We’ve been looking at reasons for fasting – when we should get the fasting tool out of our spiritual tool box and put it to use. Last blog talked about using fasting to draw closer to God.
In addition, fasting has often been used by God’s people when there is a special urgency about the concerns they lift to the Father.
This was Ezra’s motivation as he was about to lead a group of exiles back to Jerusalem. The result was that God heard and granted his requests and brought success to his mission.
Ezra 8:21-23 There, by the Ahava Canal, 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.” … So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.
Of course, this is not to say that if we fast God is required to do as we ask. Fasting is not and never has been a way of pressuring God into giving us something. It is a way of giving ourselves fully to God so that we can say with confidence: “Thy will be done.”
For others, fasting can be a way to express to God the depth of what we’re feeling. You may remember that when Haman convinced King Xerxes to permit him to eliminate the Jews in the book of Esther, this was the response of God’s people to the news (See Esther 3:8-11; 4:3). They even went so far as to cover themselves with sackcloth and ashes, a sign of great lamentation.
For others, fasting is a way to demonstrate just how serious we are about repenting of our sin. This is what the Jews sometimes did when they repented and turned back to God (see 1 Samuel 7:3-6). Nineveh, too, fasted to show repentance for sin (Jonah 3:5-10). So did Paul after seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).
Still another reason for fasting can be to enhance worship. The prophetess Anna never left the temple we are told (See Luke 2:37) but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.
The church at Antioch saw a unique relationship between the two as well (See Acts 13:2).
J. I Packer provides additional insight…”When friends need to be together,” he says, “they will cancel all other activities in order to make that possible. There’s nothing magical about fasting. It’s just one way of telling God that your priority at that moment is to be alone with him…”
Fasting is not just an exercise in self-denial but rather a re-investment of time and energy into time spent with the Lord in either prayer or Bible Study. The bottom line is that fasting ENRICHES our time spent with the Lord. If you find your worship experience to be somewhat hollow and empty, perhaps you need to fast as the saints in Antioch did.
Some fast to help them find guidance and direction from God. Paul did that after his salvation experience (Acts 9). Later in his ministry, Paul (and Barnabas) did not dare to appoint elders without praying and fasting over the matter. Nehemiah fasted to receive God’s direction and wisdom about the situation in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1). The early church fasted before sending out missionaries (Acts 13:1-3; 14:23).
Also, we can fast to help receive deliverance in times of crisis. Jehosphat proclaimed a fast when the Moabites and Ammonites attacked (2 Chronicles 20). Our own Declaration of Independence came about after a day of fasting and prayer was observed. During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln proclaimed times of prayer and fasting.