The Disciplines of Abstinence: Fasting

Dallas Willard Part 7 of 13

A series of talks Dallas gave for African Enterprise on his first trip to South Africa in 1985. He works through some of the material that became The Spirit of the Disciplines.


Dallas: Now, we are going to pick up right in the middle of where we left off last time and that is in our discussion of fasting. I would like to read a couple of passages from 1st Peter and 2nd Peter to help us focus on what the meaning of all of this discussion is.

We are talking about developing a personal strategy for spiritual growth into the fullness of life in the Kingdom of God. And if you would look with me first to 1 Peter 2: 9-13th verses—we are talking about Disciplines of Abstinence and we are talking about using our bodies. [00:50]

Now, remember that a body—your body—is a limited reservoir of relatively independent power and if we are going to get any where at all in the way of Christ, we must use some of our power to abstain from certain kinds of things.

You remember, the great problem that is stated by the Apostle Paul—the things that I would do I do not and the things that I would not, that I do. (Romans 7:19) And that distinction gives rise to two classes of disciplines—the Disciplines of Abstinence and the Disciplines of Engagement—the Disciplines of Abstinence and the Disciplines of Engagement. [2:16]

In the disciplines of abstinence, we purposefully restrain ourselves for some length of time and to some degree from the satisfaction of desires, which might normally be regarded as quite legitimate. These desires normally will also be organized around our basic drives or motivations, such as food and sleep, the bodily activity of exercise or moving about, companionship, curiosity, sex; also, desires for convenience which are not among the basic desires—the desires for comfort and material security, reputation or fame, the desire for variety. [3:07]

Among psychologists, there is no generally agreed list of what the basic motivations are but certainly the ones that we have listed here are among those that would be recognized by almost anyone as very important in their lives.

So, now, the adequate discipline is going to single out those desires which especially those that are in the individual case causing the person to not be able to avoid those things they intend not to do and those desires will then be curved and restrained by an exercise unto Godliness which consists in abstaining.

Now, look at what Peter says—1 Peter 2: chapter 9 and following—I’m sorry, verse 9—1 Peter 2:9—yes, there is no chapter 9. That’s one of those non-existent chapters in the Bible. “ . . . ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood . . .” Not just a priesthood, but a royal priesthood. This goes along with the statement in Exodus 19:6 that you are a “kingdom of priests;” “ . . . a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; Which in time past were not a people (at all), but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” (1 Peter 2: 9-10) [4:52]

Now, here is the great verse, which you must associate with the disciplines of abstinence. “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they may speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day (when he visits them) of visitation.”  [5:25]

“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul . . .”—now, I wanted—I have to comment here a little bit on this verse because some of your translations—I know the New International Version, which is a very fine translation generally will say, “sinful lusts” and it’s very important for me in what I am trying to present to you to make sure that you understand that “fleshly” is not the same thing as “sinful”—and indeed the wording here is not sinful; the wording here is sarkikon—fleshly. Now, if the Greek language wants to say sinful, it has all the resources in the world to say “sinful” and it does it on many occasions. These are not sinful lusts; they are fleshly lusts. [6:20]

Some of you may have noticed that I use in my teaching the old King James Version and people often ask me, “Why do you do that? Why do you stick to that old version?” Well, I’ll tell you. I find it a little easier to protect myself against prejudices of 1611, than I do the prejudices of 1985; and the modern versions have the modern prejudices in them. The old versions have the old prejudices in them.

Now, there is no way in this world that you by language look at the word, sarkikon and get sinful out of that.  There is no way in the world you can do that. I’m going to say some more about that in a moment because it is really extremely important and you know, I find in many respects, at the key terms, the Old Version is so faithful and I must say that the Revised Standard Version is also quite good and so, I don’t want to make it just a matter of all modern translations. [7:29]

This shows up over and over. For example, I’ll speak some the very last time around about the Beatitudes and you will find many, many attempts to translate the first beatitude in Matthew 5:3 which just says blessed are those who are poverty stricken in spiritual things. That’s what it says, but people who can’t understand that because of modern prejudices will translate, blessed are those who think they are. Now again, the Greek language wants to say, blessed are those who think they are? Now, it can do that. It has the resources and indeed it may well be true that blessed are those who think they are poverty stricken in spiritual things. That doesn’t say that. It says blessed are those who ARE poverty stricken in spiritual things and so we have to be very careful and I thought some of you might be concerned about that. I thought I would just explain it to you, because very often people are troubled and they sort of wonder if I am that much of a “back number” that I haven’t found about about new translations but I am troubled about some of the language and that’s why I use it. [8:39]

So when you read this now, remember not everything that can cause us trouble is sinful.

