Special Observances

Imitable Fathers

Of all the exhortations directed to dads this Father’s Day, I pray that imitability is impressed upon hearts and sealed with the fear of God. By ‘imitability’ I mean a life and character that is worthy of being imitated. It is nearly virtuous in our day for a dad to say that he does not want his children to be like him; he wants them to be better than he is. Such is commonplace and commendable in our culture. It may come across as a kind of (false) humility. It may be translated as love, serving as an expression of high desire for your children. But in the end, it is not much different than saying “do as I say and not as I do.” It conditions the heart and mind of men to inadvertently evade their responsibility to influence their children for the glory of God. Fathers who endorse the idea that they are not worthy of imitation fail to realize that being an example is not a retractable feature of fatherhood. Fathers are examples to their children regardless of their quality of character. Unworthiness is never a license for irresponsibility. While we may pray for our children to receive even greater blessings than we ourselves, we are responsible to provide our children with a portrait of godly character—as fathers whose character should be imitated.

But God’s Word teaches us to be imitable fathers. Our supreme example is the fatherhood of God. Just as we are called to imitate our Father in heaven, so fathers are called to be imitable. As God’s children, we are told to “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). “Be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph 5:1) is built on the maxim that children will imitate their fathers. Our heavenly Father says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:16). In various ways, He calls us to be like Him (Mt 5:44-45; 1 Jn 3:1-2). Imitation is a key principle of the fatherhood of God. We can look to our Father in heaven as our example and grow in our imitation of Him. This is a model for earthly fathers. What is more important than the debate over quality versus quantity time, than material gifts, than providing them opportunities for financial success, etc.? What is more important is to live every day before the face of God in an imitable way.

Let us consider how God fathers us in an imitable way. He sends for us (1 Jn 4:14). He draws us to Himself (Jn 6:44). He saves us (Ps 89:26). He calls us to obey Him (1 Jn 5:1-3). He disciplines us (Pr 3:11-12). He works for us according to His plan (Gal 1:4). He has compassion on us (Ps 103:13). He forgives us (Mt 6:14-15). He guides us (Dt 1:31). He rewards us (Mt 6:17-18). He values us (Mt 6:26). He knows our needs (Mt 6:32). He provides for us (Mt 6:26). He is our model of stability (James 1:17). He gives us what is good (Mt 7:11). He promises us an inheritance (Rom 8:15-17). He grants us peace (1 Cor 1:3). He is merciful to us (2 Cor 1:3). He comforts us (2 Cor 1:3-4). He gives us hope (2 Thess 2:16). He loves us (2 Thess 2:16). Our relation to God as our heavenly Father is not merely one of origination. It is not merely one of authority. It is not merely one of lordship. It is not merely one of ethics and obedience. It is a rich metaphor that illustrates an all-encompassing relationship of likeness, loyalty, learning, life, and love.

In as much as a father imitates the fatherliness of God, he is a true father. Wherever a father fails to imitate God, he falls short of true fatherhood. May dads be renewed in the thought that any absence of God in our fathering corresponds to the absence of God in our living. May we live lives that are imitable for the glory of God and good of our children.

Special Observances

Fasting and Prayer

The very idea of fasting is foreign to the vast majority of western Christians. It ought not to be viewed as a mystical means to greater piety or a deprecated vestige of medieval traditionalism or asceticism. Fasting is a biblical practice of saints that, for various reasons, voluntarily choose to express their humble devotion to God with a particular purpose in mind.

Under the Old Covenant, the Day of Atonement was the only public day of fasting (“literally ‘you shall afflict yourselves,’ chiefly by fasting, as testified by Isaiah 58:3, 5, 10” [Jacob Milgrom, JPS Torah, 246]) prescribed by the Law (cf. Lev 16:29; 23:26-32; Num 29:7-11). Fasting always has as its highest aim, worship (cf. Luke 2:36-37). It is a peculiar expression of creaturely humility, dependence, and weakness. Moreover, it is most predominantly exercised in concert with prayer (cf. Judg 20:26–28; 2 Sam 12:16; Ezra 8:21–23; Neh 1:4-11; Est 4:3, 16; Ps 35:13; 69:10; 109:22–25; Jer 14:12; Dan 9:3; 10:2, Joel 2:12; Acts 9:8–11). It should be noted that fasting without genuine faith and repentance is meaningless (cf. Is 58:1-10; Jer 14:10-12; Lk 18:9-14). Also, fasting does not replace our God given responsibilities (cf. Zech 7:1-14).

