fasting-1In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus Christ included fasting as a spiritual commitment for those who would follow Him. Jesus gave instruction on how we are to live as Kingdom citizens, and in   Matthew 6 He taught that giving, praying, and fasting were to be a part of a believer’s life:

“When you give (v. 2)…,

“When you pray (v. 5)…, and

“When you fast (v. 16)…”

In this brief post, I want to focus on the spiritual discipline of prayer and fasting.  Early in my ministry, I received teaching from several sources in this area, and consequently have embraced fasting in my life and ministry. I have fasted every Wednesday for some years now, and have set aside specific time on these days to seek the Lord in prayer for personal revival, spiritual needs in my church family, awakening in my community, and the cause of Christ globally.

Alan Redpath once said, “Never undertake more Christian service than you can cover by believing prayer.”  This is a great challenge in our generation that is bombarded with distraction. Prayer and fasting helps us to focus on what is truly important in this world, namely our relationship with God. In seeking the Lord in this way, we discover that prayer and fasting is the prescription and pathway for God’s supernatural power to be unleashed in our lives and in His church.What is Fasting?

The idea of fasting seems a bit strange in our culture of “All-you-Can Eat Buffets.”   The Hebrew word צֹום tsom, means “to cover the mouth,”  and the Greek words mean simply, “not to eat.”  While the primary application in the Bible for fasting includes food and water, it is not confined to that. We read the Apostle Paul’s instruction in I Corinthians 7 to husband and wife, that with mutual consent, they may “fast” from sexual relations in order to devote themselves fully to prayer.

The idea of fasting is abstinence with a spiritual goal in mind.  Ron Dunn wrote that fasting is “the voluntary abstinence of satisfaction from certain physical appetites, for spiritual reasons.”

The Reference to Fasting in the Bible is Extensive

Fasting is not an obscure concept in Bible. Moses fasted. Israel fasted. Elijah fasted. Isaiah and Joel called for fasting. David fasted. Ezra and Nehemiah called for a fast. Esther fasted. John the Baptist and his disciples fasted. Anna fasted. Paul fasted. The early church fasted, and Jesus fasted.  With such an overwhelming example, it really demands a serious thought on how to implement this discipline into the rhythm of our life.

Not only was fasting practiced by most of the leading figures in redemptive history, but we find many different ways fasting was observed.  The Scripture lists fasts of one day, three days, seven days, twenty-one days and forty days. The Bible records fasts of food and water, food only, and in Daniel’s situation he abstained from “tasty food” (Daniel 10:3). The length and specifics of the fast seem to be a matter of freedom and flexibility as one seeks the Lord. This is important to remember especially for those who face medical conditions and other circumstances of life.

Beware of Fasting like the Pharisees

In the Scripture, we find both public and private fasts. The background to Jesus’ teaching on fasting in Matthew 6 was to confront the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who called attention to themselves in their religious exercises. Jesus warned against that behavior and went on to say, “when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”(Matthew 6:17-18)

Fasting is not a Silver Bullet 

Fasting is not a religious silver bullet that solves all of our problems (See ). Fasting is not a means to manipulate God to meet our demands.  Fasting isn’t a ploy to press forward with your own agenda. On the contrary, fasting is a way of expressing the cry of our heart for God to do what only He can do in our lives and circumstances.  Seeking the Lord in prayer and fasting can bring our hearts to a place of surrender and dependence on Him.

Through the years in thinking about the biblical instruction to pray and fast, a couple of statements by John Piper  have remained fixed in my mind. First,

“The more deeply you walk with Christ, the hungrier you get for Christ…the more homesick you get for heaven…the more you want ‘all the fullness of God’…the more you want to be done with sin….the more you want the Bridegroom to come again…the more you want the Church revived and purified with the beauty of Jesus…the more you want a great awakening to God’s reality in the cities…the more you want to see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ penetrate the darkness of all the unreached peoples of the world…the more you want to see false worldviews yield to the force of Truth…the more you want to see pain relieved and tears wiped away and death destroyed…the more you long for every wrong to be made right and the justice and grace of God to fill the earth like the waters cover the sea….”

And finally this wonderful prayer by Piper which highlights true motivation for everyone who would every fast, “This much O Lord I want you.’”

May we seek Him with such intensity because in His presence is fullness of joy, and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Some recommendations on the subject of prayer and fasting that have helped me tremendously:

Ron Dunn, Don’t Just Stand There, Pray Something. 1992.

Ronnie Floyd, The Power of Prayer and Fasting: God’s Gateway to Spiritual Breakthroughs, 2010.  I hope Lifeway republishes his little booklet entitled, “God’s Gateway to Supernatural Power.”

John Piper, A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer, 1997.

Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 1991.