All believers can multiply their effectiveness in prayer by utilising the discipline of fasting.
Some reasons why we should we fast?
We fast in obedience to Jesus’ teaching. (Matt. 6:16-18)
In Matthew 6, Jesus gives some foundational teaching about some activities that he assumes will be a part of the life of his followers.
Matt. 6:2 “So when you give to the needy…” Jesus then follows this with instructions about how to give in the proper way.
If you’re a follower of Christ, you will give to the needy. Most of us have no problem, with this.
Matt. 6:5 “And when you pray…” Jesus follows this with instructions about how to pray in the proper way. If you’re a follower of Christ, you will pray. No problem with this it is normal.
Just a few sentences later, however, Jesus mentions a third discipline of the Christian life Matt. 6:16-18 (NIV) “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
This is saying If you’re a follower of Christ, you will fast.
Yes fasting is for everyone who follows Christ.
It is a tool God has given us to increase our spiritual power and help us communicate more intimately with God. If we don’t make use of it, we are not only going to be missing out on much of what God wants to do in and through us, we will be disobeying Jesus clear instructions.
So we fast, at the most basic level, because Jesus said so.
But what good does it really do? What’s the point? Some may ask.
We fast to demonstrate our dependence upon God.
(James 4:10 NKJV “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NKJV “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
There are many ways we can demonstrate our humility before God, but choosing to go without food for the sake of spiritual things is one of the more practical ways.
When a person fasts, it will not be long before the tummy starts to say “feed me”.
That physical urge is a test when you’re fasting. Will you do what your flesh is urging you to do, or will you rely upon God for his strength?
Fasting is a very tangible way to teach our minds and our bodies that we do not have to gratify the urges of our bodies. We CAN say “No” when our body calls for food.
And when we do this, we demonstrate to God that we are his, and that we are more needful of his righteousness, of his power, of his wisdom, of His direction, than we actually need physical nourishment.
Fasting is a way for us to discipline our bodies for the spiritual battles God needs us to fight. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions this need of physical discipline in the spiritual battle:
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV) Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Even as athletes train their bodies for physical contests, fasting trains our spirits for spiritual battles.
We fast to demonstrate repentance from sin
(and to intercede for others who need to repent). (Daniel 9:3-5, Jonah 3:5-10)
In the book of Jonah, the story is told of the prophet Jonah receiving instructions to take a message to his arch-enemies the Ninevites. Jonah’s response is an incredible story, but I want to focus on what finally happened when Jonah got there and pronounced God’s coming judgment upon the people of Ninevah.
(Jonah 3:5-10 “So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish? Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”
Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh.… He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” The Ninevites believed God.
They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth.
Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
Incredible! God planned on wiping out these people, but when they turned to him with fervent prayers accompanied with fasting – God changed his mind and saved them.
It is one thing to pray, “Lord I’m sorry for what I’ve done.”
It is something else to deprive yourself of food and plead with God for him to have mercy upon you for the sins you’ve committed against him.
Such a fast is called for in situations where you or I face a sin that constantly ensnares us.
If we are willing to pay the price of fasting and praying, we can know deliverance from that sin, and the joy that follows!
A decision to fast in such a situation demonstrates to God that we are truly serious about our repentance, and that we sincerely long for new life in that area.
But sometimes fasting is necessary on behalf of others who need the mercy of God in their lives.
In the books of Daniel chapter 9 and Nehemiah 1 we can read about times when great men of God fasted and prayed for God to relent from his judgment upon the people of Judah.
During these times these men understand that God has every reason to bring judgment upon the people for their sin, yet they plead with him for mercy and to smile upon them once again. Likewise, there may be times when we will need to pull the tool of fasting out of our prayer toolbox in order to intercede for our nation, our community, our church, our small group, friends, or even people in our family.
When it becomes apparent that our routine prayers for these situations are not having an effect – there is something we can do to “turn up the power” in our prayers – and that is to fast for these people or situations that so desperately need the touch of God.
So we fast to demonstrate our dependance upon God and our fervent intercession for other people. But there are more reasons in scripture why we should fast.
We fast to receive God’s wisdom and direction.
(Acts 13:1-3 “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”
Strengthening the Converts Acts 14:21-23 “And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
Here the early church was blessed with prophets and teachers gifted with the ability to lead the church – but instead of relying upon their own gifts, we find the leaders of this church fasting and praying to God for wisdom about how to proceed as a church.
It was only after they had paid the price of fasting and praying that God revealed to them what the next step was to be – that they should send Barnabas and Saul off as missionaries.
Then we see in just the next chapter of the story, we’re told how it is that Saul, now called Paul and Barnabas went about setting apart leaders in the fledgling churches that had been started.
Acts 14:21-23 (NIV) …[Paul and Barnabas] returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. … Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
They appointed elders in each church with prayer and fasting.
By this I understand that they would have spent time fasting before making their decisions, seeking God’s wisdom as they fasted. But it also seems clear that they fasted in preparation for the time that they actually “committed them to the Lord”.
By doing this, the Apostles demonstrated to God that they needed the power of the Holy Spirit to guide their decision making. They disciplined their bodies in order to hear more clearly from God and in order to set apart these new leaders with Spiritual power.