Question: Dallas?

Dallas: Yes?

Question: What was the Greek word you said for lust?

Dallas: Yes; epithumialepithumial, yes. I want to comment on that after while too because that’s an important term and indeed this morning, we are going to be dealing with lust in various aspects. [9:04]

Epithumium and that’s the fairly standard word which is used; for example in Matthew 5 where it speaks of looking at a woman to lust—that’s epithumium and the passage I am going to look at in 2 Peter in a moment has that same word.

So, fleshly, setting the mind, the way the flesh brings us to set our minds. Lust is a way of setting the mind. It’s desire. It sets the mind upon something. Epithumium is a word which emphasizes the way the mind is brought to bear and to dwell and is fixed upon something and sometimes the desires come from the flesh and usually, in our case, those desires will come from the flesh but, what I want to say to you is that not every fleshly lust is sinful and you must really think about this because you’ve got to worry here, if it’s true that fleshly lust is sinful, then your desire for a drink of water is sinful because that is a desire and you get very thirsty, you really do want water—fleshly lust. [10:23]

We want to remember that sometimes the things that will hinder us are not sins. Hebrews 12:1 says, laying “ . . . aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.” There are sins and then there are weights; and when it comes to following Christ, we have to be concerned about the weights. You have to be concerned about the general structure of our souls and our minds, which would hinder us in following Him.

And that’s what Peter is concerned about here—“Dearly beloved, I beseech you  . . . abstain from fleshly lusts . . .” Now, does that mean we should never want to have a nice big piece of chocolate cake with ice cream on it? That if we want that, we have done something wrong? No, it certainly doesn’t.  But, Peter is telling us “as strangers and pilgrims” in this world, we have to practice abstention. We have to be able to abstain and to be able to abstain, we practice abstention and that’s where the disciplines of abstention come in. [11:36]

Let me go now to the first chapter of 2 Peter and here again, we have this word, epithumia in the fourth verse. Here we have a marvelous progression.

“Simon, Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ,”—this is 2nd Peter the first chapter—“ . . . to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour (Jesus Christ): Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness . . .”) 2 Peter 1: 1-3

Now, we want to emphasize the adequacy of the supply. All power is given—the great commission tells us. Here we are told, “ . . . all things that pertain to life and godliness” are made available “ . . . through the knowledge of him that has called us to glory and to virtue . . .” That’s what we are called to—glory and virtue. And all of the provisions are made and the way we approach what we are called to is through knowledge of Him. And that knowledge of course is not just a “head” knowledge. It is an experiential walk with our Saviour. It is a personal dealing with Him and we meet Him as we engage in the disciplines which He engaged in. [13:03]

To be a disciple of Jesus in the years when he was on the earth was in a certain respect simple because you only had to BE with Him. Now, you cannot be with Him in the same way. You can’t follow Him around the countryside. So, how are you going to be with Him? You are going to be with Him in practicing His words and deeds in your place.

Now, He will come to be with you. It’s important to emphasize that point. John, the 14th chapter, we have an interesting dialogue here because Jesus is getting ready to leave and He says that in verse 21 of 14—if you keep my commandments and you love me through the keeping of my commandments, I will love you and I will manifest myself to you. (John 14:21)

Now, you see, what is really being said here is He’s telling us how He will BE with us and remember that to be a disciple of Jesus is to BE with Him. Can we just pause to let that sink in a bit? To be a disciple of Jesus is to be with Him because sometimes we just don’t get down to a very concrete level of meaning for these terms. [14:19]

Now, the question is how shall we be with Him? And Judas, not Iscariot asks the right question in John 14: verse 22—Judas said, “Lord, how is it that you will (thou wilt) manifest yourself (thyself) to us, and not unto the world?” And Jesus answers, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come under (unto) him and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings:” and then Jesus goes on to speak of the Comforter or Paraclete and what He is saying there is simply this, “Judas, I will manifest Myself to you. My Father will manifest Myself to you by coming to dwell in you as a personal presence.” You will know me as a personal presence and of course, that will only happen where you are and where you are as you practice the commandments, the words and deeds of Jesus, you will know the fellowship of Jesus Himself and that is how we will be His disciples. [15:26]

Now, look at this progression back in 2 Peter though because when we get ahold of this principle, notice the great way that we progress from the beginning point all the way to that fulfillment in glory and virtue. Verse 4—“Whereby we are given . . . exceeding, great and precious promises: that by these—the promises—you might be partakers of the divine nature . . .”

