STUDY OF PRAYER has
emphasized the role of our prayers on earth to invoke the power
of our God from heaven. Prayer is powerful because it is human
weakness deferring to Godís strength. As James write,
"The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth
much." (See James 5:16b; KJV.)
When the righteous pray
fervently, Godís power is released to accomplish much. But,
what about those times when the cares of life distract us from
seeing our righteous standing before God through Christ and
cause us to pray limp prayers that bounce back at us? In such
times, our prayers need help. We need a breakthrough in our
A biblical key to a
breakthrough in our prayer lives is to join prayer with fasting.
Jesus told His disciples on one occasion that the reason they
could not cast out a particular spirit of infirmity from a
demonized lad was because of their unbelief (Matthew 17:20).
few verses later, He added these words: "But this kind does
not go out except by prayer and fasting." (See verse 21 in
the NIV footnote.) The point is that prayer and fasting combined
can debunk our unbelief and re-empower our prayer lives. When
prayer alone doesnít work, prayer and fasting will bring the
I find that the practical
lessons learned from the Bible regarding prayer and fasting can
be presented in an orderly fashion by allowing the Bible to
address the following question: When should we fast?
Scripture answers this question in a variety of ways that are
sure to touch each of our lives. Letís look at them.
. . . When We Feel
Estranged From God
We should fast when we feel
estranged from God. It is sin that separates us from God and
brings upon us the sentence of death. (See Isaiah 59:2 and
Romans 6:23.) But, Scripture teaches that Jesus took the penalty
of our sins in His own death and defeated death for us through
His resurrection. (See Romans 5:10.) By believing in and
accepting this redeeming work of Jesus Christ for us, we are
reconciled to God. (See Romans 5:1.) We are no longer estranged.
I donít believe Christians
ever feel estranged from God because of questioning Jesusí
work of redemption for them. I believe it is when they turn the
focus upon themselves and question the sincerity of their own
humility, repentance, and acceptance of pardon. After all, these
three responses on our part are the requirement of Scripture for
receiving God saving grace.
When we feel that our hearts
are growing cold toward God and that we lack sincerity in our
humility, repentance, and acceptance of pardon, fasting and
prayer are instrumental in restoring passion in our relationship
with God by bringing renewed depth and sincerity to our
responses to Him. Letís see how this plays out in Scripture.
signifies humility. The children of Israel were
required by Godís decree to fast on the annual Day of
Atonement. (See Leviticus 16:29b). Godís gift of atonement was
to be met by their response of humility. Fasting was the means
by which they were to demonstrate their humility.
Saul of the New Testament
exemplifies fasting as a response of humility before God. When
he encountered the resurrected Christ in a vision on the
Damascus Road and was brought to the realization that he had
been fighting against God by persecuting the Church, he humbled
himself with prayer and fasting for three days. (See Acts 9:9.)
It was then that he received the gift of salvation, the fullness
of the Holy Spirit, and a call to take the gospel to the
Gentiles. (See verses 15-18.) He was prepared to receive Godís
grace through humility expressed in fasting.
demonstrates repentance. Joelís prophesy of
judgment upon unfaithful Israel was followed by a divine call to
ward off judgment through a fast of repentance. The Lord
beckoned, "ĎEven now,í declares the LORD, Ďreturn to
me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.
Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your
God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and
abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.í"
(See Joel 2:12-13.) Similarly, James exhorts New Testament
believers with these words: "Wash your hands, you sinners,
and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and
wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you
up." (See James 4:8b-10.) Fasting demonstrates the
brokenness of a heart that is truly repentant for sin.
appeals to God for forgiveness and pardon.
was a king of Israel described as one who "did more evil in
the eyes of the LORD than those before him." (See 1 Kings
16:30). But when God spoke to him through Elijah with a prophecy
of impending judgment, we read that he "he tore his
clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and
went around meekly." (See 1 Kings 21:27.) God saw Ahabís
humility and fasting as repentance and withheld judgment until
the next generation. (See verses 28-29.)
What God did for Ahab He will
do for his people corporately. This is assured in the Lordís
response to Solomonís prayer dedicating the temple: "If
my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and
pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will
I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal
their land." (See 2 Chronicles 7:14.) The humble response
of fasting and prayer, God said, would assure pardon and
A tell-tale sign that we are
growing cold toward God is that our relationship with Him lacks
heart. Humility, repentance, and acceptance of Godís pardon
become more words that we say in prayer than genuine heart
attitudes toward God. The principle is there but the passion is
missing. In such a condition, if we are honest with ourselves we
will have to admit that we feel estranged from God. How do we
restore passion to our relationship with Him? The biblical
answer is to humble ourselves before him with fasting and
. . . When We Feel Weak
We should fast when we feel
weak and vulnerable. This may seem to be illogical as fasting
weakens one physically. Many use food for psychologically
gratification when they feel beat up emotionally. They are
saying essentially, "I believe Iíll feel better after I
eat." So, why on earth would one prescribe fasting to treat
The logic here is that
vulnerability points to our dependence upon God, and prayer and
fasting appeals to God to intervene at the point of our need.
