Fasting Is A Powerful Aid To Prayer
By Gordon Cove
In early church history, fasting was considered one of the pillars of the Christian religion. When the church had power, fasting was an essential part of the faith. Fasting is not mere abstinence from food or from any other pleasure, but is abstinence with a purpose.
Further, fasting is a kind of mortification or self-chastisement, which aims at self-control. Fasting is not meant to weaken the body, but to strengthen the will. Our greatest goal in life should be to be men and women after God’s own heart. How often we have felt this great purpose to have been frustrated through fleshly and carnal appetites! Fasting helps to subdue the flesh. "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth" (Col. 3:5).
One of the "woes" that the Savior pronounced was "Woe unto you that are full" (Luke 6:25). A luxurious diet, habitual overeating, produces an unbalanced animalism, and induces spirit-blindness which can see nothing beyond the natural. A body, sluggish with eating and drinking chains our spirit and keeps it from rising above the earthly. Oftentimes a sort of vicious circle is created. We overeat, and then we are too sluggish to pray, and hence we never come within the range of the Spirit, where He can do great things for us and through us. If we would see with the eyes of the Spirit, we must mortify the deeds of the body.
It is strange how much we miss by the willful neglect of such a power as fasting – a power entrusted to us by the Lord Himself. For the flesh is an upstart, ever trying to drag the spirit down to its own fallen level, and fasting is one of the greatest measures used against the flesh to bring about self-control.
God-Given Desires, God-Forbidden Ways
Fasting will often prevent self-indulgence – not by crushing our God-given desires, but by preventing them from being used in God-forbidden ways, by keeping them within the barriers of God-imposed limits. Fasting is the sworn foe of sensuality! Fasting is also an expression of mourning – either over one’s personal sins or when we are burdened for the souls of others.
Fasting means that you have reached the place of spiritual desperation. It means that you are now determined at all costs to put God first. There are times when we should turn our backs on everything in the world, even our daily food, in seeking the face of God. Fasting means that we are determined to seek the face of God and get our prayers answered. It simply means that we put God first, before everything, including food.
Ordinary fasting means to abstain from food, but the same spirit of desperation will also lead us to abstain from other things as well, such as business, talking, visiting, etc. Fasting is a voluntary disuse of anything innocent in itself, with a view to spiritual culture.
So fasting is putting God first when one prays, wanting God more than one wants food, more than sleep, more than one wants fellowship with others, more than one wants to attend to business. How could a Christian ever know that God was first in his life if he did not sometimes turn from every other duty and pleasure to give himself wholly to the seeking of the face of God?
"One object of fasting is the mortification of sin. Is your mind distempered, your heart hard, your grace weak, and corruptions strong? Does pride, envy, malice, the love of the world, or any other filthiness of the flesh or spirit, prevail? Fasting, then, is your duty. Some demons will not come forth but by prayer and fasting (Matt. 17:14-21; Mark 9:29). When this is the case, fasting is the proper remedy, and should be used as the chief means thereunto." (J. Beaumont).
Fasting Necessary to Repentance
In the Bible there are many examples of fasting. David fasted over his sick child (2 Sam. 12:16, 21). "I proclaimed a fast…that we might afflict ourselves before our God," writes Ezra of the whole Jewish nation (Ezra 8:21). The fast of the Ninevites (Jonah 3:5-7), and the fast which the prophet Joel ordered (Joel 2:12), were regarded as necessary elements in corporate repentance. So with the individual. Paul after his conversion, fasted three days in self-surrender to Christ (Acts 9:9).
The men of Nineveh fasted in sackcloth and ashes, as a symbol of deep national mourning. There are times when some deep experience, some profound humility of repentance, causes us to reject all food and earthly pleasures. In its sorrow for sin or the burden for lost souls, all luxury jars upon the soul.
Prayer in itself is very often a shallow thing – a light and insincere thing. Fasting is an evidence of our intense earnestness and of our fervor. It declares to God that we will not "let up" until the answer comes. It really says, "I have set myself to seek God as long as necessary, and as earnestly as I possibly can."
It requires faith to pray an ordinary prayer, for "he that cometh to God must believe that He is…" (Heb. 11:6). But it requires even more faith to fast and pray. Fasting reveals a greater desire, a greater determination and greater faith, and God observes this when He sees one of His children fasting and praying. He sees that His child has forsaken all pleasures, including one of the chiefest pleasures of life, the pleasure of eating.
