Praying Lesson 15: Prayer and Fasting

Lesson 15: Prayer and Fasting

Dan 9:3And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:


Mt 17:21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

Ac 14:23 And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

1Co 7:5 Defraud ye not one the other, except [it be] with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

The spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting are mentioned together repeatedly in the Bible.

  1. Definition
    1. Fasting is voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual reasons. More broadly, a fast is any time you refrain from doing something you usually do, for spiritual reasons. The Bible refers only to fasting from food.
    2. The NT indicates that fasting is appropriate at certain times. Jesus stated more than once that his disciples would fast (Mt 6:16-17, 9:14-15, 17:21) and the early church participated in fasting (Acts 13:2, 14:23). However, Paul mentions it only once (1Cor 7:5) without recommending it as normal.
    3. Is fasting a necessary element of the Christian life? Apparently not. One is not required to fast in order to live a godly Christian life. Fasting is a practice that Christians may and perhaps should participate in from time to time for certain reasons. But it does not seem to be a universal expectation for believers.
    4. Types of fasts:
      1. In a normal fast, one abstains from all food except water (or other liquids). The human body cannot normally function without water for more than 2-3 days (Luke 4:2).
      2. In a limited fast, one abstains from certain kinds of foods or liquids (Dan 1:12).
      3. In a congregational fast, the whole congregation agrees to abstain for a designated period in order to pursue spiritual goals (Acts 13:2).
      4. In a supernatural (miraculous) fast, biblical characters abstained from both food and water for extended periods without sensing any need for such. For example, Moses spent 40 days on the mountain without eating food or drinking any water (Deut 9:9). This was a miracle, and we should not expect the same to be repeated today.
      5. Other fasts: in the OT, several occasions are mentioned that require fasting. E.g., Lev. 23:14; Num. 29:7; Esther 9:30–31
  2. Reasons to fast

Remember that biblical fasting must have spiritual reasons. There may be beneficial health reasons associated with fasting, but that’s not what we are concerned with here. If one fasts, it should be for one or more of the following biblical reasons.

  1. To strengthen prayer: Fasting brings a note of urgency and sincerity to our prayers. Fasting doesn’t guarantee that God will answer prayer in the way that we desire, but it does show that we are serious and sincere about a matter. Fasting is often associated with prayer (Ezra 8:23;Neh 1:4;Dan 9:3;Acts 13:3). We abstain from food for the purpose of seeking God.
    1. Pray and fast in times of affliction or distress (2 Sam 12:16-17; Ezra 9:5; Lk 4:1-2). Fasting is sometimes described as “afflicting one’s soul” (Isa 58:3). Tearing one’s clothes, weeping, and the application of ashes indicate one’s affliction, humility, and submission to God (cf. Est 4:3).
    2. Pray and fast for wisdom in making decisions (Acts 13:2-3, 14:23). Significant decisions may require additional spiritual exertion.
    3. Pray and fast for deliverance or protection (2 Chron 20:1-4; Ezra 8:21-23; Esther 4:16).
    4. Pray and fast to express repentance for sin (1 Sam 7:6; Neh 9:1-2; Joel 2:12).
    5. Pray and fast to express and/or renew your dedication to God and to worship Him or in preparation for ministry (Luke 2:37; Acts 13:1-3). Fasting as an element of worship seems to have been a normal practice in the early church.
    6. To humble yourself before God (1King 21:27-29; Ps 35:13) (Note: it’s possible to fast without humility [Luke 18:12]). One fasting should not make it publicly visible by looking gloomy (Mt 6:16-18).
    7. To express grief: Especially in the OT, fasting is associated with death and grief (Judg 20:26; 1 Sam 31:13; 2 Sam 1:11-12).
    8. To discipline your body and/or to overcome temptation

While fasting is not an essential aspect of the Christian life, it may be a common part of it, depending on one’s circumstances. It should be more common than it is. Fasting is thoroughly appropriate in many situations, and participation in fasting may support your spiritual health.

Note: Always seek medical advice before fasting. Some physical conditions make fasting dangerous.

Lessons in this Course
Prayer Lesson 1: The Importance of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 2: Overcoming the Difficulties of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 3: What is Prayer?
Prayer Lesson 4: Our Perspective on Prayer
Praying Lesson 5: Praying in Jesus’ Name
Praying Lesson 6: How Not to Pray
Praying Lesson 7: The Model Prayer Matt 6:9-15
Praying Lesson 8: Pray-ers that Pleases God
Praying Lesson 9: Persistence in Prayer
Praying Lesson 10: Learning from Paul’s Prayers
Praying Lesson 11: Learning from OT Prayers
Praying Lesson 12: Prayer as an Expression of Spirituality
Praying Lesson 13: The Five Different Kinds of Prayer in the Psalms
Praying Lesson 14: Prerequisites to Effective Prayer
Praying Lesson 15: Prayer and Fasting

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