When we feel vulnerable, we need God to protect us
from harm and give us victory over adversity.
confirms that God responds to fasting and prayer by providing
protection from harm and victory over the Enemy.
appeals to God for protection. When Ezra
the scribe appealed to the Persian King Artaxerxes to send him
and an entourage of devout Jews to Jerusalem to re-establish
religious instruction and worship among the newly returned
exiles, he called a fast for protection along the way. In his
words, "There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so
that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a
safe journey for us and our children, with all our
possessions." (See Ezra 8:21) The result?
fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our
prayer." (See verse 23.) Likewise Nehemiah, troubled by the
report of the sad state of affairs among the returned exiles in
Jerusalem, "mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of
heaven." (See Nehemiah 1:4.) As a result, God gave him
favor with King Artaxerxes to secure the provisions and
protection needed to travel to Jerusalem and assist in
rebuilding the city.
appeals to God for victory.
Jehoshaphat, a king
of Judah, learned the power of prayer and fasting to conquer
literal military adversaries. When faced with a military
alliance of Ammonites, Moabites, and Meunites, Jehoshaphat
called a fast for all the people of Judah. (See 2 Chronicles
20:3.) The result was that God set confusion in the camp of the
enemy so that they turned upon themselves and destroyed each
other. (See verses 22-23.)
For the prophet Elijah, prayer
and fasting brought victory over a powerful demonic principality
operating through Queen Jezebel. Elijah was fearless in the face
of King Ahab and 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah (see 1 Kings
18:16-40) but ran for his life at the threat of Jezebel because
she was empowered by a demonic principality of witchcraft that
intimidated him. (See 1 Kings 19:1-3a and 2 Kings 9:22.)
end of a 40 day period of fasting and prayer while in route to
Mount Horeb to meet with God, Elijah received a message from God
that assured Him of the Lordís sovereignty over political and
spiritual forces. (See 1 Kings 19:15-18.) He was able to return
at Godís command with no fear for his security as God had
assured victory over his enemies.
Fasting places us in the
position to receive from Godís hand protection from harm and
victory over the Enemy of our soul. It is not that God withholds
these blessings from us but that we have been blindsided by the
Enemy into living below our privilege. Fasting and prayer open
our eyes to see things in right perspective so that we cast off
our insecurity complex and embrace an expectation of continual
blessing and favor. To employ computer terminology, the old
insecurity program is removed from memory and replaced with a
new blessing program.
. . . When We Feel
Tension in Our Relationships
We should fast when we feel
tension in our relationships. A sign that Godís grace is doing
its work in our lives is that we have harmonious relationships
with other believers. Walking in the light of Godís truth
means that we "have fellowship with one another." (See
1 John 1:7.)
Fellowship implies that we
relate to each other as equals. Lack of fellowship means that we
either feel we are above others or below them. But, when we are
able to accept ourselves and accept others equally, a fellowship
is established that paves the way for the glory of God to be
revealed. The prophet Isaiah writes, "Every valley shall be
raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground
shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of
the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (See Isaiah 40:4-5.)
When done as God prescribes,
fasting and prayer proves to be a great leveler. It brings the
haughty down to size and lifts the oppressed from their valley
of despair. This is evident from the description of Godís
chosen fast as related in Isaiah 58.
should fast when we tend to be oppressive towards others.
Sometimes our lives become so self-absorbed that we
unintentionally develop attitudes that are oppressive towards
others. Even our fasting can be self-absorbed as it focuses on
what we want from God as a result of our fast. In answer to
such, God encouraged the people of Israel not to fast merely as
an outward form of humility before God while continuing to
exploit their workers and quarrel among themselves. (See Isaiah
58: 3-5.) Rather, their times of fasting were to be combined
with setting the oppressed free and providing food for the
hungry, clothing for the naked, and shelter for the homeless.
(See verses 6-7.) Fasting as God prescribes turns oppressive
attitudes into new attitudes that truly liberate others.
should fast when we feel oppressed by others.
blessings of God promised to those who adhere to his chosen fast
apply both to the repentant oppressor and the oppressed one who
needs to be lifted from his valley of despair. Those blessings
are listed as healing, vindication, revelation, enlightenment,
satisfaction, strength, prosperity, productivity, joy, and
victory. (See Isaiah 58: 8-14.) These are results of allowing
fasting to be practiced in such a way that is becomes a great
leveler to our relationships.
When fasting, we should
combine the denial of self with the affirmation of others.
humble ourselves before God and commit to offer ourselves as
servants to others to lift them from the humiliation of
oppression. As we make this two-way commitment, we will find
that Godís chosen fast replaces tension in our relationships
with harmony among fellow believers.