See, we are talking about becoming like Christ, having His nature or as we would say in the language of Matthew 5, the end of chapter 5 of Matthew—we are bearing the family resemblance. We are being like God. “Be ye (therefore) perfect, (even) as your Father (which is) in Heaven (also) is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) We bear the family resemblance.

And now because we are partakers of the Divine nature, then we escape the corruption that is in the world through lust. That’s verse 4 and here the term is again, epithumia. Now, it doesn’t say we say we escape lust and the use of the old English word here is troublesome and we would do better to use the word desire. [16:44]

Desire is not something we escape. You escape that I guess when you are dead and perhaps not even then. There is nothing wrong with desire but there is a corruption that is in the world because people do not know how to live with desire. They don’t know how to restrain it or fulfill it as the case may be whether it’s appropriate in the one case or the other to restrain the lust or to fulfill it—the desire—and consequently the self and the world decays and is ruined and it falls into that terrible condition that it’s in today. [17:31]

Now the progression begins—And besides all of this, giving all diligence; to your faith, add virtue; to virtue add knowledge; to knowledge add temperance or self control; to temperance, patience or long suffering; to patience, you add godliness; to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, Divine love. {2 Peter 1: 5-7)

That marvelous progression—by the way, you will find a number of these in the scriptures that you really should pay attention to. For example, you will find a beautiful one in the first verses of Romans, chapter 5 where we proceed from peace with God through faith to the point to where the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. Our whole personality is permeated with the love of God and that progression is the progression of a disciple of Jesus Christ as they follow Him in the way, sharing His easy, comfortable yoke through a life of discipline. [18:34]

Now, with that general reminder and introduction, we want to go right back to our discussion of fasting. We have discussed solitude as a discipline and we have discussed silence as a discipline—silence in two of its aspects—and you may recall that you have a list of the ones I am going to be discussing in the sheet that is in your folder and recall also please that I am not attempting here to deal with everything that might be called a discipline for the spiritual life.  But rather with some that are clearly central, both in the history of the church and I think also if you try to think about these as functions of the nature of man, of his psychological makeup—you will see that solitude and silence and now fasting and the other things that we are looking at are of absolutely central importance.

In fasting, we abstain in some significant way from food and possibly from drink as well. The desert fathers, such as St. Anthony often subsisted for long periods of time on bread and water. When we go back and read those stories, we want to remember that their bread was much more nutritious than what we have today. It was a full meal in itself in many cases and so if you are going to go on bread and water, make sure you’ve got some nutritious bread.

Daniel and his friends would not eat the King’s meat nor drink His wine. You will remember the story. They ate only vegetables and water (Daniel 1:12). At another time, Daniel “ . . . ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine into my mouth,” he says. “ . . . neither did I anoint myself (with oil) till three whole weeks were fulfilled.” This is Daniel 10:3. [20:29]

Jesus in the time of His preparation for His temptations seems to have foregone all food for more than a month and that was perhaps one of the longest fasts that you will find recorded in the scripture.

Now, as I had indicated last time, fasting is to confirm our utter dependence upon God. All true fasting is feasting upon God. It’s very important to remember that and if we don’t, we will never understand why Jesus says what he did in the passage that I read at the close of last session about fasting in the Sermon on the Mount.  Many people are deeply troubled by this because they think of fasting as a very painful and difficult kind of thing and then they think Jesus is asking them to fake their misery, to hide their misery and He’s not doing that at all. And anyone who has entered into fasting very much knows that fasting is not a difficult and painful thing except in the beginning. [21:37]

