Hunger is the strongest desire a person experiences. Food is not only a source of energy, but it has become a way to identify with national heritage and culture. On any given day in America, you can find an endless array of eclectic foods on just about every corner. Just as food is a source of energy and power to propel the physical body, fasting is a way to tap into the greatest source of spiritual power, the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Bible, fasting and prayer are linked together.
While it is possible to pray without fasting, together they are a strong chain that links the Christian to God. Daniel 9:3 states “And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting….” Daniel had a burden to bring before the Lord, and the burden was so important that he chose to abstain from food to intensely focus upon God. The combination of prayer and fasting was the key to obtaining such a response from God. It can be the key to securing a much-needed response from God in your life as well. This chapter not only records the humble prayer of Daniel, but also God’s powerful response.
The Basic Idea
The basic idea behind prayer and fasting is seen when we look at the Hebrew word for fasting. That word signifies the humble submission of the soul to God.
In submitting oneself to God through a time of fasting and prayer, there is an opportunity for a person to set himself apart for God. Fasting allows oneself an opportunity to be free for a time from material things and from distractions. Blocking out the physical does allow for more recognition of the spiritual. In the book “Prayer” by Hallesby, he stated, “We are too often occupied with outward things, and as a result, we often become very hard of hearing spiritually.” Choosing to set aside the material things of this world will greatly behoove the Christian during this time of intense prayer with fasting. The practice of biblical fasting teaches that I must fast and pray because I am willing to sacrifice food in order to intensely focus on God and rely on Him as the source of strength and direction.
Again, the basic idea behind prayer with fasting is to separate from the world to intensely focus on God and His Word in order to seek an answer to prayer.
Let’s first consider the Master Teacher’s views on fasting:
In the beginning of His ministry, Jesus was faced with a great temptation by Satan himself.
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred (Matthew 4:1-2).
Notice that in preparation for this time of trial and testing, Christ fasted and prayed for 40 days and 40 nights. While I do not recommend that anyone engage in fasting for such an extended period of time, one must acknowledge that He left his disciples an example to follow. Jesus was God manifest in the flesh, and as such He not only refused to sin, but it was impossible for Him to sin. However, in His humanity He always sought to set the example for other men. His example in this instance is clear: when a time of testing is looming on the horizon, Christians ought to commit themselves to fasting and prayer to ensure that they are able to face and overcome the temptation. In times like these, Christians need to commune with God in a special and powerful way. That way is through prayer with fasting.
In Jesus’ ministry, he simply assumed that His disciples would engage in fasting. Notice the words He uses while He addresses the multitudes:
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance:… (Matthew 6:16)
In this portion on fasting during His sermon on the mount, Jesus said “when ye fast.” He did not say “if.” It was clearly assumed that His followers would fast. There is no indication that fasting was an optional practice. He clearly expected those following Him to engage themselves at some time in a period of prayer with fasting.
In Matthew 9:14-15, Jesus was questioned by the disciples of John the Baptist as to why He and His disciples were not fasting. He replied in verse 15, “Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.”
AND THEN SHALL THEY FAST.
As in the previous passage, Jesus assumed that after His work on earth was completed and He returned to heaven that His disciples would practice fasting. Presently, that time still exists in which Jesus is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. As such, this Scripture indicates that Christians today should pray with fasting in order to obey the teachings of Christ.
Matthew 17 relays the account of a demon possessed boy which was taken to Jesus. The boy had previously been taken to the disciples, but they were unable to cast out the demon. Jesus was able to cast out the demon, but His disciples were curious as to how he achieved such a feat. Jesus answered their inquiry by stating in verse 21, “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.”
In this situation, the disciples had a compound problem: they lacked faith and neglected prayer. When faith is lacking in the power of God, prayer will become an afterthought. Jesus told the disciples they could remove mountains through faith, yet in lacking it they could not remove the devil from the young boy. Christians can often find themselves in a similar situation. Our problem is often not our sincerity to bring relief to a situation; it is most often a failure to ask God in faith for the power to help. There are times when every Christian will face a situation in which they have seemingly done everything within their power yet still fail. If this is the case, it has probably been forgotten that fasting and prayer can gain God’s power. You see, prayer + fasting = power!
Let’s now consider the testimony of two biblical characters who fasted, Ezra and David.
The Testimony of Ezra’s Fast
Perhaps someone is pondering the direction life is taking them. Many ponder what choices to make in life in regards to their finances, their family, and their ministry. There are some who disregard the prospect of prayer when purchasing homes or cars. Many people make career choices which alter their course of life without consulting the Lord. Likewise, many ministers seek new ministries without discerning the mind of God. These decision affect every area of life and yet people often seek for themselves their own way.
