FASTING AND PRAYER
“For every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:14)
Most of the record surrounding fasting in the scriptures was at times of sadness, sorrow, and affliction. Its proper goal has always been to chasten and humble the soul and assist one in becoming closer to God to achieve a specific request or favor from God. The Bible made it known to us about David the Psalmist in Psalms:35:13 “But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom.” Also in Psalms 69:10 “When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach.”
The Mosaic Law did not mention fasting, and we can deduce from Scripture that all fasting was voluntary, as the individual felt called by God to observe or practice it. Nonetheless, many men of God have fasted when troubled. As a result, we can see that fasting is especially appropriate for days of sadness, affliction, or when our spiritual welfare is fallen apart.
An account in the Bible made it known that Israelites were defeated by the men of a small city called Ai. Joshua rent his clothing and, with the elders of Israel, stayed prostrate before the Ark of the Lord from morning to evening without eating, realizing that God was angry with them and had allowed the little army to rout the larger force of the Israelites.
The continuous fasting of the heathen depicts that man’s natural heart knows this method of approaching God. Terrified by Jonah’s sermon, the king of Nineveh declared a fast, wore sackcloth, and sat in ashes. He made it known throughout the city that no man, beast, herd, or flock should eat anything. A pronouncement was made in Jonah3:5-9 “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?”
The Lord had a change of mind and spared the great city of Nineveh and all her people because the quick action of the king, pronouncing a fast and prayer to the people. Matthew 3:7-12 “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our Father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” They prayed honestly. They did not fast to be seen by men but rather wanted to be seen by God and receive His favour. The Bible made it known to us in Ezekiel 33:11 “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways”
A father brought his son to Jesus’ disciples for healing during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Unfortunately, despite their sincere prayers, the disciples were unable to heal him. But when the boy was brought to Jesus, the demon was thrown out and the boy was delivered. The disciples then inquired of Jesus as to why they were unable to cast the devil out of the lad. It was because of their unbelief, Jesus replied, but He also added in Matthew 17:21 “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” This also proves to us the value of Fasting when it is done properly and in an attitude that is so pleasing to God.
The Pharisees utilized fasting as an outward display of piety. It is always in the habit of the Pharisees to be noticed whenever they are fasting. Their daily lives were inconsistent with their religious beliefs. They were spiritually barren and full of all kinds of wickedness and depravity, paying little attention to their spiritual wellbeing. Nonetheless, they fasted and prayed for long periods in public so that anyone who saw them would think they were highly pious and devout.
Jesus despised the hypocritical fasts and rebuked the ones who fasted in that manner. This is evident in Matthew 6:16 “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” Fasting in this manner is spiritually useless. Jesus made it known that individuals who behave likewise had already received their reward. They were only interested in the honor and applause of men, not in the honor that comes only from God. The Bible teaches in John5:44 “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” When His followers fasted, Jesus instructed them to seem as if they were not fasting, but their fast should only be known unto God. Their prize in Heaven would therefore be enormous.
Isaiah also chastised the Children of Israel’s reliance on just outward forms of religion. He demonstrated that they were more concerned with external acts than internal ones. So they fasted and pretended to pray, but they continued in their sinful ways. And when they didn’t get a response, they were frustrated; the Scripture made it clear that “Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.” Isaiah 58:3. God defined Fasting in Isaiah58:5-7 “Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” This is evident that if we also do likewise, He will give answers to our prayers.
WHEN TO FAST
The devil is always on the lookout for a chance to undermine the trust of good people. He has incited individuals to fast in an obsessive and prolonged manner, putting their health in jeopardy. That type of fasting is contrary to God’s will. Some people attempt to fast while their bodies are already weak from a past or current sickness, being unable to withstand the physical burden that abstinence from food places on them. This is clearly displeasing to God. The Bible teaches in 1 Corinthians 10:31 “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
“And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.” Matthew9:15 A fast will bring the sought-for results if done so as not to endanger one’s health; if done in the right manner – to the honour and glory of God; at the right time. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans8:26-27.
When God was about to demolish Sodom and Gomorrah, He promised that He would not hide what He was about to do from Abraham, His faithful servant. Abraham stood before the Lord with an assurance that the Lord will not treat him unfairly. Abraham approached God with faith and supplicated for the righteous in the cities most devoutly and humbly.
Would God still destroy the city if 50 righteous people were found in it, Abraham wondered? The Lord declared He would spare the city if this condition is met. Fearing that there might not be enough, Abraham reduced the number to 45, and the Lord promised to delay His judgment for the sake of the 45. Abraham continued to pray to God because he was worried about his nephew, Lot. He requested that the number be reduced to 40, then 30, then ten. In response to Abraham’s final request, the Lord declared He would spare the city if he could find just 10 saints. Notice how the Lord continued to answer Abraham’s prayers as long as he continued to pray. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” James5:16
Daniel was a devout man – a man who prayed earnestly – and while reading a copy of Jeremiah’s prophecy that had been placed in his hands, it was evident to him that the release of jews that are in captive is near. Despite this, he saw nothing that suggested the promise would be fulfilled soon. There was no indication that his people would ever be released. But Daniel fervently prayed to God for Israel’s quick deliverance. The Scripture made it known in “And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” Daniel9:3. We are told that from the first day that Daniel began to pray, the Lord heard [Daniel:10:1-3], [Daniel:10:12]).
Solomon had prayed when dedicating the Temple that if the Children of Israel were ever taken captive into a foreign land and they prayed and confessed their sins, turned from their evil ways, and sought the Lord’s face, the Lord would hear their prayer for their restoration to their own land and forgive them for their sins. [1 Kings:8:33-34]; [2 Chronicles:6:34-39]). Daniel gave it what it take to seek the face of God with all sincerity and devoutness and he got answers to his request.
“And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;” luke18:1 Despite the fact that He was the Son of God, Jesus felt the need to fellowship with the Father on his knees- spending many nights in prayer. By telling us the story of the impoverished widow and the unjust judge, he taught us the importance of persistent prayer. During his last hours on the cross, He interceded for this sin-sick world- this is a practical example of intercessory prayer. Prior to this time, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane with His disciple to pray alone. “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Luke22:44. (read Luke:22:39-46) Three times Jesus walked away to pray and returned to find the disciples sleeping, but He had made up His mind in His heart that the Father’s will would be done.
There is nothing that the devil hates more than prayer. I want you to know that when the weakest saint falls on his knees to pray, the devil will always tremble. Prayer is the breath of all Christian. The is no more life without breath. According to the Bible, the prayers of the saints ascend as incense before God.
The only weapon that a Christian has is prayer. This is evident in both the old and new testament.
WAKE UP CALL
The soul that would live close to Jesus,
Is He who spends much time in prayer.
Although it may not always please us,
‘Tis that which relieves us from care.
Would God that more people would pray,
For ’tis prayer that moves mountain away;
Those mountains of doubt are sure to move out,
If unceasingly, brother, you pray.