In the beginning you have to teach your stomach, which is a creature of habit like all parts of your body—you have to teach your stomach what it can expect. And like many of us, when we expect something and don’t get it, it growls and complains and hollers a bit but it gets used to it and after

a while, it stops hollering and so fasting is not a painful thing. It is not a difficult thing once you have accustomed yourself to doing it. And Jesus is not teaching us in those passages that I read to you that we should fake away our misery. He is dwelling upon the fact that we should not try to impress others through exhibiting our misery or looking miserable. We should take a shower and fix our hair and smell good and look good and act bright and happy, as we will be. [22:28]

And I can tell you personally, and I think others of you here can say the same thing, that once you have accustomed yourself to fasting, the best days you will have are the days you are fasting. You will feel so good physically. You will feel so strong mentally. Your mind will be clear. You will just be—you will really have to contain yourself not to be too happy sometimes! And it’s really sad that many people don’t know this and this is because they are in the position of those that Paul speaks of in Philippians 3:19 and Romans 16:8 (this scripture in Romans is incorrect; the correct scripture is Romans 16:18) “whose God is their belly.” [23:03]

Now your belly of course is not just your stomach as the Bible uses this term. It refers to this kind of center here where our feelings are and if you will notice, most of your feelings sort of radiate from around the center part of your body and there is a great drive among people to control that “feeling center” and have it okay.

The person who is addicted to drugs or something of that sort is a person who cannot handle the discomfort that is located in the central parts of their body and it just drives them and they cannot control it and they have told themselves that they must be satisfied—you see, their God is their belly—this isn’t just a matter of food. It’s a matter of the feeling in your stomach in your comfort zone—right down in here and that thing that is right in here—if you’ve got to feel good in here, you are in real trouble, see because you will spend your life controlling your feelings and that’s the person “whose God is his belly.” [24:05]

Jesus, on the other hand, knew that we had to step aside from that and accept the Word of God which comes to us as substance and He says in John 4:32 when they come to Him and try to get Him to eat, He says, I have meat to eat that the world does not know about. And again He says in John 4:34, “ . . . My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me . . . ”

Now, can I once again kind of emphasize the point I make over and over? When we hear these words, we should try them out to see if they might not be meant literally. We might think, “Oh, it’s a wonderful poetic phrase.” My meat, my sustenance is to do the Will of Him that sent me.

We need to try on the idea that this may really be a literal statement. You see, to take in the Word of God in the Bible is to do it. It isn’t to hear it. It’s to do it. And when we take in the Word of God through doing, it sustains us in a literal sense and the idea that well, the real sustenance is that material stuff out there overlooks the simple fact that the only thing that makes that material stuff hold together is the word of God itself. The clear teaching of the New Testament is that that bread and that meat and that drink would not be what it is except for the very logos, which holds it together. [25:40]

And as Paul tells us in Colossians (1:17), Jesus Christ is that wherein all things consist. Consist means stick together—consistency.  You talk about the consistency of a dough or a glue or something of that sort, don’t you? And doesn’t that mean, the way it sticks together, the toughness with which it adheres and when we speak of Jesus Christ as that in whom “all things consist,” we are saying, you see, that more fundamental than the bread which results from the word is the word which produces the bread. Now, if the word can produce the bread, dear friends, do you think it might not be able to sustain me—really?

We must really be clear about these things in our faith and I am not—certainly not wanting to suggest that everything can be understood. But if you understand that with things like the miracles that Jesus performed or that you may see in your own experience or in the church, you understand that what holds everything together is the logos. Then things like water turning into wine or wine into water or whatever it may be or the ability to calm the seas and the winds becomes quite another thing for your faith because then you simply see well, the logos is controlling all and it controls that too. So, let’s remember that. That Jesus when He spoke of the “meat to eat that ye know not of,” He was talking in very literal terms. (John 4:32)  [27:13]

In fasting, we learn temperance and self control as manifested in moderation generally and in unstrained restraint with regard to all of the fundamental drives recognized in psychology. Food, having the pervasive place that it does in our lives the effects of fasting are diffused throughout our whole personality. This is why it was well understood and I take the words of Thomas a Kempis again, not just because he’s the one that said it but because he was expressing something that was generally understood and his words are “refrain from gluttony or over indulgence in food and thou shalt the more easily restrain all of the inclinations of the flesh.”

