I suspect that we all have struggled at times to be consistent in our prayer times. In Matthew 7:7-11 (quoted above), Jesus is in the middle of his great Sermon on the Mount. In chapter six, the Lord gave an amazing lesson on prayer. But as you listen to what Jesus is teaching in the Sermon on the Mount the more you see that radical dependence that you and I need in prayer.
Yesterday I posted about the source of our deepest hungering and desire. What do we truly desire and what does it say about our heart? You can read about that here: Prayer and Fasting (part 1). Today I want to spend more time explaining the biblical idea of fasting and prayer and then look at some practical consideration for fasting.
Jesus’ general principle regarding how to be blessed or ruined by spiritual disciplines is found in Matthew 6:1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
Then Jesus gives three examples of ways that we can be found guilty of practicing our faith for others to see us and admire us:
Giving (vv. 2-4) or our outward conduct
Praying (vv. 5-15) or our upward conversations
Fasting (vv. 16-18) or our inward cravings
Matthew 6:16-18 reads, “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 your 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.”
What Is Biblical Fasting?
Simply defined, fasting (for all reasons) is to refrain from food for a period of time. Biblical fasting is always accompanied with prayer. I am speaking of biblical fasting here, because several religions practice fasting, and people fast for medical and other purely non-religious reasons.
Fasting in the Bible is required only in the Old Testament, for the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29-34; 23:26-32). This “self-affliction” was to accompany the offering of sacrifices for the nation of Israel. It was a national day of mourning for their sins. As such, eating was inappropriate.
Since Jesus Christ has become our final sacrifice (Heb 10:12), we do not need a Day of Atonement. Therefore, the only obligatory day of fasting has been removed for Christians. So, fasting is not required by God.
Why did people in Bible fast?
Although there was only one obligatory day to fast, voluntary fasting was(and is) acceptable to God if done with the right heart attitude. Some examples of the reasons people fasted in the Bible were:
When Mourning: 2 Samuel 3:35 tells us David fasted after the death of Abner.
When in Grave Danger: Esther 4:16 shows us that Esther asked for prayer and fasting before she approached the king.
When Repentant: Jonah 3:5, 7 explains how the Ninevites repented before God in sackcloth and ashes for their sins, and God forgave them.
When Facing Important Decisions: Acts 13:2-3 says that before the church at Antioch sent away Paul and Barnabas for their mission trip they prayed and fasted.
When Facing Intense Trials: Matthew 4:2 tells us that as Jesus prepared to begin his ministry, he was led into the wilderness where he fasted and prayed for forty days and was tempted by Satan.
How should Christians approach fasting?
First, remember that fasting is not obligatory, but voluntary. We are nowhere commanded to fast, although we may do so when we desire. The Pharisees fasted two times a week (Lk 18:12), but this was a tradition of men, not a requirement of God.
Also, remember this important truth if you become puffed up in your fasting: of the two men in the Temple that day that Jesus spoke of in Luke 18, one fasted, and the other went home justified! Fasting does not justify us!!
Second, we must fast with the right intentions. Matthew 6:16 shows us that there are some who practice religious activities to be seen by others.
If you fast, ask yourself why you are doing it?
If you fast, are you letting yourself look tired or haggard so people will ask you about it? The Pharisees loved the attention they received. They even went so far as to rub ash on their faces to look more sullen and sickly. It’s the same with all our spiritual disciplines. Do you do them to be seen by men?
If you fast, are you trying to earn God’s favor? Fasting is not a bargaining chip for God. It’s not “I skipped food for three days Lord. YOU HAVE TO HEAR ME NOW!” Fasting doesn’t mean that if I give up meat, God will do what I say.
Finally, when we fast, we should see it as an opportunity to put all of our focus upon God, and not as an opportunity to pull attention to ourselves. Jesus pointed out that the Pharisees drew attention to themselves with their sullen look. Instead, fasting ought to be seen as a time to look at the Giver of every good and perfect gift. We can forget about God sometimes, and when we fast, we take our eyes off of the gift of food and cast our eyes toward heaven to find communion with our Lord. This is why the Pharisees were such hypocrites. They took something which should have given God attention and used it for their own attention.
Some final considerations regarding fasting:
Fasting does not need to be a fast from food only. Some of you may not be able to fast from food for medical reasons. Perhaps you are weakened from sickness or you need to take medications or your doctor has said, “No fasting.” That is ok. God knows how weak our frame is!
Fasting, although primarily abstaining from food for a time of dedicated prayer and worship with the Lord, is not only described in terms of food. If you look at 1 Corinthians 7:5 it refers to a different kind of fast for married couples. Notice that this fasting referred to here is for a set time and for the purpose of prayer. It should be short and purposeful by agreement of both so as not to give an opportunity for temptation for either the husband or the wife.
Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Fasting if we conceive of it truly, must not … be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose. There are many bodily functions which are right and normal and perfectly legitimate, but which for special peculiar reasons in certain circumstances should be controlled. That is fasting.”
This means that food may not be a big deal for you, but perhaps TV or internet distracts you from the Lord and prayer. Maybe its sports or something else.
RememberAbraham? In Genesis 22:1-2 what does it say Abraham loved? What did he hunger for? He longed for the promised son Isaac. And God gave him a good gift in Isaac. But now God asks him to sacrifice what he loved. Did he love God more than Isaac?
Abraham set his eyes to obey the Lord. He took Isaac up the mountain and he bound him and took the knife to slay his beloved boy. But look at vv. 11-12. “now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son…” Abraham’s love for God was greater than his love for Isaac.
Now let me ask you, what do you hunger for most? Who’s in charge? Is it your hunger or God? It is easy to say that it’s not food, like the drunk who says he can give up his liquor anytime he wants, but he just doesn’t want to. What controls you so that you don’t want to give it up?
Dear friend above all else, hunger and thirst for Christ.
“For Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
The sinfulness of man requires the power of God to overcome our nature, bringing us to Christ and setting us free from our sins, removing us from the kingdom of darkness and placing us into the kingdom of God, adopting us as sons of God and joint heirs with Christ, establishing both our ability to stand before the righteous throne of Almighty God as well as establishing our right to do so by virtue of Christ’s perfect righteousness imputed to our account.
Therefore, our prayers are heard and answered upon this basis, seeing that God has opened up the doors of heaven, and by virtue of the cross of Jesus has welcomed us in.
In this post I’d like to briefly focus upon three prayer types: 1) Adoration and worship, Thanksgiving; 2) Confession; and 3) Supplication and Petition.
1. Adoration/Worship and Thanksgiving
The first prayer type (grouping three similar types together) is prayer of response. When we pray with thanksgiving and adoration, we are responding to the acts of God which reflect his power to redeem, provide, create and sustain. Some examples of these in the Scriptures are:
Adoration and Worship – Exodus 15, “Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and said,“I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted;The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea.“The Lord is my strength and song,And He has become my salvation;This is my God, and I will praise Him;My father’s God, and I will extol Him.“The Lord is a warrior;The Lord is His name.“Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea;And the choicest of his officers are drowned in the Red Sea.“The deeps cover them;They went down into the depths like a stone.“Your right hand, O Lord, is majestic in power,Your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.” (Exodus 15:1–6, NASB95)
Thanksgiving – Psalm 138, “I will give You thanks with all my heart;I will sing praises to You before the gods.I will bow down toward Your holy templeAnd give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth;For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name.On the day I called, You answered me;You made me bold with strength in my soul.All the kings of the earth will give thanks to You, O Lord,When they have heard the words of Your mouth.And they will sing of the ways of the Lord,For great is the glory of the Lord.” (Psalm 138:1–5, NASB95)
In your life God has shown you his mighty power, whether it has been through salvation, provision, guidance, providential care, healing or some other way. Does your prayer life reflect this?
Confession is made with the belief that:
We have an omniscient God who knows our sin and we agree with him that we have transgressed his law. Prov. 5:21; Ps 51:3.
We have sinned against our holy God who cannot look upon sin and is just in punishing our iniquity. Ps 51:4, 11.
We have a merciful God who can remove the dark stain of sin through the blood of Christ’s substitutionary death upon the cross. Ps 51:7-10.
Some people, even Christians, live with the awful burden of past sins that they believe are unforgiven and unforgivable, even by God.
First Corinthians 6:9-11 is the hope of Christ and the power of God demonstrated to the worst of sinners. It says:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Take your eyes off of your sin and put them on Christ!
3. Supplication and Petition
Supplications and petitions can be placed roughly into two categories:
First, Personal prayer needs (for self and others). Biblical examples of such prayers include:
For food (Matt 6:11)
For healing/trials (2Cor 12:7)
For persecution relief (Acts 12:6-19)
For pain and suffering (Psalms of David, Job)
For wisdom (James 1:5)
Second, Prayer for the Work of the Kingdom, including:
For open doors of opportunity (Col 4:3)
For strength in times of persecution (Acts 4:29)
For boldness in the face of opposition (Acts 4:29)
In the area of supplications and petitions we can become reluctant to pray as we should. We need to answer the questions: Can he answer? and Will he answer? Consider the words of Jesus himself:
“And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mk 11:22-24)
“And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”” (Mk 9:23)
Do we use, “If the Lord wills” as an excuse for our lack of faith? Many things the Lord wills, but we often fail to ask (James 4:2).
Consider these verses:
“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Heb 11:6)
“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matt 21:22)
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” (James 5:17-18)
Do these verses cause you to imagine what God could do? Do they set your heart racing? Or do you find yourself doubting, and adding exceptions? The ability for your prayers to be answered is not so much about who you are, as much as it is about who God is! Pray dear friend!