Principles of prayer and fasting
Christians sometimes feel that it is necessary to go without food, rest, adequate clothing, family life or other comforts in order to dedicate themselves to prayer. Men and women used of God all throughout the Bible, fasted: Moses, David, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Paul. Jesus began his ministry with 40 days of fasting. There are no direct commands in the Bible that obligate Christians to fast, but Jesus made it clear that fasting is part of the Christian life when He said, “When you fast” (Matthew 6:16) and “In those days they shall fast” (Luke 5:34, 35). The primitive church practiced fasting and it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that fasting plays a vital a necessary role in modern Christian life. (Acts 13:2, 3)
What is fasting and praying?
The Christian discipline of fasting is not simply abstaining from food and other things. More than anything, the practice of fasting is the recognition that God is supreme and occupies the place of supreme honor. Fasting places prayer in first place.
There are times when we should eat and drink with joy and gratefulness (Psalm 103:2; 5). There is a time when we should sleep (Psalms 127:2; 3:5). There is a time when we should enjoy the pleasures of our family (Hebrews 13:4; Proverbs 18:22). Every blessing comes from God and should be enjoyed, so that through them God may be glorified. However, there are times when we should turn our backs on all of these things and seek the face of God for some time. During such times, God leads us to focus all of our attention and energy on the Lord, praying and waiting on His presence.
Sometimes we fast by abstaining only from food (Matthew 4:2). However, there are occasions when we must go on a complete fast, abstaining from both food and water (Esther 4:16). In a partial fast, we only take the necessary nourishment to maintain our health (Daniel 10:2, 3). Sometimes there is the abstinence of sexual intercourse between a husband and his wife (Exodus 19:14, 15; 1 Corinthians 7:5). The spirit of fasting is a burning desire to be with God in prayer for a specific reason, greater than any normal desire.
Fasting implies persistence in prayer. We may pray frequently without praying very much. To separate a time for fasting and prayer is to make our lives and resources available for serious work with an undeniable persistence. Persistent prayer abandons everything else and gives God His proper place. Persistent prayer frequently involves fasting. Fasting is a deliberate effort to remove any obstacle to prayer. To fast is simply to push aside all the weights and all the distractions that impede our prayers.
Fasting manifests the intensity of desire, the greatness of determination and the power of faith. Fasting however reveals the fervor and seriousness of a search for answers to prayer.
Motives that lead people to fast in the Old Testament
- A search for help in time of affliction (Psalm 50:15)
- Joshua and the elders of Israel after the defeat at Ai (Judges 7:6)
- The tribes of Israel when the tribe of Benjamin went against them (Judges 20:26).
- Esther, Mordecai and the Jews, upon the threat of destruction (Esther 4:16)
- Ezra when he feared the enemies in the desert (Ezra 8:21-23).
- Confession of sins (1 Samuel 7:6; John 3:5-8)
- Prayer for healing (2 Samuel 12:16; 21, 22)
- Contrition and brokenness (1 Kings 21:27)
- Intercession (Nehemiah 1:4; Daniel 9:2-19)
- For revelation (Daniel 10)
Fasting in the New Testament
There is no command in the New Testament for the church to fast nor are there any established norms for fasting. However, it seems that fasting was part of the normal life of the people in Bible times. The Jews fasted weekly and the Pharisees fasted two times per week. Jesus fasted after His baptism (Matthew 4:2; Luke 4:2). He spent nights in prayer apparently without eating, but He did not practice the type of fasting that the Pharisees or even John the Baptist practiced. However, He left teachings about fasting. Jesus said that there would be a time, after His ascension, when the disciples would fast (Luke 5:33-35). There are times when fasting is not necessary (Matthew 17:21).
We must fast for the Lord, without acting in motivation to impress others (Matthew 6:16-18). When He said: “when you fast”, He was implying that fasting should be a unarguable practice of the disciples. Perhaps for this reason there are no commandments to fast in the New Testament.
Fasting in the book of Acts
Saul fasted after his meeting with Christ when he continued his way to Damascus (Acts 9:9). The motive was to wait on God and seek revelation. Cornelius was fasting when the angel brought him a message from God (Acts 10:30). He fasted as a spiritual exercise before the Lord.
The prophets and teachers in the church of Antioch also fasted (Acts 13:1-3). The reason for fasting was to minister to the Lord, lay hands on the apostles and send them to their missionary work.
Paul also fasted before choosing elders in the church (Acts 14:23). The people who traveled with Paul to Rome fasted because they were days of great danger (Acts 27:9; 33, 34).
Fasting in the epistles
Paul fasted frequently: by the instructions given to couples in Corinth, we conclude that this practice was normal in the church in those days (1 Corinthians 7:4, 5).
Biblical reasons for the believer to fast
Fasting puts the flesh in subjection and helps discipline it, but it does not at all alter God. He is the same before, during and after my fasting. The benefit of fasting is for me, because it helps me to be more sensitive to the Spirit of God.
When a necessity of waiting more on God arises then the Holy Spirit leads us to fast, this is an example of the clear need to fast. The New Testament does not establish a program of fasting. The Christian is guided by the Spirit and it is He who will show the way, how and when to fast (Romans 8:16).
We fast in order to minister to the Lord and to separate a time of fellowship without interruption (Acts 13:2).