Another thing that we want to understand is that when we hear Jesus speaking of self-denial as in Matthew 16:24—“ . . . If any man will come after me, let him deny himself . . . ” that has to take concrete forms. And one of the best forms that it can take is the practice of not eating. See, that’s very close to our life. It’s very close to our family life and when we get into eating, we begin to see some things that may be questionable about our personal relations. [28:40]

For example, in the United States, they have developed the idea of a “food pusher”—someone who pushes food and they recognize that some people only feel good if they get you to eat. They are manipulating you. They want you to approve of them and so they try to get you to eat. Of course, that comes up in a country where the big problem is too much eating and so the food pusher isn’t being recognized as a problem.

But, see, that goes—many, especially women are trained often to tie their well being to providing food and if you pull that out, you question their identity to go back to the point that Jim is emphasizing over and over because you have their thinking in terms of this structure of function of a food provider and if you take the category of food provider away from them, who are they?

And you see, I’ve seen many, many dear women who had lived their life in a family and they had just come down to one thing—there were food providers. If you took that away from them, they would flop and flounder around like a fish out of water. They just didn’t know what to do with themselves; and perhaps that was Martha’s problem. She was troubled about Mary because Mary didn’t seem to be troubled with that but, in any case, we have to be very careful with the many dimensions of food and self- denial. [30:08]

When it touches food, then it gets right into the substance of our lives and how we live. We spend so much time with food. Think about it! We spend so much time with food. We need to have the freedom to walk off from it and we practice self-denial generally by denying ourselves food in fasting.

We also get practice in suffering because when we begin first to fast, we do suffer and we need practice in suffering because we will suffer. And the person who thinks there is something badly wrong if they are suffering is in a lot of trouble. Many people have that idea. That’s why in some of our societies; we have such a run on aspirin and pacifiers of one kind or another. People think that if you start to suffer a little bit, there is something badly wrong. [30:59]

You see that’s just the backside of a hedonistic society. A hedonistic society says the good life is the good life that is full of pleasure and no pain and that is a part of your world view—that everyone should have as much pleasure and as little pain as possible and that’s pure poison—pure poison.  And when you look at many of the major manifestations of social problems in our societies, they are nothing but an expression of that hedonistic philosophy. Our problems with our divorces, drugs, even suicide sometimes comes from a feeling that somehow life ought to be pleasant and good and that people ought to provide me pleasure. And as Christian, we have to lay that down and we have to stand up—as our testimony—we have to stand against the hedonism of our age; and we have to say that by and large, pleasure and pain simply don’t matter that much. There are a lot more important things to think about. [32:07]

Jesus, for the joy that was set before him despised the cross and the shame that came with it. He just despised it and I think that that’s what we have to learn to do with pain and pleasure by in large; is just at least to not—if not to despise it, at least not to make it an issue and fasting helps us do that.

Thomas a Kempis again says, “ . . .whosever knows best how to suffer well will keep the greatest peace. That man is conqueror of himself and lord of the world and friend of Christ and heir of Heaven.”  [32:47]

There are so many things I would like to say to you about fasting. I think perhaps I’d better conclude my discussion here and get on to some other things because the time is moving on by just pointing out that there are two main classes of fast.

One is the systematic fast—the systematic fast. The systematic fast is best carried out I think by an individual who simply, on certain days of the week fasts on those days. He doesn’t deliberate about it. It’s just automatic. That’s one of the best ways of handling that. You need to fast systematically. Fasting systematically gives you the general training of restraint of desire, preparation to endure whatever pain there may be and it remarkably sets you free from bondage to food. I mean if it turns out that on another day it’s not convenient to eat, it’s no problem. It doesn’t cause a wave in your thinking or anything; you just go on and do it. [33:57]

So, systematic fasting is very important. Now, the aim of systematic fasting is full and clear realization of our resources in God and these take care of the other things about pleasure and pain and suffering and so on—just the realization of these resources. And by realization, I mean enjoyment of them. Perhaps you could put in your notes with the word realization—enjoyment. I don’t mean just knowing they are there.