Fasting is the deliberate clearing of the way to be more effective with God in prayer. It is the laying aside of all weights and hindrances (Heb. 12:1). To lay aside every weight is to lay aside all the hindrances to prayer, and a heavy stomach is a hindrance. Try praying on an empty stomach, and see how much easier it is to prevail in prayer.
We are too much wrapped around with soft physical indulgences. We are too padded and protected. We must lay bare our pampered lives! We must make an avenue for God through the throng of lusts.
When men are wholly absorbed in grief for some loved ones, they are not hungry. They do not want to eat. Then we may also expect that when Christians are wholly absorbed in passionate and earnest prayer for souls, for revival – will they not also be glad to do without food?
Fasting shows that we are persistent. Often mere prayer is indefinite and brief, and really gets nowhere. On the other hand, when we begin to fast and pray, it simply means that we have settled down to the real business of praying with a persistence that will take no denial. It is certain that God’s people would see more answers to their prayers if they would fast more and spend the time in seeking the Lord.
When a person wants a thing so much that he is willing to go without food to obtain it, then the fast itself becomes a prayer. It is an inward, unspoken heart cry, a deep-rooted longing, and a reaching out to contact the Lord, the only One who has the power to grant the desires of the heart (Psa. 37:4).
Fasting Produces Faith
Now let us come to the benefits of fasting, which are numerous. Among the spiritual benefits, one of the greatest is that fasting helps to generate faith. Our unbelief is far greater than we realize. It is like an unseen and powerful enemy. Fasting brings us to the threshold of a new faith in God and His Word. One of the main purposes of fasting is to get an increase of faith – faith so that we can believe and receive. Jesus said, "When ye pray, believe that ye receive…and ye shall have" (Mark 11:24). Fasting is the great faith producer. It kindles and develops faith far quicker than any other process.
Although it may seem difficult at first to grasp, the very weakness that one develops through fasting is the building up of faith. When one seems to be groping around in the dark during a fast, and perhaps the devil whispers that you are accomplishing nothing, that is the very time you are building up your faith, for Paul says: "When I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Cor. 12:10).
Your unbelief will be eliminated through fasting. Fasting is a powerful spiritual factor in obtaining special favors from the Lord, and one of these favors is added faith. Faith is increased through fasting. Remember, there are certain kinds of demons that only come out through prayer and fasting. If you want to move those mountains of pain and fear, then pray and fast. Faith and fasting go together!
Fasting Intensifies Prayer
Then, secondly, fasting reaches and obtains what prayer cannot do alone. It is a powerful aid and asset to prayer. If your prayer is not answered, then go into prayer and fasting.
Many Christians have been praying for years about certain problems. Sometimes these prayers are not answered. But in many cases, where fastings have been added to the prayers, along with deep consecration and weeping before God, the answer has miraculously come to hand. Without fasting, prayer is often inefficient, but when coupled to fasting the prayer power is greatly amplified.
Many have proved that shorter prayers under the influence of fasting are far more effective than longer prayers without fasting. We do not claim that fasting, in itself, will produce miraculous answers in every case. But it prepares the heart by humiliation as almost nothing will do.
Sometimes there is something in us that displeases God, and that is why prayer is not answered at first. Therefore, to find out what this is, the best thing to do is to fast and pray. Many a Christian who does not prosper could learn the reason if he would wait before God with such sincerity and abandonment of self that he would not eat, would not sleep, and would not carry on his regular affairs of life until God revealed what was wrong.
God does not tell lies, and the reason many have not their prayers answered is because they have not met all of God’s conditions, and one of these conditions is to fast. Some things never come to a child of God except "by prayer and fasting" (Matt. 17:21). There is a big difference between prayer alone, and prayer combined with fasting. Even a few minutes of prayer during a fast are equivalent sometimes to several hours of prayer when not fasting, especially if the fast has been going on for some days.
The true incident is recorded of a certain minister who, before he entered the ministry, was locked up in prison in New York, awaiting his trial. He already had a life sentence awaiting him in Canada, also. His mother spent twenty-two days fasting and praying for him. At the time she did this, she was not aware that he was in prison, but she was praying for his conversion. He was converted and afterwards pardoned by the authorities, and became a pastor.
Another Christian prayed eight years for her brother, who was a drunkard, with seemingly no results. Then she got desperate, and prayed and fasted for twelve days for him to be saved. Thirty days after she finished fasting for him, her sister-in-law wrote to say he was completely delivered from the drink to which he had been addicted for thirty years. He had no desire for it and was serving the Lord. Fasting is praying intensified!
