Prayer and Fasting go together like peanut butter and jelly. Okay, poor choice of words, since this post is about FASTING. However, prayer and fasting are closely linked together. I wrote about PRAYER in my last blog post. Prayer is talking with God, the Creator of heaven and earth; talking with Jesus, God’s One and Only Perfect Sacrifice, who died for the forgiveness of my sins, rose from the dead, and will come again to someday take me and all His believers Home with Him for all eternity. Prayer is also listening to the Holy Spirit who helps me to pray when I don‘t have the words to say. I can freely express myself to my Wonderful Counselor because He loves me unconditionally and forever. Sometimes I pray in church, with many people, or in a small group Bible study or prayer group. However, something else is also extremely important and crucial for my spiritual growth. In order to grow in my “relationship” with Jesus, I need to spend time praying [talking] with my Forever Friend alone in SOLITUDE [another spiritual discipline]. It is also where I spend time listening to Him, by reading His Word, enjoying His creation or just closing my eyes to see God’s love and faithfulness for me in a more intimate and personal way.
Jesus fasted and prayed for forty days before He began His ministry [Matthew 4 and Luke 4].
FASTING is generally abstaining from food, such as meat or snacks or a whole meal or not eating food for one day or many days. Fasting is usually done for spiritual reasons. Fasting by abstaining from food is just one part of this spiritual discipline. If I am fasting from food, I just don’t sit there and wait for breakfast time or lunch time or dinner time to go by. Instead of eating, I want to make good use of that time. That’s where PRAYING comes in. During the time I usually eat food, I may pray and read the Bible or devotional book. Also, I may use mealtime as a time to help others. For example, I may use the money I save from not buying food to contribute to a worthy cause or buy food for a homeless shelter. This also is done in an attitude of PRAYER. I may visit someone who needs a visit or help someone who has a project to finish. Through PRAYER and FASTING, the Lord will show me what I need to be doing for His glory and for the good of others or He may want me to simply be alone with Him for a time.
Jesus links PRAYER and FASTING together in “His Sermon on the Mount” [Matthew 5-7]:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you…And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint you head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” [Matthew 6:5-6 and 16-18].
[In Matthew 6 Jesus also teaches how to give to the needy (1-4), He gives us “the Lord’s Prayer” (9-13), instructs us on how to forgive (14-15) and He talks about having our “treasure” in Heaven and not on earth (19-24).
According to Jesus, both PRAYER and FASTING are done with an attitude of GRATITUDE, HUMILITY and LOVE, knowing that our reward is waiting for us in Heaven. PRAYER and FASTING are not practiced out of legalism or to demonstrate piety, so others may praise us for our public displays of self-righteousness.
But what if someone cannot fast from food? What does a person do who has a medical condition which prohibits fasting? On the other side of the spectrum, what if someone has a physically demanding job and needs energy from the food to be able to do his/her job well? What do the parents who cook meals for their small children do? They need to help their picky kids to eat healthy meals. There are many examples of people whose physical conditions or lifestyles make fasting impractical. For these people [me included] I have some practical solutions.
“For I [God] desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” [Hosea 6:6]. (Also I Samuel 15:22; Psalm 40:6, Psalm 51:1, Isaiah 1:11)
Instead of fasting from food, believers of the Lord Jesus may choose fasting from TV, video games, sports radio or time on the computer. They may abstain from going to restaurants or Dunkin Donuts or going to movies. They may choose to go without candy and snacks and eating small simple meals. They may choose to give up one of their usual recreational activities to do something for someone in need. Again, giving up these things is not to gain brownie points to pay for their own salvation with their own sacrifices. Substituting these things with spending more time with God and seeking to glorify Him in the things they do and don’t do is what Fasting is all about. For example, giving up watching TV gives worshipers of God more time to pray in “quietness and rest” [Isaiah 30:15]. There are many ways to fast, but only one motive and purpose behind it:
THOSE WHO LOVE JESUS FAST TO DISCOVER WAYS TO GLORIFY GOD BY DOING WHAT PLEASES HIM OUT OF AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE AND PRAISE!
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (or ‘rational service‘)” [Romans 12:1].
“And whatever you do, in word and deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” [Colossians 3:17].
(Also read Hebrews 10.)