The first time I can remember fasting was as a college sophomore. A group of guys I was in a Bible study with were feeling (pridefully) like we were ready for some more “next-level” Christian practices. To a bunch of 20 year-old-guys, withholding from food sounded about as extreme as moving to a monastery for 2 months (which we explored but was cost-prohibitive on our ramen budget). So, we took a day, and we didn’t eat. The results at the end of the day were not surprising…we were hungry. You see, our problem was that we fasted just to fast. Our “next-level” practice was detached from an entry-level belief: We need God.
Our problem was that we fasted just to fast.
In scripture, we are shown time and time again that when God’s people wanted to express their desperation for God, they prayed as they fasted. The people of God are a praying people from the beginning to the end of scripture. In addition to their constant prayerfulness, there are moments of intense longing where the authors of scripture make a point to tell us their prayers were accompanied by fasting.
When Ezra was about to lead the exiles back to Jerusalem, he proclaimed a fast for the people of the Lord to seek a safe passage (Ezra 8:23). When the eleven tribes prepared for war against the tribe of Benjamin, they fasted and prayed for guidance over whether or not it was God’s desire for them (Judges 20). When the Ninevites believed God through Jonah’s preaching, they expressed repentance through prayer and fasting (Jonah 3:5-8). When Jesus himself needed God to sustain him in the midst of temptation, he prayed and fasted (Matthew 4:1-11). Before the early church agreed to send out Barnabas and Saul to do missionary work, they prayed and fasted for the Lord’s confirmation of their calling (Acts 13:3). Fasting is a way God’s people express their dependence on God as they seek Him in prayer. Simply put, we need God. Each of us has individual needs, and collectively, we need God as a church family. We can probably list a number of things we feel we need from him, but above all, we need him. We need him to draw us closer to himself. He is the fountain of life. We need God.
Fasting is a way God’s people express their dependence on God as they seek Him in prayer.
So as we fast, there are three things I want us to go to the Lord with:
1. Ask the Lord to purify us from our desires for our idols. When we fast, we withhold the food we are usually dependent on. In the moments of hunger during a fast, I am reminded to turn my heart and mind to the Lord as I pray for him to sustain me and to be enough for me (Matthew 4:4). Often, the greatest enemies of closeness to God are his blessings that we have transformed into our obsessions. As we fast, we ask the Lord to reveal where we are depending on something other than him. This means prayer will function like a conversation with God where you talk some of the time, but you also listen and allow the Spirit of God to assess your life.
2. Ask the Lord to increase our hunger for him as a Church. We are called to be a people who long for, celebrate, and rest in the presence of God with us. The Gospel says God the Father loves us, God the Son has saved us, and the Spirit of God is with us, even now! Fasting expresses a humility that says, with Moses, “Lord, if you will not go with us, then we will not go!” (Exodus 33:15).
3. Ask the Lord to save the lost. Salvation belongs to the Lord and no one else. So, let’s ask God to save. Together, let us call on the compassion of God to bring those we know and love to saving faith in Christ. Pray for your “one.” The one person you know who is far from God but close to you. Pray he or she comes to know Christ. Pray God saves many at our Easter services in a couple of weeks! May our baptism waters be fuller than we ever thought possible!
The most important thing to remember is that fasting never earns the favor of God nor increases His willingness to answer our prayers.
The most important thing to remember is that fasting never earns the favor of God nor increases His willingness to answer our prayers. The Gospel is that God could not love you more than he already does in Christ.
Fasting is a spiritual discipline that trains your heart to love God and His glory more. Spiritual disciplines are not commendable or power-generating in themselves, they simply help connect us to God’s power. As Puritan John Owen says, “Fasting, memorization, meditation, and Bible reading have their place in order…but they are to be looked on as the streams, whereas we often (mistakenly) look on them as the fountain.” When we love God with a pure heart, God can pour out His blessings in an unfettered way on us (James 4:1–2; 5:16; Isaiah 59:1–2).
So, Mercy Church, pray and fast. Pray for God to receive glory among us. Pray he pours out his Spirit in a way that leaves us in awe this Easter. And come ready to pray with and to pray for your brothers and sisters.