Fasting Brings Deliverance and Power
And so we see that fasting produces great power and also victory over sin. Fasting can bring revival when ordinary prayer fails. The great victories of faith mentioned in the Bible often happened after fasting.
A protracted fast will often bring to naught the devil’s devices in a Christian’s life. It will assist you to bring deliverance to those who are bound. Fasting and prayer makes faith strong enough to cast out demons. You may receive a still deeper experience than you have yet had, through fasting.
With fasting will come added power and liberty in your preaching, if you are a minister of the Word of God. It will so neutralize the flesh that you will become a conductor of spiritual power. The tragedy is that many Christian workers, just for the pleasure of eating regular meals each day, will continue in their powerless condition spiritually, when all the time they have within their finger tips the secret of power.
Certainly one needs an iron will to practice fasting, but God would not ask us to do it if it was impossible.
Obtain Guidance through Fasting
There are many other things that fasting will do. Of these we might make mention briefly: Fasting can help us in the matter of guidance when we are seeking to know the will of God. "As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said…" (Acts 13:2). In this remarkable incident, we learn that men who were willing to fast received direct instructions from the Holy Spirit as to where they were to go.
Twice in this short passage (Acts 13:1-3) we are told that these prophets and teachers fasted. First they fasted and prayed for wisdom, which teaches us that wisdom may be obtained from God through fasting. You will notice the immediate response of the Holy Spirit to fasting. "As they…fasted…the Holy Ghost said." Perhaps it is because we do so little of the fasting, that we hear so little about the Holy Ghost telling us definitely what to do. Then, secondly, they fasted for power to rest upon the men they were sending forth as the first foreign missionaries of the New Testament church.
Perhaps you have some problem about where you should go to serve Christ, or about what particular course you should take in some matter. Then why not set a time of waiting before God until you get the answer? If it takes fasting as well as prayer; if it takes giving up other matters, then do it – and get the blessing that God has for you! You can find the will of God if you seek sincerely and unreservedly by prayer and fasting.
Whenever a man of God or the people of God have taken to fasting in the past, it has enabled God to accomplish what otherwise He was unable to bring to pass. When sincerely done in the Holy Spirit, fasting never failed to move God.
Apart from power and guidance and many other things, fasting will help to develop in us a love and compassion for the lost. We cannot pray and fast for souls for long periods without there being generated in us some of the compassion for the lost that the Master Himself possesses.
It would almost seem, as we study the New Testament, that in the first century they literally ran the church with periods of prayer and fasting. We are told that in the early centuries Christians made fasting part and parcel of their lives. They set aside Wednesday and Friday each week for fasting and praying, and took no food until three o’clock in the afternoon. On these occasions it appears that the whole church fasted. Wherever they were at those times, all the church knew that the rest of the members would be fasting. No wonder their united, fasting prayers were miraculously answered!
When a Multitude Fasts, Things Happen!
In Old Testament times, the people of Israel proclaimed certain fast days. They often proclaimed a special fast for a certain purpose (Jer. 36:9; 2 Chr. 20:3; Ezra 8:21; Jon. 3:5). They fasted because of their backslidden condition and their sins (1 Sam. 7:6; Joel 2:12; Neh. 1:4; Dan. 9:2-3). They fasted in times of impending calamity (2 Chr. 20:1-4), and when there was a grave crisis (Judg. 20:26). In every case the Lord saved them from whatever they feared (Esth. 9:31; Ezra 8:21-23; Acts 27:22-44).
Even the wicked King Ahab fasted and God took notice of him. The Lord said his fasting was equivalent to humbling himself, so fasting is humbling (1 Kgs. 21:25-29). Job evidently believed in fasting, for he declares, "I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food" (Job 23:12). The Jews fasted when Jeremiah prophesied against Judah and Jerusalem. "They proclaimed a fast before the Lord" (Jer. 36:9).
A classic Scripture on fasting is Joel 2:12: "Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to Me with all your heart, and with fasting…." This Scripture clearly infers that in order to make a complete surrender to God, fasting must be undertaken. The two phrases, "all your heart" and "and with fasting," are definitely connected. The inference can be, if we have not fasted, we have not yet turned to the Lord with all our hearts for revival.
Jesus said, "When ye fast…thy Father ... shall reward thee" (Matt. 6:16-18).