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Prayer and Fasting

Description

Fasting is not simply skipping a meal, but abstaining from food for some time in to focus on God. In fact, the Hebrew word means "humbly submitting oneself to God."

"When you fast …" (Matthew 6:16)

"Have whatever you want, whenever you want it" sums up Western consumer society. If you can’t afford it now, pay for it later. Don’t miss out; you deserve it now! Sadly, this attitude spills over into our lives and the thought of denying oneself is anathema to many Christians. Yet the Bible says that denying ourselves can be the very way of receiving what we are looking for! And that’s where fasting comes in.

Fasting is not simply about skipping a meal (that’s either dieting or working too hard!), but about abstaining from food for a period of time in order to focus on God. In fact, the Hebrew word means "humbly submitting oneself to God." It’s a way of saying, "Lord, there is nothing more important in my life than you – not even eating."

While fasting was originally voluntary, the Pharisees turned it into a twice-weekly requirement and an outward show of piety. Some Christians have therefore shunned fasting, though it is thoroughly biblical and was practiced and encouraged by Jesus. The Bible contains several types of fast: the normal fast (abstaining from food, but not from water); the partial fast (abstaining from particular foods for a period of time);  the complete fast (abstaining from both food and water); the special fast (lasting forty days at crisis times). Reasons for fasting included seeking God, humbling oneself, seeking God’s help, bringing spiritual release or breakthrough, releasing spiritual power, seeking guidance and demonstrating repentance.

Fasting can help our prayers, for it shows our resolve – though it is not a "hunger strike" to force God to answer! Because of its potential for outward show, the Bible lays great stress on the inner attitudes that must accompany it. Without the right heart, it is quite meaningless. As John Wesley prayed, "Let our fasting be done unto the Lord, with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven."

Jesus anticipated that his followers would fast, as our opening verse shows. It is not a duty, however, but a powerful weapon in our prayer armory, and one that God has promised to bless and use. Is it time for you to use it?

We fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer. (Ezra 8:23)

Copyright © 2017 Martin Manser and Mike Beaumont

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