When you hear those words, “fasting & prayer”, what goes on in your mind? Do you cringe? Do you get excited? Do you use it as an opportunity to loose weight? Or maybe you are like me when I was a little girl: I use to hear those words and get an image of an old, white-haired, long-bearded, solom-looking man, who is “exercising his spiritual disciplines”. The wide-variety of reactions to even the suggestion tells alot about the misconceptions of it.
So, let’s take a minute & set things straight:
First of all, there is no mandate (aka “command”) in the Bible to fast. There are patterns or examples of people doing that & God never commands us not to do it, so based on the facts we can conclude that it is not a sin to do so. But I think it is important to remember that we are not sinning if we don’t do it & we aren’t sinning if we do do it…. it’s a personal preference.
Secondly, the primary purpose of fasting is to remind ourselves that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. In other words, we need bread (aka food) in order to sustain our bodies & live. However, food is not the only thing that we need to sustain us in life. We also need “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (aka the Bible) because God reveals Himself & His Gospel message through His Words, as recorded on the pages of the Bible. So, by fasting, we are essentially reminding ourselves that it is God & His Word that truly sustains us in life.
Lastly, most people think of fasting together with prayer. They go so well together because when we fast, our bodies become hungry. God, in His intricate design of the human body, created our bodies to notify us when it needs food by creating a sensation of hunger. When that goes unnoticed, our bodies growl & create noise to capture our attention. This is a really cool thing & from a biological/physiological point of view… a lot goes on inside the body to make this happen. But when we are fasting, we essentially are making a conscientious choice to deprive our body’s sensations & cravings. Our minds discipline themselves to deliberately not gratify our body’s desire for food. It is a great spiritual exercise in mastering your fleshly cravings & “buffeting your body” (as Paul says 🙂 for the purpose of righteousness. However, there another reason that these two practices, fasting & prayer, tend to go together. As our body’s create sensations of hunger, they remind us of our “spiritual hunger” for God & His Word. It serves as a sort of biological alarm-clock. Every time our bodies send us a physical sensation of hunger, we can automatically turn that sensation into a reminder of our spiritual hunger & pray. As we begin to feel weak and tempted when fasting, again, we can turn those into opportunities to pray for strength and protection.
I could write more, but in short, I would say that fasting helps remind us of our spiritual need for God and turns us to prayer when we feel the sensation of hunger or when we feel weak.