The disciples of John came to Jesus saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (Matt. 9:14-17).
A New Covenant Fast
John the Baptist’s disciples came to Jesus with a zealous and sincere question. They were confused and troubled by the lack of fasting among His disciples. John had taught his own disciples to fast often, and they saw that even the hypocritical Pharisees recognized how essential the discipline was. Did Jesus not value fasting? Did He lack the discipleship and leadership skills to teach it to His men? John’s disciples’ intense hunger for God had led them to give up everything in their pursuit of Him. The implication behind their question was that John was a more spiritual leader than Jesus. Jesus answered their question by asking them what seemed a strange question. “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” He then made another unusual statement, saying the days were coming when the Bridegroom would be taken from them.
He was referring to Himself as the Bridegroom who would be taken from them by dying on the cross. He implied that then His disciples would fast with the same consistency and intensity that John’s disciples did. Their fasting, however, would flow out of longing and mourning for Jesus as a Bridegroom. Jesus used their question to introduce Himself as a Bridegroom―this was His first reference in Scripture to being the Bridegroom. He was introducing a new paradigm of fasting—a fast motivated by desire to encounter His beautiful and loving presence. In the Old Testament, fasting was usually an expression of sorrow over sin or a plea for God to physically deliver His people from disaster. In many cases it had degenerated into a purely religious exercise, as the legalistic Pharisees practiced.
Now the Lord was saying there was something new. After His death, after the New Covenant had been established, fasting would take on a whole new dimension. The indwelling Holy Spirit in each believer would make this possible. The fast His disciples would enter into would be one related to intimacy with Jesus as the Bridegroom. In the New Covenant, God opened the depths of His heart to every believer through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10; Heb. 10:19-22). It is a privilege beyond comprehension that weak humans can experience the depths of God’s heart. This is our inheritance and our destiny. We must never be content to live without a growing experience of God’s heart. “For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God … We have received … the Spirit that we might know the things … freely given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:10-12). The apostles experienced this intimacy of knowing the Man Christ Jesus while He walked the Earth. Jesus insisted they not fast during this time, but rejoice.
Just as there will be no fasting in the age to come because we will be face to face with Him, it would have been unnecessary for the disciples to fast when God was their daily companion. But things changed for the apostles after Jesus was taken away by death. The promise of the New Covenant was still theirs— intimacy with Jesus—but His physical presence was gone. They mourned and longed to experience more of His presence. He had awakened a depth of desire in their hearts that they were not fully aware of until they were wounded by His absence. They longed for Him, for His nearness. When the overflowing gladness of His immediate presence was taken from them, they were heartsick. Then they fasted.
The Bridegroom Fast is About Desire
Song of Solomon 5:8 says, “If you find my Beloved … tell him I am lovesick!” The Song of Solomon describes the relationship between Jesus, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride. It describes the Church’s lovesickness for God (Song 2:5; 5:8). Even the remembrance of our close encounters with Jesus in years past create a hunger today, a craving that will not be satisfied until we experience Him again and again in even greater measures. Lovesickness is mourning for the loving presence of Jesus as the Bridegroom God. No one can console our lovesick hearts except Him. A heart that does not mourn for more of Him is a heart that accepts its current state of spiritual barrenness as tolerable and livable. A mourning heart is fiercely discontent; it has a desperate hunger for God. This is the Bridegroom fast. The Bridegroom fast is focused on desire: both understanding God’s desire for us and awakening our own desire for Him. God imparts new desires to us as He answers existent ones.
The hope of a lovesick heart will not be disappointed, for Jesus promised that we would be satisfied as we mourn for more of Him. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6). The joy that the early apostles experienced in Jesus’ nearness became grief and longing, even lovesickness, when Jesus was taken from them. This same longing and lovesickness has a dynamic purpose in us. Spiritual hunger is a divine gift that leads us to seek greater experiences of His love, regardless of the cost. It causes us to be willing to make whatever changes are necessary in our hearts and lives in order for love to have its way. We were made to love and be loved by God and He has made us to crave Him until our heart cry is answered. He increases our experience of Him by awakening and then answering desire within us.
First, in the initial stages, He romances us, lets us feel His love stir within us. Though this brings a certain satisfaction to our souls, it also awakens a deeper longing and hunger for more. Once we taste just a little of God’s presence, we cannot live without more of Him. This is the way God planned it. Hunger begets hunger and deep calls unto deep (Ps. 42:7). In every satisfaction God brings to us, we are left with an even greater hunger for more of Him. It is by our hunger that He leads us into the fullness of love. We fast in response to the groan in our hearts for more of God.
