The Importance of Prayer and Fasting
Fasting is an exercise in self-discipline over our fleshly cravings while keeping God first in our thoughts. It liberates us from slavery to our appetites while we focus on the true "Bread of Life," Jesus Christ (John 6:48-51, John 6:63). When fasting, we make a small self-sacrifice to focus on our Savior's awesome sacrifice and plan for us.
By nature, we are egocentric (self-centered) and must work at becoming God-centered. A major purpose of fasting is to learn humility—to better understand how great God is. King David understood this when he wrote, "I humbled myself with fasting" (Psalms 35:13).
God delights in humble hearts. He said in Isaiah 66:2, "This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word" (NIV). In Matthew 5:3 Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit [humble and dependent], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Jesus made it clear that if we fast to show off—to "appear to men to be fasting"—we are hypocrites and will have no reward from God (Matthew 6:16-18). Jesus did not mean that it's always wrong to tell someone you're fasting. Often there's a practical need to tell someone, like your spouse. Jesus was talking about the necessity of right motives and attitudes.
Jesus spoke a parable in which a proud Pharisee bragged to God, "I fast twice a week" (Luke 18:9: Luke 18:12). The man imagined himself to be humble and was proud of it! Fasting with such a conceited attitude is worthless.
God wants us to "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matthew 5:6). When we fast, we increasingly feel hungry and physically weak. In addition to reinforcing the fact that God is the One who sustains us and supplies all our needs, an important lesson of this is that we rapidly become weaker spiritually when we neglect the nourishment of prayer, Bible study, and all other efforts to be God's spiritually transformed sons and daughters.
The Bible has only one command regarding when to fast. God's people are commanded in Leviticus 23 to fast on the Day of Atonement for 24 hours—from sundown to sundown (Leviticus 23:27-32). This fast day is listed here among God's annual appointed times or spiritual feast days.
Besides the ordinary personal benefits of fasting, the Atonement fast has prophetic significance.
Besides the primary purposes of worshipping God, drawing closer to Him, denying and humbling ourselves, and growing spiritually, it is appropriate to have secondary purposes in fasting as well—beseeching God in prayer for His help with one or more serious needs for ourselves or for others.
When God has not answered prayers for a certain need, try fasting with prayer. In one instance when His disciples could not cast out a demon, Jesus told them that "this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting" (Matthew 17:14-21). Proper fasting often results in significant spiritual breakthroughs. While we rely on the spiritual tools of prayer, Bible study, and meditation on a daily basis, we occasionally need the power tool of fasting.
There can be many reasons to fast, such as a personal problem, a difficult-to-overcome sin, facing a major decision, a church crisis, a threat of danger, the need to change someone's attitude, or expressing thanksgiving, among others. For a very enlightening study, use a Bible concordance and look up all the passages that contain the words fast, fasted, and fasting. Read why people fasted, what they were praying about, and what God did as a result of the fast.
However, we must never view fasting as pressuring God to get what we want (Isaiah 58:3). God wants us to pray about our problems, but not to try to dictate the solutions, but surrender to His will. Our attitudes should be like that of Jesus Christ when He prayed, "Not My will, but Yours, be done" (Luke 22:42).
It is fine for a group, such as a church congregation or circle of friends, to decide to fast together concerning an urgent matter. When his country was being invaded, King Jehoshaphat "proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah" (2 Chronicles 20:1-3). At the preaching of Jonah, "the people of Nineveh believed God [and] proclaimed a fast" (Jonah 3:5).
To beseech God for His protection, Ezra proclaimed a fast for all the exiles returning to Judah (Ezra 8:21-23). Esther requested that all the Jews in the Persian capital city fast so that they would be spared from genocide (Esther 4:16).
Isaiah 58:1-12 is a profound passage that contrasts right and wrong attitudes in fasting. It clearly shows that fasting must not be a mere ritual. Fasting should teach us to be willing to sacrifice in many ways in the service of others. How much are we willing to sacrifice to "undo . . . heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free . . . to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him?" (Isaiah 58:6-7).
God's Word exhorts us to "stand fast in the Lord" (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:8). Here the English word "fast" means firmly fixed or steadfast. From what the Bible teaches us about fasting, we see that people who sincerely and regularly fast and pray to God will very likely "stand fast in the Lord"!
WE HOPE MANY OF YOU WILL JOIN US ON THIS JOURNEY OF 4 DAYS, ENDING ON THE EVENING OF YOM KIPPUR. OUR SERVICE WILL BE AT 2:00pm ON SUNDAY AND 7:00pm on MONDAY. Let us believe God for breakthroughs and greater strength for this next year 5781.