March 8, 2015

Fasting & Prayer

Written by:
Rev (Dr) Prabhudas Koshy

In preparation for the upcoming Church fasting and prayer

The frequent practice of fasting in both the Old Testament and New Testaments indicates that there is much value in the practice. For the Christian, that value always lies in the connection of fasting with prayer. Fasting with sincere prayer is what we should pursue.

The Teachings of Jesus & the Apostles on Fasting

There are those who say that fasting (for prayer) is not a spiritual exercise for the New Testament church. Many also seem to ignore fasting altogether. But Jesus and the apostles indicated that fasting and prayer are necessary and must be practised according to the divine counsels in the Scriptures.

Jesus said (to those who asked Him why His disciples did not fast) that “the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast” (Matthew 9:15; Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35). Jesus’ answer to their question implied that during this age, when Christ is absent, fasting is appropriate. Therefore, it is a good thing to fast and pray, as individuals and as a church.

It is clear that Jesus and the apostles did not disapprove fasting. In fact, they engaged in fasting and prayer.

We read about Jesus fasting in Matthew 4:1-2, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.”

Psalm 69:8-12, which predicted Jesus’ earthly experiences, spoke of his fasting - “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children. For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me. When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach. I made sackcloth also my garment; and I became a proverb to them. They that sit in the gate speak against me; and I was the song of the drunkards.”

We also read of the apostles and the early church fasting in Acts 13:2, 3 and 14:23. The apostle Paul’s high regard for fasting and prayer is seen when he advised the husbands and wives to be separated only for a period “that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer” (1 Corinthians 7:5).

The teaching of Jesus on the subject is largely corrective and places the emphasis on the motive behind the fasting.

Matthew recorded Jesus’ additional teachings on fasting in 6:16-18, where we read, “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. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.”

In the above passage, Jesus did not prohibit fasting altogether, but He corrected the Jews’ wrong manner and attitude of fasting. They were making a public display of it, for self-glory. They were propagating an outward religion without inward reality of spiritual devotion.

It is also seen from this passage that:

(a) Fasting is a private matter between the praying person and God. It should not be practised to impress another man’s eye.

(b) If we are going to fast, let us fast in secret (not to show off) and live normally before our fellow men.

(c) If one is going to fast, one’s motive must be right. In all things, God demands sincerity, not formality

The Attitude Behind Genuine and Effective Fasting

Fasting must be done with a humble, repentant and devoted spirit - without display, without hypocrisy

Fasting must be observed to consciously detach oneself from anything that could keep one from praying.

Fasting is a deliberate clearing of the way for prayer - getting rid of, for a time, all weights and encumbrances for a time.

Fasting should be a reflection of one’s determination to abstain from lesser blessings in order to enjoy the greater - a time of full, unbroken fellowship with God.

Fasting must be an unusual persistence to engage in a season of prayer.

Fasting must be “a practical acknowledgment of the supremacy of the spiritual” (J.O. Sanders).

Fasting is only an aid and accompaniment of prayer. Many have erringly focused instead on the mental, ‘spiritual’ and physical benefits of fasting (as such sharpened spiritual sensitivities, ability to speak in tongues, etc.), but these claims have no warrant in Scripture.

Biblical Reasons for Fasting

  1. Fasting is a very proper expression of repentance in prayer

    The people of Nineveh fasted when they repented. “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 any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water” (Jonah 3:5-7).

    Likewise, Saul after his encounter with the Lord at the gate of Damascus fasted and prayed in repentance. “And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:9-11).

  2. Fasting is a special occasion of worship - Acts 13:2.

    “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”

  3. Fasting and prayer are part of appointment or ordaining of missionaries/leaders of the church - Acts 13:2-3.

    This same occasion of worship also coincided with a special appointment service. “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.”

    On yet another occasion, “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed” (Acts 14:23).

  4. Fasting enables us to seek God’s help when faced with insurmountable problems or overpowering tasks.

    Godly men of the Bible have sought the Lord, when they were faced with enormous challenges, problems and tasks. The following are just a few of many such examples in the Scriptures:

Joshua sought the Lord in fasting and prayer because 3,000 men of Israel were defeated and chased back by the men of Ai, and the people of Israel became very frightened - “the hearts of the people melted, and became as water. And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads” (Joshua 7:4-6). He did not appear to have eaten anything as he laid before the Lord till the evening.

The children of Israel sought the Lord in fasting to know whether they should fight against the wicked Benjamites. “Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. And the children of Israel enquired of the LORD, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days,) saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease? And the LORD said, Go up; for to morrow I will deliver them into thine hand” (Judges 20:26-28).

Another example is found in Ezra 8:21-23 - “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him. So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of us.”

Likewise in Esther 4:15-16, we have another example - “Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer, Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.”

The Practice of Fasting

What should we do when we observe a fast? In Nehemiah 9, we have a classic example of how the people of God came together to fast and pray (please read Nehemiah 9). From this passage, the following guidelines are derived for a special gathering for fasting and prayer by God’s people:

  • We must repent of all our sins that hinder God’s guidance and blessings in our lives.
  • We must read the law of God.
  • We must remember His goodness and worship Him.
  • We must renew our commitment to the Lord to obey and serve Him.
  • We must make a covenant with the Lord.
  • We must submit our petition to the Lord.

The Promise of Fasting

When one fasts in the proper manner for the proper reasons, “thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:17-18). This is one of the most wonderful promises in the Bible and cannot be dismissed lightly. The Lord would not make such a promise if He did not consider fasting as important for His people. Christ never discouraged proper fasting. He only condemned and corrected false practices, but never once did He discourage scriptural fasting. In fact, He expects His followers to fast. In Matthew 6:17, He did not say, “If thou fastest”; He said, “WHEN thou fastest.”

Gethsemane Bible-Presbyterian Church adheres to the system of faith commonly known as the “Reformed Faith” as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms.
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