Prayer and Fasting
Duane Vander Klok
All Christians pray, but not many fast. In fact, fasting is probably one of the least popular topics in the Bible. Yet, Jesus said, “When you pray…” (Matthew 6:5) and “When you fast…” (Matthew 6:17), making it clear that both prayer and fasting should be a normal part of a believer’s life.
In fasting, we abstain from food and say “no” to our bodies. Instead, of feeding them what they want, we take dominion over them and let our spirits rise up. As we fast, we disconnect from the world and connect with God in prayer. We hear from Him and allow Him to work in our hearts, making them tender and soft toward Him and the things He wants.
Fasting is much more than simply not eating. The Bible tells us in Isaiah 58 that fasting is “afflicting your soul.” In other words, it is saying “no” to the things your mind wants. It is denying your mind the entertainment, the television, the internet or whatever it craves that would draw your attention away from God.
Fasting and Faith
There are answers to prayer, healings, and places in God that you will never arrive at without prayer and fasting. In Matthew 17, we read about a man who brought his epileptic son to Jesus’ disciples to cure him, but they were unsuccessful. When Jesus heard about it, He said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour” (Matthew 17:17-18).
Later, when the disciples asked Jesus why they were unable to cast out the demon, He said, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, 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).
According to Jesus, the reason the disciples couldn’t heal the boy was because of unbelief related to the “faithless and perverse generation” they lived in. It’s important to realize that Jesus was not condemning them, but He was showing them a condition that needed to change.
Being faithless has to do with a disconnection from God, and being perverse has to do with a connection to the world. The remedy Jesus gave for this is prayer and fasting. Prayer connects you with God, and fasting disconnects you from the world. Together, they help you “become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…” (Philippians 2:15-16).
Fasts in the Bible
There are many references to fasting in the Bible. Here are some of the types of fasts you can find:
1. The Disciples’ Fast (Matthew 17:18-21; Isaiah 58:6-8) – Purpose: For spiritual breakthroughs. To free you from sin, particularly habitual sin.
2. The Ezra Fast (Ezra 8) – Purpose: To bring a solution to a great problem or difficult situation.
3. The Samuel Fast (1 Samuel 7) – Purpose: For national revival.
4. The Elijah Fast (1 Kings 19) – Purpose: To break negative emotions (depression, despondency, fear, hopelessness, insecurity, etc.).
5. The Widow’s Fast (1 Kings 17) – Purpose: To meet the needs of others (as in Isaiah 58:7).
6. The Apostle Paul’s Fast (Acts 9:9) – Purpose: To receive divine guidance for a major decision.
7. The Daniel Fast (Daniel 10) – Purpose: For revelation, favor and health.
8. John the Baptist’s Fast (Matthew 9:14-15; John 1:6-7) – Purpose: For favor and an ever-widening circle of influence.
9. Esther’s Fast (Esther 4:15-16) – Purpose: For protection against danger and for favor.
As you study these fasts, particularly in Isaiah 58, you’ll see many of the far-reaching results or rewards of fasting. When you fast and pray, deliverance from sin, bad habits and addiction comes. You receive divine guidance, revelation, favor, spiritual breakthroughs and solutions to difficult problems. Even emotional stability and improved health are among the benefits of fasting.
Two Fasts to Consider
A “normal” fast lasts one day (Isaiah 58:5). It is a 24-hour period where you do not eat anything and drink only water with the purpose of putting God and spiritual things first.
Another common fast, “The Daniel Fast,” lasts 21 days. During the time that Daniel fasted, we’re told that he drank only water, ate no meat, no sweets whatsoever, and no bread (Daniel 10:2-3). This is sometimes referred to as a partial fast.
Whichever type of fast you choose, it is important to remember that the focus should not be on what you can or cannot eat. The focus of fasting is to connect with God in prayer and disconnect from the world. In fact, if you abstain from food without spending time in prayer, you may as well call it a diet!
When you fast, you deny yourself and subdue your flesh. The Apostle Paul said: “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Paul recognized that he needed to be in a position of authority over his body. Likewise, it is good for you to let your body know who is boss.
Fasting and Restoration
The book of Joel gives an example of how genuine repentance and fasting are related to deliverance and restoration from God. The account begins with an invasion of four types of locust that devastated the land and led to a time of great calamity. We are told, “What the chewing locust left, the swarming locust has eaten; what the swarming locust left, the crawling locust has eaten; and what the crawling locust left, the consuming locust has eaten” (Joel 1:4).
The chewing locust mentioned here could be compared to a besetting sin. It’s a habit that you can live with, but it keeps you from a right relationship with God. You’ve tried, but can’t get it under control. Next, the swarming locusts came in like waves; attack after attack after attack. This would be like you having trouble at work, difficulties with your spouse or family members, problems with finances – something that keeps hitting you over and over again.
Then the crawling locusts showed up little by little over time. These could be compared to the type of devastation that comes into your life due to bad choices, bad associations, or bad seeds you once planted. Finally, Joel mentions the consuming locusts that came in and devoured whatever was left. This would be like the barrenness and emptiness you experience when something precious to you has been stripped away.
In the wake of all the devastation, God told them, “Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning” (Joel 2:12). He promised, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust…” (Joel 2:25). Today, God is still saying, “Return to Me.”
Fasting is returning to God with your whole heart. It is about relationship, not religion. It is not some sort of penance or paying for your sin, and it is certainly not twisting God’s arm to get Him to give you something. However, as you disconnect from the world – from the things that have allowed the enemy to come in – and return to the Lord, His promise of restoration is for you.
Seek God First
In Matthew 6:33-34, Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” As you humble yourself and draw close to God in fasting and prayer, He will draw close to you (James 4:7-10). You will hear His voice, and He will show you things He’d like you to change in your life.
However God leads you to fast – whether for a single meal, a day, 3 days, 21 days or whatever – don’t miss the main point of fasting. Purpose in your heart to pray, pray and pray some more. Make God your focus. Seek Him. Listen for His voice. Repent of anything He reveals to you and return to Him.
Disconnect from the world and connect with God. You’ll be so glad you did!
NOTE: If you have medical issues or are on medication, you should consult a health professional before fasting.
(All scriptures are from the New King James Version of the Bible.)