Fasting and Prayer

And when you fast…

It is puzzling how often the phrase “fast and pray” occurs in the Scriptures and yet how rarely it is practiced or even discussed in the American church. Fasting occurs in the Scriptures in several contexts. Fasting is for worship, mourning as well as confession and repentance, decision-making, petitions for help or preparation, and longing for Jesus’ return.

First, fasting is in the context of worship. The church of Antioch, for example, was “worshipping the Lord and fasting.” Coupled with worship, fasting appears as an aspect of personal worship in Deut 9:9 and Luke 2:37, and of corporate worship in Isaiah 58:3-7 and Acts 13:2. In this case, the individual or the church is not fasting for something as much as fasting in worship. It was part of worship. Fasting says, “I worship you; I treasure you, God, more than I treasure _____.”

Second, fasting is often found in contexts of confession and repentance and mourning over sin. This impetus of fasting is observed in 1 Samuel 7:6, Daniel 9:3, and Joel 1:13-14 as people of God are confronted with sin and consequently fast before the Lord. In contexts of confession and repentance as with worship, fasting is performed by individuals and collective groups as they grieve over their personal sins or the sins of the people of God. In some instances, like 1 Samuel 31:13 or Nehemiah 1:4, situations of mourning do not involve confession or repentance of sin directly and yet still occasion a motivation for fasting. When grief ensues or when sin is committed, fasting says, “God, I need you more than anything, more than that which is now lost, or more than that which occasioned my sin.”

Third, fasting is practiced throughout Scripture when people are faced with a decision. The congregation at Antioch fasted before they sent off Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:3, and, following their sending church’s example, Paul and Barnabas fasted before they appointed elders in Acts 14:23. Fasting was characteristic of the decision-making process. People typically fasted during intense times of seeking direction or before making decisions of particular import. Here, fasting says, “God, you alone are wisdom and truth, and from you alone I seek direction and guidance.”

Fourth, petitions for help or preparation often prompt fasting. In 2 Chronicles 20:3-4, Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast for Judah when faced with enemies; in Ezra 8:21, the fast was for protection over the people of Israel before a dangerous journey; and in Esther 4:16, fasting preceded Esther’s going before the king unannounced. In each of these occasions, the fast was not connected directly to making the decision as in the previously mentioned context. Rather, the decision had been made or the cause for concern already enacted. In these instances, fasting was connected to the petition for help in impending circumstances. They faced a difficult situation and fasted as they sought preparation for the task or help from God’s hand. Fasting says, “You are my only source of strength, O God. I need you more than physical sustenance, and I place myself in your hands alone.”

Finally, fasting is prescribed for longing after Christ’s presence, specifically in the second coming. When John’s disciples asked Jesus, in Matthew 9:14-15 (also in Mark 2:18-20 and Luke 5:33-35), why they and the Pharisees fasted but the Lord’s disciples did not, Jesus responded by assigning a specific purpose to fasting: longing for his presence. Jesus said that they had no reason to fast while he was with them, but his disciples would fast when he was taken away from them. Since the ascension, therefore, it has been appropriate to fast for Jesus’ second coming. Fasting says, “I am not made for this world; I am made for you. I long for you more than food. I desire for you to satisfy my soul more than I wish for food to satisfy my hunger.”

These contexts summarize five biblical motivations for fasting. Found on so many pages of God’s Word, can we possibly ignore fasting? As an element of worship, as an expression of dependence, or as a spiritual discipline, fasting is undeniably biblical, not only relevant but significant for each of us. If you would consider participating as we prepare for a day of corporate prayer and fasting on Wednesday, December 16, consider some of the contexts previously mentioned and the passages referenced above. Now to be sure, we have discussed specifically the why of fasting. We will turn our attention to how next week. If you would be willing, consider investigating further by reading and meditating on Matthew 6:16-18, and even watch or listen to a previous sermon from that passage.

Speak Your Mind