Today I want to share with you some teaching on the subject of “fasting”. This is not a popular or contemporay subject and one that very few Christians in the west understand. Many times when we think about fasting we focus on the discipline and the hardship and the denial and we don’t realise the incredible power, joy, life and breakthrough that comes as we fast and pray.
In Matthew chapter 6 Jesus is talking to his disciples when He mentions several things that His followers should do: “when you give ” (v2), “when you pray” (v5). He simply says “when you”, in other words giving and prayer should be a normal part of the Christian life. Interestingly, Jesus also includes fasting in this list of normal Christian activities “When you fast, 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.” (v16-18).
Jesus expected His disciples to fast! This wasn’t just for the “spiritual ones” but for all his followers! In Matthew 9, Jesus again mentions fasting “The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (v15). There was no need to fast when Jesus was on earth, and there will be no need to fast in heaven. However the time in between (the church age), is the time for Christians to fast! We are living in that day – now is the time to fast, and pray that Gods Kingdom would come, on earth, as it is in heaven.
What fasting does:
a) fasting denies the flesh
As long as our flesh is more powerful than our spirit, we will be very weak Christians. If can learn however to deny the flesh, then the consequence of that will be that our spirit man is strengthened. Derek Prince said “fasting brings both the soul and spirit under the subjection of the Holy Spirit. It is important to understand that fasting changes man and not God. God can work powerfully through a changed person”
Smith Wigglesworth struggled with a bad temper for many years. One day he decided enough was enough and told his wife he was going to go into his “prayer closet” to pray and fast. He would not come out till he had won the battle over his flesh. After sometime, Wigglesworth emerged a changed person. He never struggled with his temper again.
b) fasting shows God you are serious about seeking Him
It is one thing to say we are desperate for God, one thing to sing about it, and quite another to actually do it and tenaciously go after God with everything we have! Fasting demonstrates your determination to seek God! Fasting shows that we are more hungry for God than we are for food. We crave Him more than we do our favourite meal. The Bible tells us God will “fill the hungry with good things”. Jesus told us we would be blessed if we “hungered and thirsted after righteousness”
In 2007 I got so desperate for God I went away for a week long retreat. I told God I was not leaving till I had had an encounter with Him! I fasted and prayed for several days, and on the last night, I encountered the glory of God in a life changing way. I have never been the same since! I had told God I was passionate for Him for years, but it wasn’t till I had combined fasting with prayer that I truly met with Him.
c) Fasting activates your spiritual senses
In Acts 13v2 the church was fasting when the Holy Spirit told them to appoint Saul and Barnabas as apostles. Fasting enabled them to hear the voice of the Lord more clearly.
In Luke 2, we read about a lady called Anna who lived a lifestyle of fasting. This woman’s prophetic senses were open and she saw things in the Spirit about Jesus that not even His own mother saw.
I have learnt that the more I fast, the more my spiritual senses are activated enabling me to see what He sees, hear what He hears and feel what He feels.
Cleddie Keith tells a story of a lady in his church known as Sister Tweedy. Although she was only five feet tall she was a giant in God! One evening Cleddie caught a man trying to break into a building. He took this man back to his office when the man started to get violent and started to manifest a demon. Pastor Cleddie called Sister Tweedy to the church and asked her if she had been fasting, she replied that she had. She boldly went by herself into the pastors office and a few minutes later the man had been totally set free. A few weeks later he was baptised in water. Thank God that this Pastor had a woman in his church who lived a lifestyle of prayer and fasting!
Brother Yun says this “It is a marvelous thing when Gods people fast and pray together in unity. It moves the heart of the Lord. Food is the most basic of human needs. Satan knew this when he tempted Adam and Eve with food. To wilfully deny yourself food in order to seek the Lord brings great blessing to your life and circumstance. Whenever you feel overwhelmed by the size and strength of the enemy forces arrayed against you, withdraw and earnestly seek the face of Jesus just as Jehosophat and the people of Judah did. To earnestly seek God is a powerful act of faith. God is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him”
There are many examples in both the Old and New Testament of people who fasted.
1. Ezra fasted for protection
“I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.” (Ezra 8v21)
One thing prayer and fasting does is release the protection of God over our homes, our children, our possessions, our jobs and our finances. It is part of our abiding in God, and God tells us that when we abide in Him, He will cover us with His feathers (Psalm 91). Prayer and fasting releases angelic activity.
2. Esther prayed and fasted for favour with the king
When it comes to our heavenly King, we don’t need to twist His arm in order to get Him to love us, however there is no doubt that fasting can release an extra dimension of Gods favour over our lives and churches
3. Fasting for our leaders
“Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” (Acts 14v23)
What a powerful thing to pray and fast for our leaders! It surely brings the blessing of God to a church!
4. Nehemiah fasted for renewal (see book of Nehemiah)
Every revival in history has been preceded by people who prayed and fasted. Jonathan Edwards, who was moved powerfully in the Great Awakening was a man who fasted regulaly. It is said that he fasted for 24 hours before he preached his famous sermon “sinners in the hands of an angry God”
If you were to ask most Christians to name the most significant figure in the Old Testament and the most significant in the New, it wouldn’t be long before the names David and Paul came up. Both David and Paul were men who fasted regularly. David said in Psalm 109 “my knees give way from fasting” whilst Paul said in 2 Corinthians that he “fasted often”. Paul began his ministry with a three day fast. David said in Psalm 35 “when my friends were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting”.
