Prayer is sowing seeds & watering it with faith to bear much fruit through answers while fasting is like pouring oil over this prayer fire to make it strong and not let it die out.
A learned sage described the spiritual and carnal dimensions of a human being as two wolves- one a fierce, angry, mean and always fighting while the other a judicious, loving, kind and peace loving one. The student’s question about which would dominate in him was met with the answer “The one you feed will claim you”. We are invariably busy feeding the wrong wolf, even through prayer, “you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). Man was created by God in His likeness and image, to fellowship with and worship God and reveal His Divine glory to the entire creation. It pleases God to bless man by His presence and that is the reason of His visiting Adam and Eve daily in the Garden of Eden. But how do we please and serve God? We please God through our faith in Him, in His sovereign power, love and mercy. However serving God has been illustrated in the example of Anna, a prophetess of great age “a widow of about eighty four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2:36-37).
The custom of offering what is most precious and even one’s life to please the deities worshipped in various cultures was an act of surrender to gain some special insight. Fasting is seen in a similar manner as an attempt to please God since the Hebrew word tsom or the equivalent Greek word nesteia or nesteials imply the surrender of one’s basic essentials for receiving special insight. Fasting was used as a way to acquire special insight as also some powers to face and overcome the difficult situation one is faced with. Fasting, therefore, is a means to surrender before God to seek personal transformation, guidance and empowerment through revelation of the mysteries of His Word through the Holy Spirit. It is not only about not eating but a total deprivation of the “wolf”, of all that feeds it- the fleshly desires and the things of the world, thus clinging to the One who sustains life. Fasting, therefore, is a state of directing one’s total focus on God and God alone without being distracted with the earthly matters. Anna ‘did not depart from the temple’ and shifted the focus of her entire being on YHWH while essentially killing the cravings of the flesh to “serve God”.
Fasting in itself thus comes to define a way of praying and the second aspect of Anna’s life of serving God was to ‘pray day and night’. The Hebrew word referring to prayer is Qara and the first time that this word is used in the Bible is in Genesis “To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26). There is suddenness in this ‘calling on the name of the Lord’ after a son is born. Probably the clue is in the name of the child since Enosh means weak/feeble/mortal and the birth of the child makes men realize their having earned the penalty of eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil leading to a sure death. This birth laid bare before them their being powerless before the certainty of death, thus a call of distress to the Only One-YHWH- who has to power the avert the crisis; the weak crying to the Strong. Anna laid before the Almighty her weakness and loneliness and served Him with ‘fasting and prayer’. Qara is a specific request to a specific person for a specific response or it is a desperate cry and an attempt to “return to YHWH for restoration of the broken relationship”.
Prayer is a heartfelt attempt to reach out to the heart of God. Fasting and prayer when combined together become a means of total surrender for seeking Divine knowledge and power of intervention for self or others.
The deep and strong inter-connection of fasting and prayer is evident and both joined together are expressions of abject surrender before God in humility to seek Divine intervention and knowledge for self and/or others or even to just prostate oneself before Him in thanksgiving. Both actions of prayer and fasting are not an attempt to be or show our righteousness to God but to acknowledge and pay reverence to the El-Shaddai, The Almighty God. It is not a favor to God like the Israelites intended it to be “Why have we fasted, they say, and You have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and You have not noticed?” (Isaiah 58:3). It is an act of adoration and humility to recognize the sovereignty of the Almighty.
Fasting is not only denial of food to the body but also denial of all distractions that adversely affect our union with God. Fasting is denial of self and even mere humility will not count for fasting for God has laid down specific instructions in His Word. “In the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and fight and to hit with a wicked fist……Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?” And then God defines the fast “Is not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every other yoke? Is it not share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:3-7).
