsuffering of God who lingers for us when we go astray from Him. We begin to understand how, not why, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (Jn 3:16). In fasting for our enemies, we are given a brief glimpse into the longsuffering of God that the Holy Spirit sought to explain through Paul in the following statement: “But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8).
David was a person who identified himself so much with the character of God that he put himself in the place of God in this world. He sought to be a child of His Father who was in heaven. He wrote, “For the zeal of Your house has eaten me up. And the reproaches of those who reproached You are fallen on me” (Ps 69:9). David was so in tune with God that the unrighteous could not comprehend the spirit and purpose of his fasting. “When I chastened my soul with fasting,” he wrote, “men jeered at me” (Ps 69:10).
In fasting, the righteous will often be ridiculed by the unrighteous today because they do not understand the spiritual purpose for which the righteous fast. If one does not believe this, then try fasting at the time when there is an office party. Try to maintain a fast during a family reunion or during a birthday party.
We have found that it is quite difficult to have a lengthy fast in a world that seems to consider the eating of food on a continual basis a necessary part of connecting socially. The world jeers at the one who would discipline himself in a prolonged fast. There is no respect for the one fasting because those around him are deep into the world. Imagine drinking no coffee at the office for a week. It would be as David said, “I made sackcloth also my garment, and I became a proverb to them” (Ps 69:11).
When in a prolonged fast in these modern times, it will be sometimes as David, who lamentably wrote during his fast for his enemies:
Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness. And I look for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Ps 69:20).
Nevertheless, one’s fast must continue if he or she has determined to reconnect with God in deliverance from the foes of this world. We must fast until we feast on the sweet morsels of spiritual energy that flows freely from the throne of our Father. David would walk us through this journey. “My knees are weak through fasting,” He wrote, “and my flesh fails of fatness” (Ps 109:24).
David fasted to the point that his body was manifesting to those around him the loss of weight. This was not a day fast. It was not for two or three days. It was a fast that could be identified by his loss of “fatness” over a long period of time. But in such a fast, one must be prepared for the jeering of the unrighteous. David again wrote, “I have become also a reproach to them [the unrighteous]. When they look on me, they shake their heads” (Ps 109:25).
There may be times in our lives when we should fast to the point that unbelievers shake their heads concerning what we are doing to ourselves. At least this was what David did. Our unbelieving friends will never understand why we would go on a fast to the point that our bodies would show a tremendous loss of weight. The non-spiritual have no idea what the spiritual are trying to accomplish through fasting. If there were a time when the spiritual are not on the same page as the non-spiritual, it is in the realm of fasting.
Fasting by the spiritual proclaims to the world that our Father reigns in our lives. The one who fasts, however, must not put on a show of their fasting as the hypocrites. Jesus said of them, “Do not look gloomy as the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so that they may appear to men to be fasting” (Mt 6:16). The righteous must wash and cloth themselves in an ordinary manner in order to manifest to the world that their fast is inward, not outward (Mt 5:17,18). Fasting is never to be for the purpose of manifesting one’s self before the world, lest the purpose for fasting be defeated.
It is interesting to note what David concluded should be one of the outcomes of a prolonged fast: “So that they may know that this is Your hand, that You, Lord, have done it” (Ps 109:27). We would fast until the unbeliever comes to the conclusion that we fast in order to reconnect with our Father in heaven.
[Next lecture in series: July 22]