More Than Just Prayer
In an earlier article, I spoke about three prayers I stumbled upon as I was praying for current world and US events. Since then, I have wanted to take another step in my prayer life. I felt like I was praying effectively, yet expecting God to do all the heavy lifting. When I see Jesus face to face, I want to feel confident I did all I could prayer-wise. Or at least be able to say I genuinely tried. I want to be a more effective and powerful prayer warrior in this spiritual battle that is going on in our country.
There was one thing in Scripture I always put off. Fasting. I told myself I was saving it for critical issues. When I honestly considered it, I was able to see that we are called not only to pray but to fast and pray. It’s been in scripture all along. Right in plain sight. It’s hard to ignore, as it’s mentioned 89 times. We may not be specifically commanded to fast, but it is heavily assumed. The most telling is Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:16 where He says “When you fast…” He doesn’t say if you fast, or you should fast. He says when you fast. It’s assumed you are fasting in some way or fashion.
So, what is the purpose behind fasting? Maybe it’s the idea of giving up something for the sake of giving it up. That’s a nice idea, but nothing in Scripture associates fasting and giving up something. Possibly, it’s the idea of denying yourself. Jesus says to deny yourself and take up His cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). If taking up His cross is fasting then yes, but I suspect taking up the cross is more than just fasting. Maybe it’s a way to exert control over our physical bodies, to attempt control over our spirit. Paul mentions this by saying he buffets his body to make it his slave (1 Corinthians 9:27).
However, fasting isn’t the context of his words. Maybe hunger pangs serve as a reminder to pray. Maybe we pray instead of eat. That may be what you do, but that’s more a personal choice rather than a Biblical admonition. We are told in Psalms that fasting humbles the soul (Psalm 69:10). That’s an outcome, not a reason. All of these are noteworthy thoughts but are not Biblical support for fasting. It all comes back to Scripture talking about fasting and praying. Therefore, it’s good-sounding reason is merely that. Good sounding, but not necessarily a scriptural command. We fast because, by implication, the Bible says to fast.
Biblical Fasting Instructions
What are the rules of fasting? How many days are we supposed to fast? What are we to do during the fast? How much time during the fast are we to pray? Should we wear sackcloth and ashes while fasting? What is sackcloth anyway?
Fasting durations in the Bible vary from a portion of a day to 40 days and everything in between. Short of praying, we are not told what else to do during the fast. There is no clue as to how much we are supposed to pray either. We are, however, told not to go around looking like we are really suffering (Matthew 6:16). It’s to be a bit of a private thing (Matthew 6:18). Fortunately, sackcloth and ashes were kind of a cultural thing back in the day.
Turns out there are no real instructions or rules other than don’t make a show of it. That’s it. People give their advice about it. How to prepare for it, activities to undertake while you fast and where to fast. One piece of advice is to consult your doctor before fasting. That makes fasting a bit intimidating. It’s all just good advice and comments, but not specific Biblical commands.
So, all aspects of fasting are a personal choice. It’s what we are comfortable doing, with God literally as a witness. How cool is that!
So, I thought, start small and work up. Monday mornings is a time I typically tend to do menial activities around the house. I could pray while doing them. I decided to not eat until lunch during this time. This will be my fasting and prayer time. Maybe not Biblical in proportion, but maybe it is for me. The morning went by faster and much easier than I was expecting. I did get hungry and noticed myself glancing at the clock more than usual. At each glance I said a prayer for our country and a few prayers for friends. Cool, I just fasted and prayed for these things.
My plan was to fast just this one time but I decided, because of what is going on in our country, to do it again. The next Monday morning I repeated my fast and prayer time. Besides the spiritual aspect of it, I realized how much better lunch tasted. Proverbs talks about that (Proverbs 27:7). It was also easier to accomplish because I had already done it once and was mentally prepared the night before to do it again. Actually, several days before I had set my mind to it.
Though not what I imagine when I read about fasting, it’s fasting all the same. But my spirit was truly humbled through my ever-so-short fasting and prayer time (Psalm 69:10). I have just finished my third Monday morning fast and prayer session and plan to make it a habit.
Whatever fasting accomplishes, I am three baby steps closer to it. I can more readily face God and tell Him I am doing what He asks. It’s only a matter of stepping it up if God urges me on. Just as important, I am three steps closer to having a more effective and powerful prayer life.
If fasting somehow tips the scale toward God acting on my behalf in whatever I pray, would I not give up a simple breakfast to accomplish that? When I have a friend that is hurting, would I not give up one meal if it would alleviate their suffering? When I tell my friends, I am praying for them, unbeknownst to them, I am actually praying and fasting for them. If the prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much (James 5:16) maybe this is just one way it’s done.
I don’t look the other way now when I read about fasting and praying. I am doing it. There are no rules. Just God’s leading. In time, God may lead me to greater avenues of prayer and fasting.
This once-a-week action gives so much for so little. Why wouldn’t I do it and keep on doing it? I think I will. What can I pray…and fast… for you?