Today’s reading: Matthew 6:16-18
All week, we’ve been talking about the power of prayer. We’ve learned about communicating with and hearing from God, praying scripture over our circumstances, and praying bold prayers. Hopefully your prayer life is already starting to come alive in new, bold ways. Today, we want to help you go one step farther. Let’s talk about fasting.
Fasting is essentially giving up food (or something else) for a period of time in order to focus your thoughts on God. As Christians, we will devote specific times of the year to prayer and fasting as a collective church body, usually at the start of a new year or season. It’s a great way for a group of believers to set the tone for the coming year and to intercede on behalf of others for miracles and answers to prayer as well as spending dedicated time listening to the voice of God. Fasting helps us get rid of distractions, deepen our hunger for God, and lean in to hear him speak more clearly.
There are many examples throughout Scripture of God’s people humbling themselves to pray and fast in order to hear God in difficult situations.
Esther 4 tells the story of an entire Israelite community fasting and praying for three days and nights on behalf of Esther as she put her life on the line to fulfill God’s plan to rescue his people from danger.
Matthew 4 documents Jesus’ fast in the wilderness for 40 days and nights, which ultimately was the period of time that set him up and equipped him to lead the ministry the Father needed him to lead.
Acts 9 reveals that Paul fasted for 3 days before his vision was restored and he fully accepted Jesus and gave his life over to serving him.
There are many examples of fasting throughout the Bible. In all of these powerful stories, we can be encouraged that prayer, when coupled with fasting, creates an opportunity for profound outcomes. So, what is it? How can we practice this in our own life? The biblical practice of fasting includes going without food for a certain period of time and increasing the amount of time people spend in prayer. By denying ourselves food, we physically feel hunger pains, which is a great reminder that our physical hunger can fuel our spiritual hunger. Our willingness to fast is a representation that whatever we are praying for – healing, someone’s salvation, restoration, relationships mended, etc. – is so important to us that we are willing to give up a few meals and be uncomfortable to hear from God.
Matthew 6:16-18 teaches us that fasting should not be showy. We’re instructed by Jesus to go about our day and to not let people know we are fasting. We should remain joyful and allow only God to see what we are doing. It’s hard when you’re “hangry” to skip lunch with coworkers, or just order water at dinner with friends, but God rewards our sacrifice because it’s an opportunity for us to show him that we care deeply about the things we are praying for and that we care deeply about hearing from him.
Fasting is a powerful spiritual practice when used correctly and wisely. If you struggle with an eating disorder or have a medical condition that could cause harm to your body if you skipped a few meals, we encourage you to talk with a professional first. It can be helpful for anyone to speak with a trusted counselor, doctor or other medical professional before you dive into fasting. If you’re not in a position to start fasting right away, a great alternative is starting with abstaining from something that causes you to be distracted from spending time with God. This could include not watching tv for a week, deleting social media for a few days, or maybe skipping just one meal to start. Use that time you’d otherwise be distracted to pray and seek the Lord. We believe God will still honor the sacrifice you’re making and show up for you in powerful ways. Fasting should never be used as a means of losing weight or filling time with other distractions. If you start to notice your motivations shift away from seeking God, start again another day when you are doing it for the right reasons. Practicing fasting for the wrong reasons usually makes it harder to stick it out and see the change you want to see. (Isaiah 58 is a great chapter to read if you want to learn more about what devoted fasting looks like.)
Full disclosure, there may be days that you don’t feel anything during a fast or it seems as if God is distant and quiet. That’s normal. Christine Caine, an internationally known speaker and founder of A21, explains that on the days she doesn’t feel anything when she’s fasting, she remembers that each one is like a deposit in a bank account. Each fast is just a small deposit that, on its own, doesn’t seem significant, but when we really need it, all those small amounts add up to a large sum that we can use for the big, costly stuff. Each deposit matters.
Fasting takes perseverance, hope, and faith. We have to look forward and hope for a bigger, better end result rather than giving in right away to feed our natural, human appetite. We have to hold out for God to feed our spiritual hunger. It’s also important to remember that there is always grace when we mess up. We aren’t perfect like Jesus, but He understands our temptations after having withstood them for 40 days as He fasted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).
Use the PRAY (Praise, Repent, Ask, Yield) acronym to spend time in prayer.
What questions do you still have about fasting?
How does hearing about people throughout history fasting impact your desire to seek God and couple fasting with your prayer time?
ACTION STEP: Pick a day to fast. Document what you’re asking God for and come back to this when he answers you.