Fasting And Prayer
I believe that today in our world the average man lives in the cares of the world around him. He is concerned with the problems of his work and his family and all the problems that go with that. It is hard for him to give much attention to the things of the spirit. He needs to buffet his body and bring it into subjection, and fasting is a good way to do that. It is one thing to give my time to God, another to give my money, to give my advice, but it is something else when I place my body in a subjective form seeking to humble myself before the Lord.
Fasting is not a crutch like dope or alcohol. Fasting is a reinforcement, and there is a difference. It is another level of strength, another kind of power, but you must get serious about it. There are people who fast for the wrong reasons just like there are people who pray for the wrong reasons. Those who do fast are not to esteem themselves more spiritual than those who do not fast. It is not for the other person, it is for self.
When there is a major decision to be made on my part and I feel an exceptional need to have the Lord's ear in regard to this decision, then to draw near to God I feel the need to withdraw from the cares around me and crowd them out with spiritual things. Fasting will help you do just that. In the book of Joel (Joel 2:11-13) "And the Lord shall utter His voice before His army; for His camp is very great; for He is strong that executeth His word; for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide it? Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God; for He is gracious and merciful, slow to evil".
Fasting is a biblical expression of humility. Let's look at some of the passages. "They regarded me evil for good to to the spoiling of my soul. But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was a sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer returned into mine own bosom" (Psalms 35:12,13.
In Leviticus 16:31, God tells Israel concerning the annual day of atonement, "It shall be a sabbath of rest to you, and ye may afflict your souls." Or shall we say humble your souls. In this passage nothing is said about fasting, but Luke refers to a fast day or this day of atonement as a fast (Acts 27:9). To put the two scriptures together you have an example of God's people humbling themselves by fasting. History records that for more than four thousand years the orthodox Jews have observed the atonement as a day of fasting. Thus God's people in the Bible understood that fasting was a way of humbling themselves before God.
Another scripture reveals fasting as a way to humble ourselves before the Lord. "Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of Him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance" (Ezra 8:21)
Another example is when Judah was threatened by an armed invasion, and King Jehoshaphat led the way in calling the whole nation to prayer and fasting, as told in the 20th chapter of 2 Chronicles. In response God dramatically intervened, and the entire invading army destroyed itself.
The book of Esther tells us how that the Jewish nation was listed for extermination. They were headed for national annihilation; but Esther and her maidens, and other Jews in Shushan, fasted for a period of seventy-two hours (three days). The Bible teaches that the whole balance of power in the Persian empire was reversed. Can you say you can separate God's providential intervention in the life of the Jews from that fast? "and in every province, whithersoever the king's commandment and his decree came, there was fasting, and weeping and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes" (Esther 4:13) "Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer, Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:15). This fast was a reinforcement of Esther's commitment to God.
Another example in conditioning our minds or a people for prayer is found in the book of Jonah. After Jonah had preached to the great city of Nineveh, a city of three days' journey, that they were to be overthrown, the people believed God's message. "For the word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing; let them not feed nor drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sack cloth, and cry mightily unto God; yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their heads" (Jonah 3:6-8). The chapter closes with this comment, "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that He had said that He would do unto them and He did it not".
God saw their works. What did He see? Their fasting, repentance, and prayers. He observed their fasting and the sincerity with which they approached the matter. God changed His mind and spared them for nearly three hundred more years, from 920, in the days of Jonah, to 612 when Nineveh fell at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. That three hundred years was granted because of their fasting and prayer and the attitude that followed.
In Matthew 6:18, we are told that our fasting should be in secret to God, not for others to see. But in the twelfth chapter of Acts we have the case of Peter being in prison, and the whole church was fasting and praying for him. Thus we see two kinds of fasting - private and collective. I wonder what would happen to this nation, this church, or my total family if all of God's people in that unit would collectively fast for a period of time together in prayer toward a common goal?
In the most important sermon ever delivered, Jesus teaches on stewardship or giving, then on prayer, and in Matthew 6:17,18 "But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and they Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly". He had just warned in verse 16, "Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men as to fast. Verily I say unto you they have their reward".
"And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they came and said unto Him, why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not? And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bride chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them; and then shall they fast in those days" (Mark 2:18).
"A Jesus being full of the Holy Spirit returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being 40 days tempted of the devil. And in those days He did eat nothing; and when they were ended, he afterward hungered" (Luke 4:1,2). It just may be that the reason so many refuse to fast or pay special attention to the things of God is that they live so far from the Holy Spirit.
Paul lists in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 his credentials as an apostle, and among these he listed "in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness (verse 27).
In Acts 13:1-3 we see two periods of fasting in verses 2 and 3. In the church at Antioch there were five ministers. They were called prophets and teachers. They were praying and fasting together. This is described as ministering unto the Lord. Church leaders would do well not to forget that ministering to the Lord comes before ministering to men.
"And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in their faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed" (Acts 14:21-23). In verse 22 these believers are referred to as merely disciples. In the next verse, the writer calls them churches. Could it be because now they have elders and are organized into a local body or congregation?
When one carefully examines chapters 13 and 14 in the book of Acts, he sees the practice of fasting in the life of the early church. These scriptures are not an incidental matter in the life of God's people. It clearly teaches both collective and private fasting.
We all know that there are times when we need to zero in on the important. David put it this way: "When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach" (Psalms 69:10). In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul said that he buffeted his body, to keep it into subjection.
The disciplines of the Bible are given as a means to spiritual growth and development. There comes a time when we are no longer expected to drink milk but eat meat. We grow through food and exercise which is the end result of a determined mind. Some of the exercises taught in the Bible through abstinence are solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, and sacrifice. Others taught through engagement are study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission. Any habit or desire that is keeping us from God and is sinking us deeper into the things of the world should be broken through abstinence. This can cause us to see the problem as a stumbling block in our spiritual path and later help us to be thankful that we have seen it and have over come it.
It is necessary that we should steadily resolve to give up anything that comes between ourselves and God. In Galatians 5:17, Paul teaches that a direct opposition exists between the spiritual man and the carnal man. "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh". Now these are contrary one to the other. Man's carnal nature erects two barriers between man and the Holy Spirit. One is his stubborn self-will and the other his insistent self-gratifying appetites of the body.
There then are two levels for the most of us. One is what my body wants to do that is wrong, and the other is what my mind can do that is wrong. Rightly practiced, fasting can bring both soul and body into subjection. We must break down the laws of our carnal nature in order to rise to a higher level of our spiritual potential. Paul said in Ephesians 3:20 "Now unto Him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us". For this power to work in us we must remove the carnal barriers that would choke off the power of Christ. Fasting will aid us in doing just that. If something, however, is outside the will of God, fasting and prayer will never put it inside the will of God. Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 7 for the wife or the husband to not deny the other sexual relations except it be with consent for a time, that they may give themselves to fasting and prayer and come together again that Satan tempt them not. Fasting will not make right that which is wrong.
An example is found in 2 Samuel 12 when David committed adultery, and out of that improper union a child was born. David fasted seven days, and the child died. Fasting three days gave Esther the courage to go on with her plans. It worked because it was in the will of God. All the fasting David could have done would not have changed God's righteous judgment on the sinful act he had committed. If fasting could make that which is wrong right in the sight of God, then we wouldn't need the blood of Christ. Fasting is not a substitute for any other part of God's provision, but neither is any other part of God's provision a substitute for fasting.
Physical health problems may prevent one from fasting. There can be problems arise without a doctor's help. There may be other ways for those who cannot fast to draw close to God, but for those who can fast, there is no better way. God help us!