Fasting and prayer: Anything worth doing ...
Are you facing a hopeless situation? Maybe it’s a difficult marriage; maybe it’s a wayward child or grandchild; maybe it’s finances or employment; maybe it’s a frustrating habit; maybe it’s something in your past; maybe it’s a dream that’s too big and too risky; it keeps you awake at night; it weighs on your soul; it brings you to tears. Then it’s time to fast and pray.
The Bible is filled with examples of men and women fasting and praying before God. Moses fasted for 40 days and 40 nights — without bread and without water — before he received the Ten Commandments from God.
Joshua fasted all day after the defeat of Israel at Ai. The people of Israel fasted all day before the Lord because of the civil war between the tribe of Benjamin and the rest of Israel. Hannah fasted before the Lord because she could not have any children.
Jonathan fasted when he saw how his father, Saul, was treating David. When David and his men heard that Saul and Jonathan had been killed in battle, they fasted until evening. The prophet Joel called for a fast because of the plague of locusts and the famine in the land. When Jonah pronounced God’s judgment against Nineveh, the entire city led by the king fasted; and God turned his wrath.
When Nehemiah heard about the plight of the Jewish people in Jerusalem, he was so burdened that he “sat down and wept, and mourned for many days.” (Nehemiah 1:4) But he didn’t stop there. He immediately began to fast and pray before God.
And the list goes on and on.
Even Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before he began his work. When his disciples failed to cast out a demon, he said to them “if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:20-21) Meaning: It was not enough to have faith. They needed to pray and fast as well. Fasting not only tells God that we are serious about our need but it also frees up more time to pray. As Elisabeth Elliot said, “One finds out what an astonishing amount of time is spent in the planning, purchasing, preparing, eating and cleaning up of meals.”
But believe me when I say — it’s tough to fast. On days I fast, everything looks like food to me! I tell people that I am the world’s worst faster! But when you are faced with a need, a burden and a problem that is too great or painful or fearful, you cannot help but push away from the table and go on your face before God.
At this hour, our nation needs our fasting and prayer. The last time Boston faced a terror attack was in 1774. Thomas Jefferson drafted a resolution that read: “This House, being deeply impressed with apprehension of the great dangers ... from the hostile invasion of the City of Boston ... deem it highly necessary that the said first day of June be set apart, by the members of this House as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer, devoutly to implore the Divine interposition, for averting the heavy calamity which threatens destruction to our civil rights…” Our founding fathers understood the value of fasting and prayer.
Remember: stress in life can either drive us to indulge or it will drive us to get serious with God. Fasting is simply God’s people setting aside food, entertainment and any distraction to get serious with him. John Wesley once said, “Fasting is a means not only of turning away the wrath of God, but also obtaining whatever blessings we stand in need of.”
(Some helpful resources: “The Power of Prayer and Fasting: God’s Gateway to Spiritual Breakthroughs,” by Ronnie Floyd; and “Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough: A Guide to Nine Biblical Fasts,” by Elmer Towns.)