Prayer & Fasting

Prayer and Fasting

 Fasting is a forgotten discipline that is no less part of the normal Christian life than Bible reading, prayer and worship.

Perhaps it might be considered a bit extreme, but this might be because our culture is more consumerist than it used to be.

Fasting is not dangerous if done carefully , and even has its own health benefits.

Whilst it will be unwise for some to attempt it, for most it will do us a world of good, physically and spiritually.

A good summary of this practice is given by Nicky Gumbel in the book ‘Challenging Lifestyle’.

 

Why should we fast?

1.     When you add fasting to your prayers we see answers that have not come with praying alone.  

Matthew 17 v 19-21

Jesus words in this passage show that unbelief can be overcome through prayer and fasting. When you face a difficult situation, fasting produces the breakthrough. 

Examples can be found in Judges 20 and in Ezra.

It demonstrates a deep sincerity, earnestness so that their prayers can be ‘heard on high’.

‘Fasting helps to express, to deepen and to confirm that we are ready to sacrifice anything to attain what we seek for the Kingdom of God’         Nicky Gumbel

It seems from these verses there is desperation in the lives of people.

However when you begin to fast you need not see it as bending God’s arm, so much as bending of our wills to his.

God responds to fasting, when we seek to accept his will for our lives. We need to trust him even when things don’t turn the way we want.

 

2. Humbling ourselves before God

Psalm 35 v13 “I humbled myself with fasting’

Joel 2 v12 ‘ Even now return to me with all your heart with fasting, weeping and mourning’

 

fasting can help you deal with a particular sin or problem.

Daniel 9 v 3 ‘ Daniel turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition in fasting, sackcloth and ashes’

 

With this we need great care not to use it as a form of asceticism.

We can become religious with any spiritual practice.

No amount of fasting can atone for sin in our lives; Jesus has done this on the cross.

The fasting comes from a place of spiritual rest and is our humbling before God.

 

3. Fasting helps us discover guidance from God for different situations.

Fasting can help us when we are making decisions or need a word from God about a situation.

The church in Antioch prayed and fasted and the Holy Spirit spoke to them 

‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’

 

4. Fasting is a form of self discipline.

1 Corinthians 9 v 24- 27 ‘ Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.’

 

William Brammell  ‘The reason the Methodists in general do not live in this salvation is there too much sleep, too much meat and drink, too little fasting and self denial…’

 

In many other cultures around the world fasting is considered quite normal, however it is not unusual for people in our culture consider it ‘over the top’.  We are out of balance in our lifestyles.

That is why we may consider the wider aspect of fasting from sleep, tv, shopping as a pastime, alcohol or chocolate.

Fasting seemed to die out because of a reaction to asceticism and extreme monasticism.

Now we over indulge and we have become like an axe that is dull in regard to spiritual vitality.

 

‘ If a man would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross’ Mark 8 v 34

 

5. Fasting should help us identify with the poor

Isaiah 58 v 6-7

‘Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter, when you see the naked to clothe him?’

 

To experience the hunger pangs of fasting helps us to empathise a little with the poor, for a little while.

Many go to bed hungry in the world.

May be with the money we save, we could feed someone in a poor country.

 

We could pray against injustice in the world. Fasting can make us more sensitive to the heart of God.

 

Objections to fasting  

John Stott said that many Christians live as though Matthew 6 v 16 -18 has been ripped out of their Bibles.

People have come up with several theological objections to fasting.

 

There are some things you may need to consider before undertaking a fast. e.g. some medical conditions; unusual heavy work load;

 

How to fast

1.     Try fast 2 meals in the day breaking your fast in the evening. 

(Note that in South Korea people are encouraged to begin their fasting by doing so for 3 days!)

2.     Be aware that if you give up tea and coffee, the loss of caffeine can result in headaches.

3.     You could undertake a longer partial fast like the prophet Daniel, ie. give up meat and luxuries for an extended period.

4.     There may be periods of real hunger, but also times when you don’t feel hungry. Drinking water or juice can help with hunger pains.

5.     Focus your thoughts on the Lord and make sure you have time that is freed up to pray while fasting.

6.     You may well feel tired and cold.

7.     Write down the focus of your fasting . May be you want to just draw close to God. List those you want to be touched by him.

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