Realization is a strong word. It means making them real. Do you know? Realization means making them real and we have this derivative sense in which it means making them real to us; namely, we know they are there but I am talking about making them real in our lives. Enabling then by fasting when the appropriate occasion arises if there is a time of need and some great thing needs to be accomplished or a great need to pray or to concentrate on something, then, to focus our expectations and hopes on those resources in the time of need and to cheerfully—and I underline cheerfully—in your deprivation. [35:14]

The person who systematically fasts and has mastered his relationship or her relationship to God in fasting is the person who can cheerfully endure deprivation. If you see a grumpy person, it won’t be a person who has learned how to fast. And you know, one of the signs of the person who is really feasting on the Lord is they are not grumbling and fasting is good for grumbling. If you are troubled with grumbling, fast—very good for grumbling.

I’ll tell you; I just wish there was some way—and I’m not talking about 40 day fasts or anything like that—let the Lord lead you into that if that’s what He would have for you. I just wish there was some way that I could just tell you how sweet it is to know this. You know, the Psalmist speaks in Psalms 131:2 about his soul being like a weaned child. [36:22]

Now, back on the farm, we used to have to—we had animals of course of all kinds—and you see a little lamb that his mother has decided it’s time to wean him. That’s one of the most miserable little creatures you will ever see in your life. And it will see its mother across the field and it used to run over and hit her and take milk and now, it runs over and just as it’s about to take the milk, its mother kicks it in the face. Did you ever see that? And that poor little lamb, it will just wonder around and bleat and look so plaintive and miserable. But, after a few days, it gets the idea. It stops going to get the kicks in the head, right?  It’s weaned.

A weaned child is at peace and how sweet it is to have found the sustenance in God, which replaces all other sustenance. How sweet it is! How wonderful it is! What freedom there is in it! What nourishment there is in it! [37:35]

And these two kinds of fasting then—the systematic fasting and then fasting on the special occasion or fasting, if you wish in the time of need. Fasting in the time of need is one of the greatest secrets of discipline in the way of Christ. I want to just emphasize, you can’t succeed in following Christ fully without fasting. If you think that’s a dogmatic statement, I’m sorry. I hope you will prove me wrong and I will be very happy to be wrong. I have been wrong on one or two occasions in my life anyway. [Laughter] I used to know a man who said, “He made one mistake. He once thought he was wrong.” [Laughter] [38:20]

I would like to be able to spend more time—I think actually I should make one further point because there is a lot of confusion about this. If you fast, that doesn’t mean that you don’t enjoy food and if you fast, that doesn’t mean you are as slender as Twiggy, okay? Fasting is not to make you beautiful—whatever beauty may mean in your particular age of the world—and it is not to take the joy out of food.

Now, one of the disciplines in life is to be able to enjoy food and we are going to come to that later. See, one of the problems of not being able to fast and especially the problem of the glutton is—the problem of the glutton is that food doesn’t satisfy and he doesn’t really enjoy food. That’s the truth about the glutton. He doesn’t enjoy food.

That’s why he has to eat so much of it. He doesn’t eat so much of it because he enjoys it. If he enjoyed it, he would eat it a lot more slowly, for one thing. Here he is just [makes a snorting noise] pouring it in you know, hoping something good is going to happen to him if he just keeps stuffing it in. No! That isn’t enjoying food and we need to enjoy food and we need to praise God as we enjoy food. [39:51]

One of the things you learn finally, I believe about living before the Lord is to be thankful for good things and among the good things are food. Huh? It’s one of the best things God’s given us. That’s why by the way; food is such a social thing. It’s because in food, we will be able to be happy and love one another as we enjoy the food that God has provided. So, receive it with thankfulness, we enjoy it deeply. We savor it and we thank God for it.

If you are going to be thankful to God, you’ve got to be thankful. You know, you can’t produce thankfulness. And one of the best—sometimes I think we ought to ask the blessing after we’ve eaten and the thankfulness would then come from all over our bodies. Then maybe we ought to ask a blessing before and give thanks afterwards or something like that. [40:44]

Well, when we thank God, we want it to be real and I’ll talk a little bit about prayer in later sessions and one of the things I believe you must learn is to start your prayer with thankfulness; because if you start there, it’s easy to go on. It’s easy to go on. But, if you are going to start with thankfulness, you gotta start with things you are really thankful for and that’s just a wonderful thing to learn and how it carries us on as we go on.

Well, just those words about fasting—

Question: Dallas, can I interrupt you?

