Does Fasting Help Prayer?
Fasting Makes Prayer Focused
Fasting is one of the great privileges of the Christian life. It is an act of self-denial that enhances our prayer life.
Fasting is not merely abstaining from food. It involves prayer, repentance, and soul-searching. Abstinence from food is an outward expression of an inward prayer. It is an act of self-denial by which we focus our entire attention on God.
The Old Testament is filled with examples of fasting. Moses fasted on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28). Hannah fasted when she prayed for a son (1 Samuel 1:7). David fasted on several occasions (2 Samuel 1: 12; 12:22). Daniel fasted as he struggled to receive a vision of the future (Daniel 10:2-3). Esther and the Jews fasted when they faced persecution and extinction (Esther 4:1-17). On the Day of Atonement each year the entire nation of Israel fasted (Leviticus 23:27).
The New Testament also abounds in examples of fasting. John the Baptist taught his disciples to fast (Mark 2:18). Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2). Anna served God in the temple by fasting (Luke 2:37). Paul fasted after his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:9). Cornelius fasted while seeking God (Acts 10:30). The Antioch church fasted before commissioning Paul and Barnabas for their first missionary journey.
In times of national crisis the people of God need to pray and fast. Jehoshaphat called a national fast when Israel was threatened by Edom (2 Chronicles 20:3). Ezra called for a national fast when the Jews returned to the Promised Land (Ezra 8:21). Today, we too are facing a national crisis, and we need to learn to fast and pray. Fasting builds your inner spirit and denies the flesh. It shows God that you are serious about your relationship to Him.
Today, there is some confusion about fasting. Some people use fasting for dieting or other physical benefits. A few people have fasted so excessively they have died. Some believers avoid fasting because it is often associated with other religions or because Jesus warned against the spiritual hypocrisy that may accompany fasting (see Matthew 6:16). However, our Lord Himself fasted. But He did it in private, so as not to call attention to Himself.
The purpose of fasting is an act of self-denial enabling us to concentrate on our need for God. When Jesus’ disciples failed to heal a demon-possessed boy, our Lord explained, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). In reality, fasting is a dedication of our bodies to the Lord and an act of preparation for the empowerment of God.
The Need to Fast
The Bible does not give us specific regulations for fasting, but it does give us ample examples of fasting. Clearly, fasting involves self-denial, soul-searching, and prayer. We can only assume that since we all face problems and difficulties, all of us need to fast in a voluntary manner at some time.
Length of the Fast
Be sure to set a reasonable time limit for fasting. If you have never fasted before, begin with one day. Do not eat anything after the evening meal. Skip breakfast and lunch the next day. By the evening meal on the second day, you will have fasted for 24 hours and missed only two meals. This is a good way to begin. Later you can extend the length of time based upon your physical condition. Refrain from solid foods, but drink plenty of liquids. If you have any question about your physical health, consult your physician.
Prayer and Repentance
Fasting should be accompanied by prayer and repentance. Set aside long periods of private prayer while you are fasting, so you can meditate on God and His Word. When David humbled himself before God he said, “I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting” (Psalm 69:10). Ask God to search your heart and reveal areas of sin. Then repent and seek His forgiveness and cleansing. In the Old Testament, people spent days begging God to forgive their sins. Under the Law, that was necessary, but not under Grace. We are cleansed by the shed blood of Jesus Christ (see I John 1:7). Therefore we can confidently claim God’s forgiveness for our sins.
Worship and Fasting
Abstaining from food indicates one’s dedication to God. It prepares the heart for worship by focusing our attention on God alone. As you fast, meditate on His greatness, power, and majesty. Praise Him for who He is and what He has done for you. Worship and magnify the Lord. Recount all the answers to prayer that you have received. Recall your times of fellowship with God. Seek His wisdom and guidance in your life.
When you end your fast, do it in an atmosphere of prayer and worship. Just as you abstained from food to the glory of God, eat to the glory of God (see 1 Corinthians 10:31). But remember, come off your fast lightly with soup, juice, or a small sandwich. Don’t overeat after disciplining yourself not to eat.
Fasting is a way of putting our spiritual priorities in order. The Bible says, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14). Fasting is a good way to deny the flesh and discipline your body to the glory of God. If you have never fasted, try it soon. Fasting will add an exciting new dimension to your prayer life.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, “O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:17).