Fasting is the act of total or partial abstinence from food for a limited period of time in express devotion to God. While the principle is most fundamentally that of self-denial, food is the most precise object of fasting in the Bible. Therefore, while we may choose to ‘fast’ from various other enjoyments in life, food has a particular attachment to the purpose of fasting. The Hebrew verb sum is the only term used to describe fasting and conveys the explicit meaning “to abstain from food” (Merrill, EDBT).

While the purpose of fasting is never explicitly stated in Scripture, there are several very plain reasons inferred and derived from the contextual situations wherein fasting is rightly performed:

1. An Act of Worship in Express Humility and Dependency — “Fasting increases our sense of humility and dependence on the Lord (for our hunger and physical weakness continually remind us how we are not really strong in ourselves but need the Lord)” (Grudem, 390).

2. A Tangible Reminder that We Are Living Sacrifices to GodJust as we temporarily sacrifice some personal comfort to live unto God, so fasting serves as a tangible reminder that we are to live as living sacrifices unto God (Rom 12:1-2).

3. Self-Discipline for Spiritual TrainingFasting is meaningless without its spiritual counterpart. It is an exercise in self-discipline, the active refrain of something we would naturally desire. In this, fasting reminds us to practice self-discipline in the face of temptation, that we might actively seek to strengthen our ability to deny temptation’s ‘hunger pain’. “If we train ourselves to accept the small ‘suffering’ of fasting willingly, we will be better able to accept other suffering for the sake of righteousness (cf. Heb. 5:8; 1 Peter 4:1–2)” (Grudem, 390).

4. An Aid for Focusing on Eternal Spiritual RealitiesFasting is also very effective to aid us in focusing on eternal spiritual realities (cf. Col 3:1-2). It heightens our spiritual and mental alertness and sensitivity to God and His purposes in our lives. Indeed, fasting aids our efforts to discipline our thought life to more consistently glorify God and therein find our deepest satisfaction.

The New Covenant does not stress fasting, nor does it lay down any regulations concerning its observance. However, Jesus clearly implies that His disciples will fast when He says, “And when you fast” (Matt 6:16). It is interesting that when asked why His disciples did not fast according to the customs of the Pharisees during His ministry, Christ responded, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Mt 9:15). The time when the disciples of Jesus fasted, was to come with His departure.

Christians exercised fasting corporately and personally when facing substantial decisions (cf. Acts 13:3; 14:23) and entreating the Lord’s will in general (cf. Acts 9:8-9). History reports to us that from the second century on, the church devoted times of fasting in preparation for Good Friday and Resurrection Day.

In light of our study in John and particularly are recent meditation on the primacy of God’s glory (John 11:1-16), let us entreat the Lord, in unusual manner, to work in us a deeper understanding of our purpose in life to glorify Him. Let us wisely consider how we might fast and pray, especially this Good Friday, for the purpose of confessing our sins and earnestly seeking a renewed sense of grace in Christ. May we earnestly pray and seek the face of God, considering how we might more consciously pursue, see, and appreciate His glory in the circumstances of our lives.

Richard Baxter commended the church to fast and pray on special occasions, whether for thanksgiving, or on occasion of great sin and lack of devotion to God. He wrote:

It is meet that in public, by fasting and prayer, we humble ourselves before the Lord, for the averting of his displeasure; and on such occasions it is the pastor’s duty to confess his own, and the people’s sins, with penitence, and tenderness of heart, and by his doctrine and exhortation, to endeavour effectually to bring the people to the sight and sense of their sin, and the deserts of it, and to a firm resolution of better obedience for the time to come, being importunate with God in prayer for pardon and renewed grace.
—Richard Baxter, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter: Volume XV (London: James Duncan, 1830), 498-99.