. . . When We Desire to
Draw Closer to God
We should fast when we
desire to draw closer to God. Fasting is not just a discipline
for bringing problems to God to be fixed. It is also an
expression of the heartís longing for a greater intimacy in
our walk with Him. It is to set aside our physical appetites and
the time required to prepare meals in order to focus more of our
time and attention upon the Lord.
assures a devotion that lasts. When we have
trouble maintaining consistency in our devotion to the Lord, it
is usually because it does not come natural to deny ourselves
and put God and his interests ahead of our own. A regular
practice of fasting and prayer helps assure more consistency in
our devotion to God because it develops a lifestyle of
self-denial. This is part of the cost of true discipleship.
Jesus said, ""If anyone would come after me, he must
deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."
(See Luke 9:23.)
The prophetess Anna serves as
an example of one whose lifestyle of fasting enabled a lasting
devotion to God. She became a widow after only seven years of
marriage. Thereafter, she was wholly devoted to the Lord into
her late eighties. We read, "She never left the temple but
worshipped night and day, fasting and praying." (See Luke
2:37b.) And the intimacy she had with God was such that she
immediately recognized the baby Jesus as the anointed Redeemer
when His parents brought Him into the temple. (See verse 38.)
Her devotion to the Lord made it easy for her to receive
revelation from Him.
intensifies the worship of God. Another example
of fasting being practiced as an aspect of worship is seen among
the prophets and teachers of the church in Antioch. (See Acts
13:1-3.) They are described as "worshipping the Lord and
fasting." (See verse 2.) Like Anna, their devotion to the
Lord made it easy for them to hear from Him, and He spoke to
them during their worship to set apart Barnabas and Saul for a
missionary work to which they were divinely called. Upon
receiving this word, they spent a season of time in fasting in
prayer after which they laid hands upon Barnabas and Saul and
sent them off on their first missionary journey. (See verse 3.)
Fasting is an exciting venture
because it focuses us upon a deeper relationship with God.
is a jealous God who gives Himself most fully to those who give
themselves to Him most completely. The discipline of fasting
helps us to give ourselves more fully to the Lord by putting the
ax to any tendencies we have that would distract our focus from
Him. In develops in us a consistency of devotion that draws us
into Godís confidence in which He is pleased to walk with us
and talk with us.
. . . When We Desire
Spiritual Blessing and Insight
We should fast when we desire
to experience greater spiritual blessing and understanding.
Fasting not only helps us to draw closer to God, develop a
consistency in our devotion to Him, and occasionally hear his
voice when He speaks to us. It also helps us grow into mature
disciples of Jesus Christ whose lives are enriched with an
increase of blessing and wisdom. It aids us in getting to know
Jesus better "in whom are hidden all the treasures of
wisdom and knowledge." (See Colossians 2:3.)
brings divine rewards. In Jesusí teaching on
fasting, He warned that those who fast openly to draw attention
to their piety will get that attention, but it will be the full
extent of their reward for fasting. (See Matthew 6:16.)
other hand, those who fast secretly desiring a deeper communion
with God will be rewarded openly. (See verse 17-18.)
Jesus did not say just what
kind of rewards God would openly bestow upon those who fast in
secret. It is easy to surmise, though, that those who desire Godís
favor over the applause of men will be blessed by God in every
area of their lives. And, that will be hard to hide.
prosper in our relationships, our labors, our finances, our
ministries, and find favor with God and man, we have been
rewarded openly. And, those who humbly fast for Godís kingdom
alone can handle such blessings because they will desire only to
lead others to the same.
brings divine revelation. Weíve seen
that the prophetess Anna and the prophets and teachers in
Antioch discovered that a lifestyle of worship and fasting
enabled them to hear from God. In both of those cases, though,
it was more of a word of knowledge they received rather than any
extensive revelation. Two other biblical examples, though,
demonstrate how fasting was the precursor to extensive
revelations of Godís purposes for the nation of Israel and for
Moses was fasting in the
presence of God for forty days and nights at the time that God
entrusted him with the Ten Commandments. Furthermore, God
dictated them to him, and Moses himself wrote the commandments
onto tablets of stone. (See Exodus 34:28.) This was a
supernatural fast in which Moses was sustained with neither food
nor water, and the presence of God was so great upon him that
his face was radiant with Godís glory when he descended the
mountain to return to the camp of Israel. (See verse 29.)
Daniel was concluding a
twenty-one day fast (see Daniel 9:3; 10:10-13) when the angel
Gabriel came to him in "swift flight" and gave him an
extensive revelation of what would happen to the people of
Israel from that time all the way through to the end of human
history. (See Daniel 9-12.) It is significant that Daniel was
deeply troubled by the sins of his people and combined his
prolong fast with a heartfelt prayer of repentance on behalf of
the Jewish exiles with him in Babylon when the angelic visit and
extensive revelation occurred. The point is that Danielís
heart was so one with Godís that God could trust him with a
revelation of such great impact.
