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Prayer, fasting and the power of God

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John Wesley took a dim view of pre-revival America, but he had a plan to change it. Wesley spent time in the colonies and reported, “I desired as many as could to join together in fasting and prayer, that God would restore the spirit of love and of a sound mind to the poor deluded rebels in America.” Even a side glance at the current cultural moment demonstrates that prayer and fasting are just as urgently needed for the “poor deluded rebels in America” today as they were when the nation was new.

Prayer is mentioned hundreds of times in Scripture, and fasting is mentioned about 70 times. Prayer can obviously be practiced without fasting, but fasting, as Scripture describes it, is impossible without prayer. Even when fasting is discussed in passages where prayer is not explicitly mentioned, prayer is obviously implied. 

Prayer implied with fasting

Prayer is not always in the foreground of passages about fasting, but it is reasonable to see it at all times in the background.  The experience of Jesus, for instance, is an example. Prayer is not explicitly mentioned when He fasted 40 days in the Judean desert (Matt. 4:1-11). 

 During those 40 days without food, alone, considering Scripture, fighting the devil, does anyone think Jesus didn’t pray without ceasing? It’s an impossible conclusion. Of course, He prayed. 

The humility of fasting

The purpose and practice of fasting were firmly established in the Old Testament as an expression of humility to better approach God. In other words, fasting was a form of repentance in prayer. In numerous instances, even when the word prayer isn’t mentioned, the expression of humility with fasting acts as a visible demonstration of a prayerful approach toward God (Judg. 20:26; 1 Sam. 7:6; 2 Sam. 12:22, etc.). 

Remember Ezra? He left Babylon confidently and headed for Jerusalem, but he didn’t get far before he realized his pride would compromise his mission. So, he called a fast. 

Observe carefully the exact moment when fasting, humility, and prayer all came together. The Bible says, “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods” (Ezra 8:21). Fasting produces prayerful humility. This is the meaning of David’s lament when he said, “Yet when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled myself with fasting, and my prayer was genuine” (Ps. 35:13).

Fasting as a spiritual exercise makes no sense without prayer. In Scripture, therefore, no matter what vocabulary is used, fasting in humility always belongs with prayer. 

Fasting and praying for what’s next

From the biblical heroes, we learn that fasting often anticipates and precedes a new display of God’s power in the church or in an individual’s life. The late Bill Bright was unrestrained in his exuberance about fasting and prayer and what could happen as a result. He once said, “I believe the power of fasting as it relates to prayer is the spiritual atomic bomb that our Lord has given us to destroy the strongholds of evil and usher in a great revival and spiritual harvest around the world.” His view of fasting and prayer has biblical support in this specific sense – prayer and fasting often usher in an otherwise unpredicted future. It happened frequently in Scripture. 

 For instance, Moses fasted and prayed prior to God giving him the Ten Commandments (Ex. 34:28). Elijah fasted and prayed, and God gave him a new mission and a successor (1 Kings 19:8-21). Nehemiah fasted and prayed, and God led him to help rebuild a nation (Neh. 1:4-8). Daniel fasted and prayed, and God showed him a vision of the end times (Dan. 10:2-12:9). Esther fasted; and, as a result, she prevented a genocide (Est. 4:16). Anna fasted and prayed, and she recognized the infant messiah (Luke 2:36-38). Paul, and the leaders in Antioch, fasted and prayed and launched an evangelistic mission to the nations (Acts 13:1-4). Jesus fasted and then began His public ministry, which led all the way to the cross and resurrection. 

A pattern starts to emerge from so many similar experiences. After people fasted, God did something new.

So, how do we fast and pray for something new? Let’s observe some principles gathered from Scripture. 

• Fast and pray until God teaches you the lessons learned only in deep humility. We never discover God’s best through pride. Instead, as Watchmen Nee once said, “There is just one basic dealing which can enable man to be useful before God: brokenness.”

• Take your time in prayer and fasting. Jesus fasted 40 days. Moses fasted 40 days. Ezra fasted three days. Nehemiah fasted for several days. Paul fasted a day or more in Antioch. The only fast required in the Old Testament lasted at least one day (Lev. 16:29-31). You can pray quickly, but you cannot fast quickly! If you want what matters most to God in your life, give him what matters most in your life – time. 

• Expect God’s blessing when you sincerely fast and pray. No one in Scripture ever fasted and prayed without receiving a blessing, and God hasn’t changed. 

If you humbly pray and fast, you can expect God to open doors of opportunity you might never expect any other way. Since fasting is so biblical and so helpful, shouldn’t you do it?

    About the Author

  • Kie Bowman

    Kie Bowman is senior pastor emeritus of Hyde Park Baptist Church and The Quarries Church in Austin, Texas and the SBC National Director of Prayer.

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