Dallas: Sure

Question: The resurrection appearance is often replaced at the neo city—[Inaudible somewhat] could you comment on that in relation to what you just said about a social occasion . . . [41:30]?

Dallas: I think that is tied in to just this very point that God meets us in the good things that He has provided us. Umm—and those focus around food.

Food is a symbol of the general provision of God and it is in—I mean, there’s that marvelous—that most beautiful passage in the gospels in the last chapter of John where Jesus says, “Come and dine” in the old version. (John 21:12) Come and dine! And the marvelous provision of God generally and it is in understanding that food is the symbol, not the reality. And the reality is our feast upon God, you see?

Now, when we come together—of course, food is always a part of it and it’s only if we have this clear in our minds that we can begin to see and understand the role of food as a symbol of God’s abundant provision and when we give thanks, by the way and when we ask blessings, it’s good to always tie those together. “Lord we receive this food as another indication of your abundant provision,” you see? [42:57]

And well, I’m sure I’ll get off onto that but that’s the general idea there and there is a lot that can be said about this.

What happens to the time? [Inaudible comment] [Laughter] I repent! Actually, I guess we better break at this point. I had wanted to get a little more in here but I’ll be more disciplined in the next hour.

Question: Do we have time for one more question?

Dallas: Oh, indeed! Sure!

Comment: [Inaudible—seems the question was about fasting and folks with physical conditions and physical weakness and the maximum period for fasting.]

Dallas: I’ll give you a general rule and say that it has to be adapted by the individual’s physical condition and other factors but when—my general rule is when you get past three days, then you need to be careful. You need to be careful.

I would not encourage a three-day fast to begin with. I would begin with one-day fasts and a half-day fasts. Also, you can moderate them somewhat by, for example, you may want to drink some juice or something of that sort and so you can make it longer if it’s not a complete fast and there are various ways of doing this. I read the passages from Daniel and elsewhere because I hope they will give you some clues of different ways of doing it because we can fast in varying degrees from different kinds of foods and many ways of fasting. [44:46]

But, if you are on a total fast—I never encourage anyone to fast without water. I mean, you really better have God “sky-write” that for you if you are going to do that and believe that He can do it if He wants you to. You know, He can do that. He will let you know. If you are going into an extended fast, make sure that you let a minster or some friend that you respect, know about it so they can be praying with you and watching you. And this is another one of those places where the disciplines begin to loop back in to one another because extensive fasting, I would never advise anyone to fast extensively except in some kind of fellowship and maybe when you get to be really advanced in this, it wouldn’t matter.

But, I would say three days as a pretty firm rule and if you have some physical condition don’t not fast because of that. Find out how you can fast with that condition. [45:48]

Dallas: Philip?

Philip: I was going to say that for various reasons I am not fasting but I have found that using the Jewish days to fast is a useful one. Instead of going throughout the whole day without food, it begins at 6 in the evening. It is still a full day that you don’t have something to eat.

Dallas:  That’s very useful and you might even think about it—it may easier—one way of thinking about that is to have something to eat in the late afternoon and then think of going without lunch and dinner the next day—I’m sorry, breakfast and lunch the next day. That’s a very good way and of course, the Methodist use this, by the way a lot and it’s a very common practice. You will find that God will lead you into these kinds of things and this is one of those areas where we need His personal guidance in what we are doing. [46:46]

But, if you are going to do extensive or, as we might say, heroic fasting, which I don’t in general endorse, be sure to do it in fellowship and you need a minster or friend who is wiser and older and stronger and be sure and let them know what you are doing so that they can be praying for you and watching for you. Sheila?

Sheila: You wouldn’t dream of telling a diabetic to fast, would you? [47:10]

Dallas: I would dream of telling a diabetic to fast but I would dream of telling them to fast in a way which is appropriate with their medical advice. And indeed, other physical conditions—that’s why I said that word, if you have a physical condition of some sort, don’t say, therefore, I cannot fast; learn how to fast with that physical condition. But if you have diabetes, you certainly want to be very careful with it and you want to check with your doctor. Sometimes if you have an unbelieving doctor, they may simply say, “No” and you may want to inquire around and explore it, you know. If you absolutely can’t fast in that way, you can find other ways of fasting—other ways of training yourself.

Well, I think we are supposed to take a break for a few minutes and then come back.

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