Prayer and fasting are spiritual disciplines that are taught and practiced in the Bible.
In the OT, Israelites fasted on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:27); Moses fasted in Mt. Sinai as he received the law; Ezra fasted; Jews fasted during Esther’s time for their rescue; the people of Nineveh fasted and repented, Jonah 3. Fasting in the Bible was an expression of desperation, deep longing for blessings, mourning, and brokenness usually over sin or some danger.
In the NT, we find Anna and Simeon fasting and praying in the temple waiting for the ‘consolation of Israel’ (Lk. 2:36-38); Jesus our Master fasted for forty days; believers in the early church fasted. (The disciples were exempted from fasting as long as ‘the bridegroom’ was still physically with them- Matt. 9:15). We have many other examples of people communicating with God in prayer and fasting.
Fasting is a brief, voluntary experience of deprivation. The two are distinct disciplines but they go together.
Though biblical teaching on fasting is clear, many still misunderstand and do not practice it.
Prayer and fasting is not a magical formula to draw God’s attention. Fasting is not dieting; it should not be associated with salvation by works; fasting is not a hunger-strike, or a coincidence when one lacks food. Rather, it is a spiritual discipline that Christians should cultivate.
God always rewarded a genuine prayer and fast.
Fasting can be individual (Matt. 6:16-18); or corporate/public (Acts 13:1-3; 14:23). It can be a complete fast or partial especially depending on one’s duties. Fasting is only to be devoted to a particular period of time. But should also takes into account one’s health status.
God expects us to pray and also fast.
When we pray and fast God does something. But here are five things that prayer and fasting experience does to us.
- Prayer and Fasting presents us an opportunity to Learn-
A.-We learn to redefine life– It is very easy to deceptively think that life is all about food and other things that we naturally desire or want. In the same pattern you start to think that we eat to live or live to eat. When you give yourself to prayer and fasting you realize that life is more than bread.
Bread sustains but it does not give life! God does.
Bread is what we work for everyday or 40+hrs a week. And so fasting period/experience helps us redefine life in God’s terms, Man shall not live by bread alone but by what proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4, Deut. 8:2-3; Ps. 119:18). In the wilderness, Israelites grumbled against God and Moses even after being given free manna; this was so because the inner man remains unsatisfied even after taking bread.
B.-We learn on what matters most in life– Fasting experience can make one think through the question, ‘What is it that really counts in life?’. And so gradually we learn to keep the main thing the main thing. We learn to resonate with Apostle Paul“I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them rubbish in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8).
Through prayer and fasting, we gradually detach some price tags we had placed on certain unworthy things that never counts eternally. We soon place our value on profitable things that lead to life and godliness. A life immersed in prayer always cares for the things God cares for: His holiness, will, kingdom and His justice. It helps us realize our mission in God’s overall mission, if only we can gain Christ.
C.-We learn to master our desires, (1Cor. 6:12; Lk. 21:34) -The good desires we have sometimes can degenerate into idols. But through prayer and fasting we get an opportunity to check what controls/motivates our hearts. During time of meditation, God reveals to us deep things about ourselves, our world, and about Him. We can check if our patterns and values are God’s or not. It helps us check if things like pride, anger, materialism, have crept into our hearts. David confessed, “I humbled my soul with fasting” (Ps. 35:13). A fasting experience can reveal the things that control us and what we think we can’t live without.
D.-We learn to keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25)– Prayer and fasting is an opportunity to seek direction and guidance on issues of life. That is, to seek God’s will. Fasting is important because it is a way we can utterly surrender and depend on God to show us the way and to let Him have his way in our lives. Like Jeremiah, we call on God to show us His great and unsearchable riches.
A genuine prayer and fast enables us pray as Jesus taught… “Your kingdom come, your will be done..”. We express our three longings: that God’s name be praised; His kingdom come; and His will be done on earth just as in heaven.
- Through prayer and fasting we Express our hunger for God-
In prayer and fasting what we do is: we yield to a higher hunger!
David expresses his desire for God in the following psalms:
Psalm 73:25-26 “Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever”.
Psalm 42 “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God?”.
David like others in the Bible hungered for the fullness of God- “What we hunger for most, we worship”. To hunger for God is to hunger for his holiness.
By praying and fasting we yield to a higher hunger! A longing for God’s filling.
Fasting is a way of seeking “all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19). We hunger for the one who created us and whom our lives should give glory and praise; “from him and through him and to him” Rom 11:36; Col 1:6
A genuine fast should take us to a deeper level of utter dependence on God and confessing His sufficiency over our insufficiency- (Father, I am empty, but in you is all fullness. I am hungry, but you are the Bread of heaven. I am thirsty, but you are the Fountain of Life. I am weak, but thou art strong. I am poor, but you are rich. I am foolish, but you are the foundation of wisdom. I am broken, but you can make me whole).
Fasting that is to be honored or rewarded should be centered on God not men (Matt. 6:16-18). Jesus told his disciples to beware of the hypocrites who fast for human admiration. When fasting is towards God- God is glorified, honored and worshiped.
Fasting should also come from the heart (Zech. 7).
When people fasted things changed because there is power in prayer and fasting. When Jehoshaphat fasted, God heard him, he guided his steps and delivered him and the entire nation (2Chron. 20:20). When the Jews during the time of Esther prayed and fasted, they changed the course of their history (Esther 4:6). When Nehemiah fasted he found favor with King Artaxerxes, Neh 1:4.
Dare enough to fast!