"Fasting and Prayer:
Key to Breakthrough"

Advocates
in
Prayer

 

 

Introduction

OUR 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 prayer lives.

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).  A 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 breakthrough.

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.

Fasting 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.

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.

Fasting appeals to God for forgiveness and pardon.  Ahab 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 restoration.

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 prayer.

. . . When We Feel Weak and Vulnerable

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 vulnerability?

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.  Scripture confirms that God responds to fasting and prayer by providing protection from harm and victory over the Enemy.

Fasting 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?  "So we 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.

Fasting 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.)  At the 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.

We 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.

We should fast when we feel oppressed by others.  The 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.  We 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.

Fasting 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.

Fasting 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.  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.)

Fasting 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.)  On the 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.  When we 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.

Fasting 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 the world.

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 the same.

. . . 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.

Fasting empowers us for spiritual warfare.  One Scriptural 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 power.

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 ministries.

Fasting enables us in the ministry of impartation.  It 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 happen.

Conclusion

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.  It 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.

 

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