When we need wisdom we should use the gift of fasting, which will focus our minds upon whatever situation we’re praying about.
Every time we desire food, we’re reminded to pray for God to speak.
Instead of sitting down to a meal with others, we get away with the Lord and ask him to reveal his will – and then we wait!
Although there are many other reasons to fast, I want to mention just one more reason found in the Bible.
We fast to receive deliverance in times of crisis.
2 Chronicles 20:1-14 After this, the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to make war on Jehoshaphat. 2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you… 3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.
5 Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the temple of the LORD in the front of the new courtyard 6 and said: “O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. …
10 “But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. 11 See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. 12 O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”
13 All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD.
14 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel…(and God makes known his plan for delivering the people).
“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” This expresses the heart of someone who is facing a crisis and endeavours to fast and pray for God to bring deliverance.
- When the diagnosis is bad news.
- When our nation is at a crisis point like an election or because of calamity.
- When our family is facing a crisis.
- These are times for fasting.
These are times to go beyond our normal routines of prayer, and determine that we need to have God’s intervention in our lives much more than we need food.
It is important for us to note, however, that fasting is not a “magic” way to make our prayers get answered, or to somehow force God into answering our prayers a certain way.
God cannot be coerced, we may still have to go through the difficult circumstance but the more we are willing to fast and pray through the process, the more we will be rewarded with the power and the presence of God to strengthen us and give us faith for the journey.
I would like to conclude by saying, God has given us a tool for stepping up our communication with him. It is not easy and how exactly it works remains a mystery to me.
But for those who are willing to make it a regular part of their life, history shows that God will unleash power into their lives.
So, the next time you need to demonstrate repentance, or intercede for someone who needs to repent, or if you need wisdom or deliverance from a crisis, I encourage you to make a commitment to God to a set amount of time – and discover what saints throughout the ages have discovered: fasting is a vital part of the Christian life.
Scriptures on Fasting
Matthew 6:16-18 NKJV
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Luke 4:1-2 ASV
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led in the Spirit in the wilderness during forty days, being tempted of the devil. And he did eat nothing in those days: and when they were completed, he hungered.
Matthew 9:14-15 ASV
Then come to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? And Jesus said unto them, Can the sons of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then will they fast.
Matthew 17:20-21 NKJV
So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
Matthew 6:2 NKJV
Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
Matthew 6:5 NKJV
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
James 4:10 NKJV
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NKJV
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Daniel 9:3-5 NKJV
Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. And I prayed to the Lord my God, and made confession, and said, “O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments.
Jonah 3:5-10 NKJV
5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. 7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,
Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
Acts 13:1-3 NKJV
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
Acts 14:21-23 NKJV
And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
2 Chronicles 20:1-15 NKJV
1 It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat. 2 Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar” (which is En Gedi). 3 And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4 So Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.
5 Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, 6 and said: “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? 7 Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? 8 And they dwell in it, and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name, saying, 9 ‘If disaster comes upon us—sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine—we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.’ 10 And now, here are the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir—whom You would not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them and did not destroy them—11 here they are, rewarding us by coming to throw us out of Your possession which You have given us to inherit. 12 O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”
13 Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the Lord.
14 Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. 15 And he said, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.
Quotes on Fasting
“A fast is not a hunger strike. Fasting submits to God’s commands. A hunger strike makes God submit to our demands.”Ed Cole
“Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”Andrew Murray
“Fasting helps express, deepens, confirms the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”-Andrew Murray
“By fasting, the body learns to obey the soul; by praying the soul learns to command the body.”Ole Hallesby
“The purpose of fasting is to loosen to some degree the ties which bind us to the world of material things and our surroundings as a whole, in order that we may concentrate all our spiritual powers upon the unseen and eternal things.”-Ole Hallesby
The abstinence is not to be an end in itself but rather for the purpose of being separated to the Lord and to concentrate on godliness. This kind of fasting reduces the influence of our self-will and invites the Holy Spirit to doWilliam Thrasher
intense work in us.” a more
“Fasting in the biblical sense is choosing not to partake of food because your spiritual hunger is so deep,Wesley L. Duewel
youdetermination in intercession so intense, or your spiritual warfare so demanding that you have temporarily set aside even fleshly needs to give yourself to prayer and meditation.”
“Fastings and vigils without a special object in view are time run to waste.”David Livingstone
“Bear up the hands that hang down, by faith and prayer; support the tottering knees. Have you any days of fasting and prayer? Storm the throne of grace and persevere therein, and mercy will come down.”-John Wesley
ShansiI found Chinese Christians who were accustomed to spendtime in fasting and prayer. They recognized that this fasting, which so many dislike, which requires faith in God, since it makes one feel weak and poorly, is really a Divinely appointed means of grace. Perhaps the greatest hindrance to our work is our own imagined strength; and in fastingwe learn what poor, weak creatures we are-dependenton a meal of meat for the little strength which we are so apt to lean upon. “”–
If you say “I will fast when God lays it on my heart,” you never will. You are too cold and indifferent to take the yoke upon you.”- Dwight L. MoodyAndrew Bonar
“Fasting is abstaining from anything that hinders prayer.”