Fasting and Prayer – II
Fasting and prayer is as much about subjection of body and soul to God as also to understand Him by meditating on God’s Word to know and serve Him better.

Fasting and Prayer – II

        The greatest blessing that Adam and Eve were given in the Garden of Eden was not the abundance of everything physical but the abundance of God Himself. God visited them every day to allow them to know Him and develop close relationship with Him. What they received while enjoying the fruits of the trees, we try to do through depriving our bodies of food and leaving aside our worldly pleasures to pray to Him. Through this we try and focus on the Provider while shifting our sight – both physical and spiritual – from the tangible provisions He has made. But why suffer the pangs of hunger to reach put to Him?

       When did fasting start? – Garden of Eden was a place of abundance where everything was provided by God to meet all needs of all the inhabitants. It was only after mankind was barred from the Garden, the ‘thorns and thistles, and toil to get food came in’ (Genesis 3:17-18). Cain received another curse after killing his brother Abel, ‘when you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you’ (Genesis 4:12). Mankind reached from a place of abundance to a place of lack and toil when procuring food itself became a challenge. Fasting started as an indicator of something being wrong, lack of substance to meet the needs of the body and soul.

        Definition of Fasting and Prayer – It is a voluntary act of going without food in order to focus on prayer and fellowship with God. Though either can be done without the other also but their combination and dedication to God’s glory makes them fully effective. It is not about forcing or manipulating God to do what I desire, but focusing and relying on God’s strength, provision and wisdom to find solutions. All prayer is basically attempting to gaze into God’s heart and align self with Him but fasting and prayer is more so for in this we surrender completely to Him, for physical strength to endure the hunger, for spiritual strength to face distractions and to control all desires and emotions. Fasting and prayer is an attempt to bring in holiness of body, soul and spirit by trying to stop entry of defiling things. 

       Reasons for fasting – first, mourning and sorrow – Abundance is about enjoyment of food and drink and fasting amounts to being sorrowful. The Israelites proclaimed a seven day’s fast at the death of Saul, the first king of Israel. In any vase sorrow saps the desire to eat.   

      Second, preparation for a greater task – Fasting is used as a means to purification and preparation before seeking Divine guidance. Moses went without food and water on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God (Exodus 34:28).

       Third, to seek God’s intervention for a problem or when in distress – King Jehoshaphat of Israel called for a fast in all Israel when they were about to be attacked by the armies of Moab, Seir and Ammon ((2 Chronicles 20:3). King David fasted for cure from sickness of a friend (Psalm 35:13) and later for the healing of his child born to Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:16).   Queen Esther asked all Jews to fast for three days to seek God’s favor to escape destruction decreed by the king as asked by Mordecai (Esther 4:3).

       Fourth, as an act of penance or repentance – People of Nineveh fasted on receiving the message of God through Prophet Jonah and even animals and beasts went without food and water (Jonah 3:7). Moses fasted for forty days for the second time as repentance after the sin of the ‘golden calf’ by the Israelites, to turn God’s anger and seek His ear (Deuteronomy 9:17-19).   

      Fifth, fasting as an act of display of loyalty to God – Daniel and his three friends refused to eat the king’s delicacies to avoid defiling themselves (Daniel 1:8).

     Sixth, as a reminder to the community of a traumatic event – As a constant reminder of their sin of the ‘golden calf’ God commanded the Israelites ‘you shall afflict your souls’ (Numbers 29:7). Even today Yom Kippur is a period of seven days of fasting and a reminder of the sin of the ancestors.

     Seventh, fasting as preparation for a spiritual battle – Lord Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit in to the wilderness for His battle with the devil through temptation. The Savior Lord fasted for 40 days before facing the devil.

      Fasting for the believers – Anna was a widow of about 84 years and ‘served God with fastings and prayers night and day’ in the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:37). John the Baptist’s disciples asked Lord Jesus, ‘we and the Pharisees fast but not Your followers’ and Lord Jesus clarified that they will fast when the bridegroom will be taken away (Matthew 9:14-15).

     Since the Holy Spirit dwells in us, should we fast now? – Lord Jesus is the Bridegroom and not the Holy Spirit and fasting by all believers shall continue till His second coming. The church of Antioch fasted, prayed and laid hands on Apostle Paul and Barnabas before sending them on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:2-3). Fasting and prayer was also undertaken for appointment of elders in the church (Acts 14:23).

     How does fasting and prayer work? – By taking our eyes off the things of the world through prayer and fasting we can focus better on God. A believer in Jalandhar locks himself in a room for a day to pray during fasting but this is not recommended. We have confidence that if we ask ‘according to His will, He hears us’ and if He hears us then we know we have what we ask (1 John 5:14-15).  Lord Jesus has promised ‘Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son’ (John 14:13). Fasting and prayer is about seeking His will and His glory and we seek this through getting isolated from all worldly distractions.

      How to be sure to do God’s will and seek His glory in prayer? It is difficult to answer this but the Scripture promise is ‘if anyone lacks wisdom let him ask God who gives liberally’ (James 1:5). We should ask Him to guide, since Lord Jesus’ promise to all believers is ‘the Holy Spirit will teach you all things and remind you of all My Words’ ((John 14:26). God is ready to help if we seek His help. God’s will is revealed to us through His Word, through dreams and visions or through His servants or prophets and situations are created or permitted to come about by God to lead us to the place of His choice. Judas Iscariot was also one of the chosen and entrusted with the purse of the ministry and Lord Jesus ignored his stealing from that till he finally went and sold his Lord only for thirty pieces of silver.

