Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fasting and Prayer

Fasting as a spiritual discipline is intentionally abstaining from something that is good for a period of time for the sake of spiritual growth – for prayer, to humble ourselves before God, to increase our awareness of our reliance on Him. Usually fasting is abstaining from food, though it may also be from drink, sleep or sex (I Cor 7:5). The goal is never to earn brownie points, show God or our friends how cool we are, to punish ourselves, or to make God change His mind.  Isaiah 58 warns about fasting for outward show, when instead God wants our hearts.

The purpose of fasting is "to take our eyes off the things of this world and instead focus on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God and to ourselves that we are serious about our relationship with Him.”  Fasting was described and encouraged in both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus says “when we fast” (not if) in Matthew 6:16-18 where He reminds us to fast in secret. Jesus Himself fasted for 40 days (Matt 4:2) at the start of His public ministry before calling the disciples. Fasting was not uncommon in the early church (e.g. Acts 13:2-3).

Campus Crusade for Christ has an excellent guide to fasting which covers why we should fast, how to fast safely, how long and what type, preparation, physical issues, and how to break your fast. There’s even some good information on fasting from the “Dummies” series: “Fasting provides self-discipline in an undisciplined age.” and “Fasting fosters concentration on God and his will.”  I would say fasting is particularly recommended for:
  • Seeking a renewed commitment and fresh start in your devotion for God
  • Seeking direction from God before a major decision or big event
  • Seeking physical healing for a loved one or someone going through a rough situation
  • Seeking deliverance from sin, temptation, or anything else where you seem stuck
If you’ve never really done any prayer and fasting, give it a try, and start small! Skip a lunch and take the hour to pray. Pray for other people, for guidance, in confession, with a listening heart. Before dinner when you’re feeling particularly hungry, take some time again to pray, to humble yourself before God, and to be acutely aware of your reliance on Him. Break the fast with a healthy meal (not a large pizza!)

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