If you read my last blog, ‘The Power of Persistent Prayer’, you might remember the story of Daniel in the Bible. Daniel’s story happens at a time when the Jews were exiled from Jerusalem and under the rule of the Babylonians. Daniel is one of a few wise and capable Jewish men selected to serve in the Babylonian courts. As Daniel diligently serves and rises to a position of importance in the Babylonian Empire, he remains loyal to the God of the Hebrews.
Because of his loyalty to God above the king of Babylon (named Nebuchadnezzar – try saying that really fast 5 times), Daniel finds himself in some dangerous situations (check out the fiery furnace in chapter 3 and the lions’ den in chapter 6). In continuing to serve God, Daniel is set apart and receives visions from God about future kingdoms.
In one of his visions, Daniel receives a revelation from God about great conflict and an impending war. This sends Daniel into a period of prayer and fasting, seeking God on what to do with this prophetic insight.
If you haven’t read the other blog, I encourage you to check it out now (click here), then come back and read this one. You’ll get a more complete picture if you read both!
Now that we’ve addressed the power of persistent prayer, let’s look at the role that fasting plays. Throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, we see examples of God’s people engaging in both prayer and fasting to receive clarity or see breakthrough in certain areas. It’s mentioned over 70 times in Scripture! Here are just a few:
"Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments." Exodus 34:28
“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16
"When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven." Nehemiah 1:4
"I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over." Daniel 10:3
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” Luke 4:2-4
"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." Acts 14:23
Even Jesus fasted! And the way Jesus lived while on earth is a model for how Christians are to live today.
As you can see from these examples, prayer and fasting go hand-in-hand. Sure, prayer can exist without fasting, but biblical fasting doesn’t exist without prayer. Fasting should take us deeper into prayer.
What is fasting?
Fasting is a spiritual discipline that involves abstaining from food or drink to focus on prayer, seeking God’s will and drawing near to Him. There are different types of fasts and different lengths of time that people choose to fast, based on the circumstances. For example, Moses fasted for forty days and nights without food or water. Daniel fasted for twenty-one days by eating only the bare minimum of food (what we now know as the ‘Daniel Fast’). Jesus fasted for forty days without eating any food.
There are no hard and fast (pun intended) rules for fasting. I believe that how we fast is personal; between you and God. When we take a legalistic approach to fasting, we can lose sight of why we’re doing it and it becomes more of a religious practice than about nurturing a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father.
Now, fasting doesn’t always have to involve refraining from eating food, especially when it wouldn’t be wise to do so. Simply renouncing something that is good and important to you (within reason) for a period of time is enough – as long as it creates time and space to meet with God.
For me, whenever I’ve fasted in the last few years (which I don’t do as often as I would like to), I chose to disengage from watching television and social media. These are alternatives to food (which I can’t play around with due to health reasons) that I know take up more time in my life than they should. So, during a time of prayer and fasting, instead of watching Netflix or scrolling through Instagram, I speak with God.
Have you ever tried to break an old habit? The first few days are always the hardest. I experience a similar struggle with fasting – to resist grabbing the remote or my phone in moments of idleness requires wilful intention. Yet, with the Holy Spirit’s help (I’d fail without Him), I make it through and find that the more time I spend in God’s presence, the more I thirst for Him.
"My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" Psalm 42:2
There are a few reasons why Christians fast:
To draw closer to God
To seek guidance
To strengthen prayer
1. Fasting to worship
Like prayer and other spiritual disciplines, fasting is a form of worship. It’s a way of acknowledging our need for God more than our need for food (or social media etc).
"There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying."
2. Fasting to draw closer to God
Another purpose of fasting is to draw closer to God. For a period of time, fasting removes what could otherwise be a distraction from making God our sole focus. Removing the distractions of the flesh also helps increase our sensitivity to the Holy Spirit within us. You might find that you feel led by the Holy Spirit more so during a fast than at any other time!
"Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded."
3. Fasting to seek guidance
As we become more sensitive to the Holy Spirit, our ability to hear God and receive His guidance is also sharpened. Many people in the Bible (and today) have sought God’s wisdom through fasting before making big decisions like embarking on a new ministry, changing jobs, moving to a new country, starting a significant relationship etc.
"And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed."
4. Fasting to strengthen your prayer life
As I said before, prayer and fasting go together like peanut butter and jam, bacon and eggs, soup and bread – I think you get what I mean (plus, the food similes are making me hungry). Fasting brings strength and a sense of urgency to what you’re praying about it. It changes how you pray.
It also brings spiritual freedom, not just for the person praying but also for the person on the receiving end of the prayers (such as intercessory prayer).
"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?"
There are some things on this earth (influenced by spiritual forces) that require both prayer and fasting for us to see breakthrough. Here’s an example from the Gospel of Mark:
When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and scribes disputing with them. All of a sudden, when the whole crowd saw Him, they were amazed and ran to greet Him. Then He asked them, “What are you arguing with them about?”
Out of the crowd, one man answered Him, “Teacher, I brought my son to You. He has a spirit that makes him unable to speak. Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I asked Your disciples to drive it out, but they couldn’t.”
When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly coming together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you: come out of him and never enter him again!”
Then it came out, shrieking and convulsing him violently. The boy became like a corpse, so that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus, taking him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up.
After He went into a house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
And He told them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer [and fasting].”
Mark 9:14-18, 25-29
Jesus Himself shows us that sincere prayer and fasting produces results!
The next time you feel led to fast and hesitate because of the inconvenience, I hope you think of this blog and remember that it’s so worth it!
And if you’re yet to try fasting for the first time, I encourage you to learn more about it and seek God on how He would like you to fast. When done in alignment with God’s heart, it’s a fruitful practice!