Prayer And Fasting - Part One

13 Jan 2019
Bill Lofthouse
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Welcome to 2019! We kick off the year with another thought from Bill, our church’s oldest volunteer. In this week’s thought, Bill gets into the spiritual practice of fasting.

Is fasting scriptural? Is it still relevant, or is it a matter of “That was then but this is now”? Let us see what the Bible has to say about it, when and/or why did those Biblical characters fast, and how we can apply those principles to today’s circumstances.

In Deuteronomy 9:9 we read that when Moses was called by God to receive the tablets of the covenant, he stayed on the mountain for forty days and forty nights. During this time he “ate no bread and drank no water”. Why? It was to obey God’s call, to meet with Him and receive God’s Law, God’s rules for Life.

Again in Deuteronomy 9:18, after breaking the stone tablets, Moses spent another forty days and nights fasting while pleading on behalf of the rebellious and idolatrous people.

Likewise we read in 1 Kings 19:7 - 8 how Elijah, at God’s command, travelled forty days and forty nights “strengthened by that food” to that same mountain on which Moses had spent the same length of time without food or drink. Why? Again it was in obedience to God’s call, to meet with Him and receive instructions regarding his way forward.

It is interesting to note that these were the two prophets that appeared with Jesus, who also had fasted for forty days and nights, during His transfiguration (Matt 17 : 1 – 3)

Other Old Testament people who fasted and prayed were:
• Ezra, who proclaimed a fast “so that we could humble ourselves before our God and ask Him for a safe journey (back from exile to Jerusalem). (Ezra 8 : 21)

• Esther, who called for a three day fast prior to her seeking God’s intervention in preventing the destruction of the Jews by requesting King Xerxes to save her people from annihilation by Haman. (Esther 4 : 16)

• Daniel, in order not to “defile” himself with the King’s rich food and wine, requested a plain vegetable and water diet and, much to the surprise of the jailer, he and his friends appeared after a ten day trial period, in better health than all the other prisoners. (Dan 1 : 8 – 16)

• Daniel also fasted while confessing his peoples’ sins and humbly seeking God’s favour and mercy. (Dan 9 : 3)

• Because of a divine revelation of the future tribulations that the Jewish people would have to endure, for three weeks Daniel humbled himself before God, denying himself of anything but the plainest of fare and all luxuries as he mourned for his people. (Dan 10 : 1 – 3)

• In the New Testament, we read how just as Moses was led apart from the people and had fasted for forty days and nights prior to receiving and pronouncing the Old Covenant, Christ was led apart from people and fasted for forty days and nights prior to Him pronouncing the New Covenant. (Matt 4 : 1 – 3)

• The early Church, before taking the next step forward or appointing new church officials, fasted and prayed as they sought God’s guidance. (Acts 13 : 2, 3; 14 : 23)

From the foregoing we see that there are different types of fasting:
1. A full fast, i.e. total abstinence from all food and drink. (Moses, Elijah, Jesus)
2. An ordinary fast, i.e. abstinence from food and drink only water
3. A partial fast i.e. to omit certain foods and/or liquids, or omit one or two meals each day. (Daniel)

A fast need not necessarily be confined to food, e.g. if for health reasons a person is unable to forego a full diet they may give up some other activity, perhaps watching TV, reading a secular novel and instead spending that time reading scripture and in prayer.

Essentially, fasting is intended to be a time of self-denial in order to draw nearer to God; to put Him in the forefront and not be distracted by everyday things, to use the time normally devoted to preparing and eating food to pray purposefully and earnestly. It is an outward expression of an inward heartache, a deep sense of repentance and humility and an intense seeking of God’s deliverance from a desperate situation.

Isaiah 58:3 – 8 has a lot to say about our attitude to fasting. Going through the external motions of fasting whilst inwardly carrying on as normal is not acceptable to the Lord; justice, lifting oppression and seeing to the needs of the deprived is what is more pleasing to Him.

Nor are we to make a big show of fasting and make it obvious – Jesus described this as hypocrisy (Matt 6 : 16 – 18). A weekly fast has certain health benefits as it rids the body of toxins but it also should be a time of communing with God and must not be made into a ritual as the Jewish leaders did when they fasted twice a week. Coincidentally the days they did this fell on the market days in Jerusalem and so gave maximum exposure of their piety to the people. (cf Luke 18 : 10 -12)

The New Testament neither expressly commands nor forbids fasting and so the occasion for and the type and duration of the fast is not subject to any rules or regulations but is a matter between you and God.

• Fasting is not to be viewed as a way to earn God’s favour.
• Fasting is only effective before God when undertaken in the right attitude, remembering that it is also a time of drawing nearer to God through prayer, meditation on His Word and self-evaluation.
• It is not to be used to prove a point or to impress others.

In conclusion, a few practicalities with regard to fasting:
1. Refrain from drinking fluids containing caffeine the previous day.
2. Do not fast without fluids for longer than a day.
3. Break your fast by eating a light meal and gradually work up to full diet.
4. The body excretes excessive amounts of toxic waste during fasting and so extra care must be taken with regard to personal hygiene.

We look forward to some further thoughts from Bill as we head towards our Week of Prayer & Fasting.

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