      Prayer and fasting is one of the ways to not only seek God’s help in overcoming the situations but also to seek guidance for discernment of the same to understand God’s will. The process would involve to seek and know God in the written Word, surrender self to His way, place requests before Him and ask for empowerment through grace from the Holy Spirit to glorify Him.

       Isaiah 58 is the longest discussion on fasting in the Scripture while focusing on misuse of this to show to God our efforts to please Him while indulging in self pleasure and exploitation of others, fasting for fighting others and strike them in wicked ways and not to reach out to God to be heard by Him (Isaiah 58:2-3). The reason for not being heard by God is then mentioned for we try ‘to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes’ (Isaiah 58:5). Bulrush or reed, is the thin green stalk bundles rising from the water’s edge of a stream and its example is used to depict false worship which is more visible than humbling self. The reed bends with little effort when the wind blows but immediately straightens up after the moment passes as though nothing had happened. Fasting and prayer that is not demanding, does not strain our lifestyle, that leaves no lasting impression on the soul is false for we confirm to the world immediately on leaving the church or after breaking the fast.

      Our worship is of convenience, comfort and tolerance where the greatest strain is of choosing the perfect Christmas gift rather than coming before the Son of God like the Magi to worship and spend time with Him. We plan that our prayers must end before the start of the cricket match. As per God’s Word our fasting should be the righteous act of sharing with the hungry; to satisfy the famished and such person will become like a well watered garden (Isaiah 58:7-11). Usually we perform for others not for God as an act of humility, emptiness and vulnerability. God looks for broken oaks who are shattered, splintered and fractured for God uses a broken oak but the reed goes into the fire. Prayer aur fasting leads us to Bethlehem, into God’s presence and once there I must not wrestle with Him like Jacob but get rid of pride. My bending of knees must strain my ego and shatter myself image. Fasting without surrender or breaking is being like a reed which straightens up again while the sackcloth and ashes are removed to return to our old sinful nature.

       Types of fasts – First, 40 days by Moses and Lord Jesus and they both ate nothing for that period (Luke 4:2); second, Daniel’s fast of 21 days when he ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine, and did no anointing with oil (Daniel 10:2-3). Third, Apostle Paul and the ship crew fasted for 14 days on the sea (Acts 27:33); four, Apostle Paul after encountering Lord Jesus on Damascus road ‘was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank’ (Acts 9:9); fifth, King Jehoshaphat and the people of Israel fasted for the day (2 Chronicles 20:3) and the people of Nineveh fasted for the day. Fasting is generally going without food and water for the duration but it is about ‘humbling ourselves and seeking from Him the right way (Ezra 8:21). King David declared that ‘I humbled myself with fasting’ (Psalm 35:13). During the period of fasting water is generally taken and tea with light snacks may also be taken by those who are on some medication. Daniel’s fast is more common when one takes no meat, no drinks, no tea or eats only fruits, vegetables etc.  

      Preparation for fasting – Fasting in the Old Testament is generally linked with sackcloth, sitting in ashes etc and this is about spiritual preparation which involves realization of need to fasting and prayer, repentance and humbling of self. A person suffering or recovering from sickness must consult his/her physician before undertaking a fast. The ten steps of preparation are: first, plan the fast – Identify the points of prayer, number of days and type of fast and properly plan to break the fast after a longer duration of fasting. Two, consider your schedule that others are not inconvenienced due to your fast and being incommunicado. Three, who to inform – Your fasting schedule must be known to your spouse who has to manage the arrangements. Lord Jesus warned against making it a big event, ‘when you fast anoint your head and wash your face and not like the hypocrites’ to show others that I am fasting (Matthew 6:16-17). Informing your Pastor may be a good idea for he will pray for you to receive the maximum benefit of the fasting prayer.

       Four, wean yourself off coffee and tea etc to avoid discomfort. Five, avoid all types of media like TV, radio, internet, newspapers etc to remain focused and to avoid temptations and to remain focused on the Word of God. Six, disconnect from your daily routine– Ask someone else to carry out your professional duties while leaving the cellphone and email management to someone else or let a standard message automatically go back to inform about your period of absence.

       Seven, beware of emotional disturbance due to lack of food and prepare accordingly to stay focused on God’s Word to overcome this problem. Eight, rest but laziness is bad and fasting time allows rest for the body and soul both for body rests from the task of eating and digestion etc while the soul rests from disturbing emotional messages of daily life. Nine, remain physically active – Enjoy God’s creation by going for a leisurely walk in the garden and rejoice in the witness of nature of God’s love. Ten, Be still and focus on God in obedience to God’s command to ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10). Fasting is to study, meditate upon and understand the Word of God, to memorize Bible verses, prayer and trying to know God.

       Fasting and prayer is about gazing into God’s heart while sharing our deep hurt and emotions with God to develop and cement a close relationship with Him. It is about a personal conversation where none else but God and I talk and listen to each other. salvation through faith in Lord Jesus is about entering beyond the torn curtain into the very presence of God. Lord Jesus calls the believers ‘His friends’ for He desires to share His plans with us. He willingly opens His heart to us expecting a similar action from us. Prayer and fasting is about gazing deep into His heart to understand Him while laying bare our own feelings and aspirations before him.  

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