True fasting as demanded by God is to seek justice for others, sharing our resources with those in need to help them get out of any physical, mental, emotional, financial or spiritual bondage. God has chosen us to be His ambassadors to do His work of restoration wherever necessary. Some examples of fasting in the Scriptures elucidate the same principles. King Jehoshaphat came before the throne of God for seeking deliverance from the three invading armies (2 Chronicles 20:3) and Ninvehites fasted in repentance for their sins (Jonah 3:5); both with successful outcome. Though these are instances of national fasting and prayer, this is more of an individual and private matter linked to repentance, mourning and petition when faced with insurmountable odds and an urgent need for deliverance from a calamity about to befall the seeker. Fasting is an internal submission than an external show of disfigurement of body and apparel (Matthew 6:16-18). David, a man as per God’s heart, resorted to fasting for his enemies during their sickness as a sign of empathy for them (Psalm 35:13). Lord Jesus preaches fasting as a means of empowerment to overcome great odds (Luke 2:37) and the Apostles used it effectively to anoint and bless leaders.
Fasting and prayer is a means to reach out to the God for restoration of broken relationship with God and to seek Him to help in earthly relations also. The basic purpose is to develop an intimate link with the Lord through sacrificially humbling ourselves before Him. “I humbled myself with fasting” King David’s way of responding to his enemies response towards him that “They reward me evil for good, to the sorrow of my soul” (Psalm 35:13,12). Instead of contending with them he brought the matter through fasting and prayer before God. Fasting coupled with prayer results in the Holy Spirit revealing our present spiritual state but also through repentance and submission causing a regeneration of life. The earnest cry is answered through new revelations about the Word of God and a transformed and greatly satisfying prayer and worship experience. Fasting and prayer in true humility fulfill the Scriptural need of releasing the planned and pre-destined blessings of God (Jeremiah 29:12-13).
Do’s and Don’ts during fasting- Fasting is an attitude and not a tool to force God to succumb to our demands, like young children tend to do. In case of any medical ailment one should seek prior medical consultation and then pray to God for guidance. It is not to always seek but to humble ourselves and restore and transform our relationship with God. Getting another partner may help both to encourage and petition God in agreement. Whether for an intercessory or personal prayer, set a clear and well defined prayer request, preferably written down, to place before God (Habakkuk 2:2). Fasting may cause headaches but that should not be the cause to avoid or stop. Rather remain busy in reading, meditating on and discussing the Scriptures and worship with an expectant heart to hear from the Lord through His word, revelation, vision/dream or through a messenger of God.
Results from your fasting and prayer- Be prepared to meet opposition in the form of unexpected personal requirements or temptations in the form of choicest foods and other events coming up. Satan will make efforts to dissuade you but persevere and if you fail, do not give up- plan again. New revelation may not come during or immediately after the fast but remain consistent in faith and “Being confident of this very thing that he who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). His power will clarify all doubts and help in spiritual growth and “Then shall your light break forth like dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say ‘Here I am” (Isaiah 58:8-9).
When to link fast with prayer- The Holy Bible lists various instances to illustrate the need for this during specific occasions:
• Before starting something big with likely implications for large multitudes; Lord Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-2), Apostles in Acts 13:2-3 and 14:23).
• For repentance and forgiveness- King David (2Samuel 12:16-23).
• When under judgement and seeking forgiveness – Ahab (1 Kings 21:20-27).
• When in danger- Esther 4:15.
• When in need- Ezra for a safe journey to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:21).
• When worried- King Darius for the safety of Daniel after putting him in the lions’ den (Daniel 6:18).
• When in trouble- Apostle Paul and his ship mates before shipwreck (Acts 27:33).
• For victory in spiritual battles through putting on of the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-12).
Prayer is an act of sowing of seeds, watering it with faith to bear much fruit in the form of answers while fasting is like pouring oil over the fire of prayer to make it strong and not get quenched. Fasting is a means of humbling and surrendering resulting in clarity and focus in prayer to place our requests before God in a spirit of repentance and submission.
God Himself promises to “listen and answer” those who love and serve HIM. Are you ready to be the one!!