The Purpose of the Bridegroom Fast
Why would Jesus want His friends to mourn while He was away? Isn’t He a God of joy who wants His followers to live lives characterized by that same joy? These questions bring us to the heart of the Bridegroom fast and its purpose. Yes, we were made to live in joy, but that joy can be found only in the Person and presence of Jesus. Joy apart from Jesus is no joy at all. Mourning and fasting for the Bridegroom is our way of positioning our hearts to live by desire for God and not by the lusts of this age. Our mourning for Him gives witness that we are not of this world and that we refuse to come under the seductions of Satan, the ruler of this world. This holy longing will not ultimately or fully be satisfied until we live face to face with Jesus in the age to come.
His second coming is ultimately the fullness of the answer and consolation for which we mourn. It is in His coming that our highest joy will be found (Ps. 119:19,20; Rom. 8:23-25; Heb. 11:16). Until that day, however, we will continue to groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for Him to come once again. The purpose of the Bridegroom fast goes even beyond yearning for Jesus’ return—it is the yearning to experience His presence now. In the midst of the delay, the waiting between His first and second coming, God allows us to experience a measure of His presence. He has sent the Holy Spirit so we can encounter His presence and love in measure even now. The Bridegroom fast enlarges our hearts to experience that divine love and presence now.
God has designed us so that when we give ourselves to Him by fasting and praying the Word, our capacity to receive more of Him increases. No other dimension in the grace of God opens wide the deepest places of our beings like fasting and filling our hearts with the Scriptures that emphasize the truths of Jesus as our Bridegroom. Fasting serves as a catalyst to increase the depth and the measure to which we receive from the Lord. By fasting we receive greater measures of revelation at an accelerated pace, which has a deeper impact upon our hearts.
One of the primary purposes of the Bridegroom fast is to cause our hearts to move in love and longing for God. We do not fast in an attempt to make God pay attention to us, but to fully enter into the affection and presence of God that is already ours in Christ. It is not to move His heart but to move our own. Our hearts are prone to dullness and lethargy, and if we don’t deliberately confront that dullness, we become hardened without realizing it. The Bridegroom fast tenderizes our hearts so dullness is diminished and we are able to experience the affections of God in greater measure. Our hearts become tender and our desire is nurtured as we experience the pleasures of knowing Him. I emphasize that our desire for God is His gift to us. However, this craving for God causes pain in our hearts. We are wounded in love. This works good things in us. He does not inflict meaningless heartache upon us, so we can be sure that this longing has a purpose. Spiritual hunger is a divine agent that leads us to greater love. It is an instrument that makes room for love and purity in our hearts and expands our souls.
We cannot enter into the fullness of love without the preparatory impact of mourning for more of Him. Our desire for Jesus creates the mourning or the pain of lovesickness, which in turn compels us to make changes in our lives so that we can receive all that is ours in God. We are wounded in love because He intentionally withholds a measure of His presence in order to bring us into greater intimacy as He works humility and produces meekness in us so God’s nearness is sustained in us for the long term. The Bridegroom fast also brings holiness to our souls. Fasting for spiritual renewal includes mourning over the sin that hinders our relationship with Him.
The increase of lovesickness for God inevitably causes a conviction within and we become unable to tolerate anything that opposes the life of God in us. No longer are we content to live in compromise or sin—we surrender everything because lovesickness compels us. Fasting is meant to “afflict” our souls as we renounce everything that sets itself up against the knowledge of God’s love and power in our lives (Is. 58:3, 5). David spoke of humbling and chastening his soul with fasting as he confronted the sins that hindered his ability to behold the beauty of God (Ps. 27:4; 35:13; 69:10; 109:24). Fasting because of love exposes the compromises in our hearts and our ungodly dependence on worldly things. It is a way of keeping our hearts spiritually awake and alert in a dark world that naturally dulls and defiles the human spirit. Our love for God must be expressed in our quest to pursue total obedience.
Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21). One key way to sustain our love in God as we seek to live righteously, is to wage war with the lusts inside us. Lust has many different expressions, including pride, anger, covetousness, theft, immorality, pornography, bitterness, hatred, slander, jealousy, drunkenness, over-indulgence with food or entertainment, legal and illegal addictions, and others (Mark 7:21-22; Gal. 5:19-21; 1 John 2:16-17). 1 Peter 2:11 says, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.”
So, mourning for the Bridegroom also involves repentance. To mourn is to rend or to tear our hearts, as the prophet Joel insisted: “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart … for He is gracious and merciful …” (Joel 2:12-13). As we fast with hearts tender toward the Lord, we are kept in the position of continually rending our hearts and inviting the Holy Spirit to search us, to see if there is any wicked way in us (Ps. 139:23-24). Fasting is a God-given gift that helps us “break out” of the cares of this life and the corruption of sin and darkness. It enables us to get free from the grip of our culture’s seductions that we might lay hold of the purpose for which God laid hold of us (Phil. 3:12).