No doubt every follower of
Jesus would say that they desire to be so one with Godís heart
that God can trust them with revelation of things to come as He
did Daniel. And, this is the promise of Jesus to those who would
follow Him. He said to His disciples of the Holy Spirit,
"he will tell you what is yet to come." (See John
16:13b.) But if we, like Daniel, are to experience that ministry
of the Holy Spirit that shows us things to come, we must have a
reason to know. For Daniel, the reason was informed
intercession. For us, perhaps it is to be both informed
intercession and guided evangelism. The point is, though, our
heart must be committed to Godís program if He is to share the
program with us. Fasting and prayer is a key to deepening our
commitment to God and His program and receiving revelation of
. . . When We
Want to Be Equipped and to Equip Others
We should fast when we desire
to be fully equipped for the ministry God has called us to and
to be instrumental in equipping others to fulfill their calling.
For effective ministry, we need not only to be able to hear from
God in words or knowledge or extensive revelations of things to
come. We need to be empowered to advance Godís kingdom and
destroy the works of the devil in peopleís lives.
empowers us for spiritual warfare.
statement of the purpose of Jesusí ministry reads as follows:
"The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the
devil's work." (See 1 John 3:8b.) Our ministry as followers
of Jesus is not only to advance the kingdom of God but to
enforce the destruction of Satanís kingdom from peopleís
lives. This requires not only spiritual revelation but spiritual
It was after Jesus empowered
His disciples to heal the sick and drive out demons (see Matthew
10:1) that they had difficulties delivering a demonized boy from
a spirit of infirmity causing seizures that would throw him into
fire or water to destroy him. (See 17:15-16.) Jesus Himself
delivered the boy from the demon of infirmity. He explained to
His disciples, as we saw earlier, that they could not cast this
spirit out because of unbelief but would indeed be able to expel
such spirits through prayer and fasting combined. (See verse 21
in the NIV footnote.) As weíve seen, fasting debunks that
unbelief that hinders our prayer lives and thus re-empowers our
prayers. In doing so, fasting is instrumental in empowering our
enables us in the ministry of impartation.
would be quite self-centered to desire a powerful ministry
ourselves but have no interest in helping other believers
experience the same. Our desire should be like that of the
Apostle Paul who wrote to the Christians in Rome, "I long
to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to
make you strong -- that is, that you and I may be mutually
encouraged by each other's faith." (See Romans 1:11-12.)
Paul wanted to impart spiritual gifts to other believers so that
they could all the more powerfully advance Godís kingdom and
destroy the works of the devil.
Paul understood the ministry
of impartation and the role that fasting played in that
ministry. After he and Barnabas had preached in the cities of
Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch on their first missionary journey,
they returned to those cities to appoint anointed leadership
over the churches. We read: "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." (See Acts 14:23.) In a sense, one could say that
the fasting, prayer, and anointing of the apostles gave these
newly appointed leaders a "jump start" for their
ministries. To continue in the same, these leaders would have to
prove themselves in fasting, prayer, and servant leadership.
To say that fasting and prayer
both empower us for ministry and enables us to empower others
for ministry through impartation shows yet again how fasting
serves as a great leveler. We are not to build our own
ministries but to serve the Body of Christ and evangelize the
lost. Whatever fruitfulness we experience in ministry we should
desire to help others experience. The goal is for the Body of
Christ to work together to see Godís kingdom advanced and the
powers of darkness dispelled. The discipline of fasting and
prayer helps position us to labor with God toward making that
Fasting and prayer does not
change God. It changes us. It is not twisting Godís arm to get
him to do our bidding but rather positioning ourselves to
receive the grace He freely gives and to do His bidding.
Fasting and prayer combined
removes the hindrances to our peace. It ensures the sincerity of
our humility, repentance, and acceptance of pardon so that we no
longer feel estranged from God. It effectively appeals for Godís
protection from harm and victory over the Enemy of our souls so
that we overcome feelings of weakness and vulnerability. It
helps us humble ourselves and lift up others who are oppressed
so that we vanquish tensions from our relationships.
Fasting and prayer combined
also aids us in progressing in our walk with God. It helps us
draw closer to him in consistency of devotion and worship. It
brings an increase in spiritual blessing and understanding.
empowers us for ministry and enables us to effectively impart
spiritual gifts and empowerment to others for fruitful ministry
in their lives.
Fasting is a key to a
revitalized prayer life and an empowered ministry. I pray that
God motivates us to make it a regular discipline in our lives
and to appeal to Him during times of prayer and fasting to grant
each of these benefits that we find ourselves in need of so that
we can experience a more fruitful ministry
in His service.