In the book of Ezra, the children of Israel were returning from Babylonian captivity and establishing life anew back home in Jerusalem. After assembling the people together at the river of Ahava, Ezra proclaimed a fast “to seek of him a right way for us; and for our little ones, and for all our substance (Ezra 8:21).” Ezra understood that seeking God’s way was the only way to ensure prosperity for his people.
What is one of the greatest priorities in life? Family! The ability to provide for the family and obtain the goods and property to meet their needs is of utmost importance to everyone in life. While having a good job will help secure some of those needed assets, only by seeking the Lord will His hand be upon you (Ezra 8:22). Those who are the leaders of the home, husbands and fathers, need to pray and fast that God will lead them. Those who are not the leaders of the home, wives and children, need to pray and fast that God will lead the husband or father. Personally, there is no greater desire of mine than to see my daughters grow to learn God’s word and obey His commandments. However, such dreams will never materialize if prayer and fasting are not done to seek God’s guidance in such matters. Perhaps there are those with children that are married now that need direction in their lives. Though that parent can be an example of God’s way through obedience, they can’t take those children where they ought to be. That parent must fast and pray for God to bring results. God desires to have strong Christian homes thriving across the country. Therefore, the result should not be surprising:
So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of us (Ezra 8:23).
The concept here is that of answered begging. The people were willing to seek the Lord, and the Lord was intreated of them and promised to guide the people of Jerusalem.
The Testimony of David’s Fast
Surely there are times when sorrow and difficulty will come along in life. David was no stranger to such circumstances in life. In II Samuel 12, God’s judgment was upon David for his sin of adultery. The child, who was a result of that sin, is ill and David has been told that the child will die.
David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth. And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them.
David was asking God for the life of his child. David was fasting and praying. The result?
And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died (II Samuel 12:18).
God said “NO.” One can make the argument that David humbly and earnestly petitioned the Lord for the life of his child, and, indeed, that argument is true. However, the child still perished. How could such a thing happen if David prayed with fasting? The conclusion one must realize is that fasting and prayer is not a magic formula. Just because someone prays with fasting does not mean that God is obligated to say “yes.” Prayer with fasting is done so that the requestor can come to a place of agreement with God. David fasted and prayed. God said “NO.” By fasting, David was able to say “YES” to God. David’s calm response was so unexpected even those closest to him were shocked.
Though David could not change his sin or the consequences of that sin, he could come to a place of agreement with God about it. He could come to a place of new beginning in his relationship with God. Hence, he fasted and prayed and gained the peace of God which passes all understanding.
There are times when answers from God are sought after, but that answer is unacceptable in the eyes of the Christian. During those times, it is best to just accept God’s answer and move ahead with life in peace with God. How long should someone fast and pray? Until a clear answer from God is given. When He does answer, the Christian who has come into agreement with God will be in the right heart attitude to accept any answer.
Now, It’s Your Turn…
Considering Conducting Your Own Fast
Let’s put things on a more personal and practical level. When is it time to consider a fast? Well, here’s a whole list. Look for an area that applies and commit to prayer and fasting over that special need. Each of these scenarios comes from an example of fasting in the Bible. Please note that any of these situations can occur on an individual and congregational level.
- In hard and trying circumstances
- During bereavement or misfortune
- Upon the serious illness of a loved one
- On occasions of falling into grievous sin
- To avert heavy calamity
- During times of battle
- When in danger
- During times of temptation
- During times of decision
- At the sending out of missionaries
- When appointing pastors and deacons
- When in need of direction in your life
- When loved ones are hurting
- When loved ones are backslidden
- When planning or carrying out difficult tasks
- When physical serving is limited by age
- When great power is needed
- When a matter requires much prayer
Final Thoughts on Fasting
Keep in mind this foundational concept of prayer and fasting: they are linked together. Together they are a strong chain that links the Christian to God. In the simplest Biblical explanation, the elements of fasting are evident:
Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them. And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers. And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the LORD their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the LORD their God (Nehemiah 9:1-3).
Look at the emphasis on the Word of God here, “the children of Israel were assembled with fasting …and separated themselves…and confessed…and they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the LORD their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the Lord their God.” The result of such conduct was what all men in wayward countries long for – REVIVAL. They came apart so they could pray, fast and read God’s word. Perhaps the reader will see their overwhelming need and responsibility to pray with fasting in order to bring about such results. O that this country had such prayer warriors to prosper the way of God throughout the land.
As even I was struck with the question, so now the question turns its focus to you: “Have you ever considered fasting?” Has there been a pressing need that has not gained resolution? Perhaps God had laid out a challenge for the reader to engage in a time of prayer with fasting and make it a standard practice in their life and ministry. God has revealed that prayer with fasting can yield many momentous results from coming into agreement with God to even having great power from God. Take this opportunity to commit to the Lord for a time of prayer and fasting.