There were occasions when the whole nation of Israel came together to fast. In 1 Samuel 7, Samuel calls the whole nation together to fast and pray as a sign of repentance. in 2 Chronicles 20, there is the famous account of Jehoshophat sending out his worship team to face the enemy forces and as they sang, the enemy was defeated. However before he sent them out, Jehosphat called the whole nation together to fast and pray.
We would probably fast too if we thought we were going to die! The reality is that there are people who are spiritually dying because they don’t know Jesus! Imagine if we could get the WHOLE church to fast! Imagine the power that would come! Imagine the victory that would come!
Some practical principles that have helped me regarding fasting:
1. There is no “ideal” time to start a fast
Looking for week that is completely free when you can fast? Forget it! There is always a meal, always a birthday, always an event with food. You just have to bite the bullet and go for it!
2. Fasting should be for a set time and a set purpose
If you break your fast when you “feel” like you’ve done enough, it would probably last for about 20 minutes! I find it good to decide beforehand how long I am going to fast for and break the fast when I have completed that time or when I have received a certain breakthrough. Likewise, fasting shouldn’t be done just for the sake of fasting. It should be done for a reason – either a specific thing you are believing God for, or just to generally draw closer to Him.
3. Is it ok to fast things other than food?
Some people say that they eat normally but fast dessert, or certain drinks or they fast watching tv. As always we look at the bible as our guide. Fasting in the Bible was clearly abstaining from food. Jesus (our ultimate example) fasted 40 days and 40 nights (us missing Eastenders or cutting out the second bar of galaxy in the fridge is not really a true sacrifice in comparison!
However, in addition to fasting from food, of course it is ok to fast other things for a season too. Indeed this can be very powerful and effective. Some of the girls in our youth once fasted chocolate for a month, whilst a pastor I know, gets his church to go on a media fast at a certain point during the year. This kind of fasting can be a great way of extending a fast, as we have to eat at some point. The key is always that God sees the heart and sees whether what we are doing is truly sacrifical.
4. Is it ok to do a partial fast?
Yes! Check out the book of Daniel, where the Hebrews ate only vegetables. David Wilkerson fasted one day a week, but ate a piece of toast each morning. If I am doing a long fast, sat 21 days or longer, I may once or twice a week have a piece of fruit or toast to keep my energy levels up if I am working. This kind of fast can be good for under 16’s, the elderly or the sick. For certain medical reasons you may be unable to do a total fast, but there is always something you can do!
5. Fasting must be accompanied by prayer!
Even an extra few minutes is useful! Fasting without prayer is called a diet!
6. Fasting is never easy!
Of course you will feel hungry! (even Jesus did!) You may get headaches, you may feel weak or tired, you will get cravings for certain kinds of foods. None of these are reasons not to fast. This is normal! Some people get discouraged because they don’t see the immediate benefits to fasting. Remember you may not see the benefits during the fast itself, but you WILL see the benefits! Fasting is NEVER without results! Jesus said “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, WILL reward you”
7. During a fast drink lots of water and if you have been on a longer fast, come off slowly, don’t stuff your face or you will make yourself ill!
8. All spiritual things should be done out of love
We don’t fast out of guilt, or because we are forced to, or to impress anybody (including God!) We do it because we love Jesus and we want to love Him with “all our strength”
Isaiah 58 shows us the power of prayer and fasting. If we get a revelation of these things, then I believe it will cause us to go into a fast with excitement and anticpation.
“your light will break forth like dawn” – as we fast there will be a release of revelation (light) and we can know God and His Word in a greater way
“your healing will quickly appear” – as we fast there will be a release of the miraculous
“your righteousness will quickly appear” – fasting helps us walk in right relationship with God
“the glory of the Lord shall be your reaguard” – as we fast there will be an outpouring of the Spirit of God and His presence, glory and fire
“you will call and the Lord will answer” – as we fast we shall see prayers answered
“The Lord will guide you always” – as we fast we can find God’s direction for our lives
“He will satisfy your need” – fasting can release God’s provision
“He will strengthen your feeble frame” – spiritual strength comes from prayer and fasting
“you will be like a well watered garden” – as we fast we experience refreshing and flourishing
verse 12 talks about revival, restoration, renewal, Gods kingdom coming in power. These are the results when Gods people pray and fast. Joel 3 talks about God pouring out His Spirit. But this follows His people turning to Him in fasting and prayer.
Fasting leads to:
1. Power in prayer
When we combine fasting and prayer it can be very powerful. Daniel fasted 21 days before he got his breakthrough. Hannah fasted and prayed and God enabled her to conceive. My own mother fasted and prayed and my younger brother was totally healed of stammering.
2. Power over the devil
“this kind of demon can only come out through prayer and fasting” – Jesus
Yongi Cho says “as we learn to fast and pray and exercise our rightful authority, satan and his forces must yield to the will of God”. I always fast before an overseas mission, and have seen many demon possessed people set free.
3. Power in the Holy Spirit
Rees Howells, John G Lake, Maria Woodworth Etter, William Seymour, Reinhard Bonkke – all men or women who fasted often. David Hogan, the missionary to South America has seen over 400 people raised from the dead. Prior to the first person being raised, his team fasted 3 days a week for a year.
At the end of Jesus’ fast in Luke 3, the Bible tells us He left “in the power of the Spirit”
Why do most Christians not see the need to fast. Perhaps the enemy has blinded us to its power. Its time we started to take prayer and fasting seriously! “Your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you”