A High Vision is Necessary in Fasting
Anyone who desires to live a life characterized by fasting must begin with a high vision, a vision to experience the fullness of what God wants to give each of us in this age. We fast because we cannot endure living in spiritual barrenness. The person who fasts understands the gap between what God wants to give them and what they are actually experiencing. The lack in our experience causes us to be discontent and to mourn. When we recognize that there is a realm in God to which we are invited but not yet experiencing, we become ruined. We must have this fullness. This state of “ruinedness” is an essential part of the lifestyle of fasting. Without a vision or hope for attaining more in God, we will not fast. The Church today needs a renewed vision of fasting.
We need to recognize it as a gift from God that leads the human spirit into fascination and exhilaration before Him. God has given us the grace of the Bridegroom fast that we might maximize the privilege of encountering the Bridegroom God, Jesus. Fasting is not intended by God to be something we hate. It is a gift meant to tenderize our hearts and bring great change in our lives. Fasting expresses our vision and determination to have more of God, and the pain of recognizing the ways in which we fall short. We fast because we believe God desires to take the vision He has marked us with and bring it to fruition over time. We believe in Jesus’ promise that there truly are rewards given by His Father, and we refuse to live as though this promise were not true (Matt. 6:17, 18).
New Wine and New Wineskins
No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved (Matt. 9:16-17).
Immediately after Jesus introduced the idea of the Bridegroom fast, He spoke of new wine being placed into new wineskins (Matt. 9:16-17). It is notable that He prophesied of new wineskins in the context of the Bridegroom fast. New wine speaks of the presence of the Holy Spirit and His impact on people as He releases power in us that causes us to rejoice in love. His wine is always “new,” for He continually imparts new and fresh revelation about God’s heart. It is not that the Scriptures are new, but that the discovery of or emphasis on certain Scriptures is new to a particular generation. Right now, the Spirit is raising up many men and women who are having and will have new and fresh encounters with Jesus.
They are the old treasures that the saints over the ages have experienced, yet they are new to us. The end result will be an anointed company of people who have fascinated and lovesick hearts for Jesus. But where does such a company of believers fit in with the current culture of spiritual compromise in the Church?
New wineskins represent the new structures necessary to serve the people who have new wine experiences. The people of the new wine see God, themselves and their missions very differently than they did before they encountered Jesus as a Bridegroom. They have new values and new paradigms of the Kingdom. These newly lovesick believers need new structures, and these new structures must be governed by leaders who share the values that flow from experiencing the Bridegroom’s affections and power. Those with the old wineskin paradigms, values and control cannot lead such people. Jesus spoke of new wineskins for that generation, pointing to the new structures that would come forth as a result of the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
He knew the synagogue system would not be sufficient to provide structure for those who were continually experiencing His power, revelation and passion. Jesus was prophesying that the old structures would break and the wine would spill out and be lost. The Lord soon replaced the existing old wineskin (the religious synagogue structure) with a New Testament community of believers led by unlikely people, such as fishermen, ex-prostitutes and tax collectors. This principle of needing new wineskins for a new move of the Spirit has been repeated many times through history, and will be repeated again at the end of the age. Today, the Holy Spirit again desires to pour out new wine—the active presence of the Bridegroom. God will give us everything He gave the early Church. In the generation in which the Lord returns, the miracles of the Book of Acts will be combined with the miracles of the Book of Exodus. When the Holy Spirit comes in full manifest power, whatever wineskins do not agree with Him will be ruined and broken.
It’s not possible to dwell with God except in unity with Him. The Holy Spirit wine will only be continually poured out into an environment or structure that is suited to Him. The wine of the newly emphasized truths the Holy Spirit highlights in a revival are often lost in old systems. Nothing is more tragic than the wine being spilled and the Spirit’s manifest presence and power leaving. Some old structures in this day will be revived and renewed. However, most will not. History shows that a new move of God is resisted by people. Great changes are coming in our experiences, as well as with our Church and ministry structures.
In the coming hour, untold millions will experience new dimensions of God’s heart and power as they encounter Him as the Bridegroom King and Judge. The religious structures of today are predominantly led by those who are not lovesick. They will not know what to do with ex-prostitutes and fishermen who are anointed with lovesickness. The Bridegroom fast is one of the vehicles through which this wave of lovesickness will overtake the Church, resulting in the creation of new structures to accommodate them. The revelation of Jesus as the Bridegroom, along with the Bridegroom fast, will be a vital part of transitioning from the old wineskin systems to New Testament Church structures and way of life.
From Mike Bickle’s Rewards of Fasting available free online as pdf. www.ihop.org/Publisher/File.aspx?ID=1000010083