A Guide to Fasting and Prayer

by Sep 15, 2015

A Guide to Fasting and Prayer

by Sep 15, 2015

This week our church is launching 49 Days of Prayer. We’re praying for God to make us more prayerful. We’ll be studying the Lord’s Prayer, and looking for ways to apply Jesus’ instructions on prayer to our individual lives, marriages and families, community groups, and friendships.

It all starts on Saturday, which we’ve set aside as a day of fasting and prayer.

Many Christians are confused about fasting. Even leaders seem to be uncertain of its purpose. A few years ago, I heard a pastor speak on the topic of fasting at a conference. He said you fast in order to build your resistance to temptation.

His reasoning was something like this: “If I can discipline myself to say no to food even when the deliciously tempting smell of my wife’s fresh-baked cookies comes wafting out of the kitchen, then I’ve won the battle over temptation. After that, when a delicious temptation for something much bigger like pornography or adultery comes, it’ll be no big deal to conquer.”

That pastor became the butt of late-night jokes after the spectacular failure of this approach was revealed through his extramarital affairs.

If fasting is just part of some Christian self-help program that will make me a better person, then I’ve completely missed the boat. Fasting is not meant to increase my confidence in my own strength, but to help me realize that I’m absolutely strengthless without God’s wisdom and power guiding me. It’s to help me recognize that the worldly things I lean on (like food) are secondary to my dependence on God.

In the story of the rich young ruler, Jesus essentially asked him to fast from money and possessions as a way of demonstrating his dependence on God for his comfort, pleasure, and security, rather than depending on the things of this world.

Throughout the Old Testament, people fasted for the sole purpose of humbling themselves before God (see Psalm 35:13, 1 Kings 21:29, and Ezra 8:21). Unfortunately, this simple act of humility soon became a source of spiritual pride. By the time of Jesus, Pharisees were fasting twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays when everyone was in Jerusalem for market days. This gave them a nice big audience for the sackcloth-and-ashes competition in their weekly Mr. Zion Pageant out in the town square.

That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 6, “When you fast (not if, when), do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

With that in mind, here’s a simple guide to fasting:

  • Find something to give up (food, TV, Facebook, whatever. Something you’ll actually miss).
  • Without any moaning or groaning (I’m talking mostly to men here – we have a tolerance for pain that’s somewhere around that of a kindergarten girl), just do without it.
  • Take the time when you would normally eat your plate lunch, or mindlessly scroll through Facebook timeline, and use it for prayer.
  • When you feel hungry or bored, pray some more. Repeat as necessary.
  • Expect the Father’s reward: a life that is more completely aligned with his will, and therefore more completely fulfilled.