Jesus said, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Luke 9:23).
In the daily pace of modern society it is easy to lose our focus on God. That’s why as Christians, it is critical that we fast from time to time to help bring us a truer sense of God’s desire for our lives. Through fasting and prayer, our communication with the Lord moves to a dynamic and highly sensitive level
I. WHY WE SHOULD FAST
It was a custom of some of the early prophets, church leaders and Christian disciples to have a period of fasting, or self-denial, during which believers said, "I want to deny myself and draw closer to God." Recently, the practice of fasting has become popular among other segments of the Church as well.
Throughout the Bible you can see that it was assumed there would be fasting. This is the reason religious leaders challenged Jesus about why His disciples didn’t participate. He replied that people shouldn’t fast in the presence of the Bridegroom, but they would when He was taken away (see Matthew 9:14-15).
II. THE PURPOSE OF FASTING
If you want to be changed, you must start with a heart of repentance and forgiveness. You can’t begin a fast holding something against someone. If you’re going to ask God to hear your voice, you must be willing to love and forgive others. Psalm 24:3 asks, "Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place?" The reply is in the following verse: "He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood, and has not sworn deceitfully."
Fasting is going without food and only consuming liquids. Some people will just fast a meal, and you can do that, but if you are in a desperate situation or are praying about a serious matter in someone’s life or about breaking a stronghold, you need to get serious about fasting. Skipping one meal isn’t serious fasting.
III. THE BENEFITS OF FASTING
A. Release Of Spiritual Power In Your Personal Life.
Before beginning His ministry, Jesus was driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, where He didn’t eat for 40 days. Although Jesus lacked food, He was strengthened and nourished through His direct and intimate communion with the Father. That is why fasting is so important to the Believer. It causes us to focus directly on our Creator and Lord. This is where our true strength comes from. In fact, some believe that the time Jesus spent fasting brought Him so close to the Father that the devil’s tempting was needed in order to get Him refocused on His earthly mission and to get started on the path set before Him. His personal holiness and the increased spiritual power released as a direct result of His fasting helped Him face the devil -- and emerge victorious. (Matthew 4)
B. Release Of Spiritual Power In Ministry.
Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch were Barnabas and Symeon (also called "The Black Man"), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (the foster-brother of King Herod), and Paul. One day as these men were worshiping and fasting the Holy Spirit said, "Dedicate Barnabas and Paul for a special job I have for them." So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them -- and sent them on their way. (Acts 13:1-3 TLB)
Note again what else they are doing besides fasting? -WORSHIPING AND PRAYING.
It doesn’t specifically say praying, but how do we know they were? It says the Holy Spirit spoke to them. What is prayer? It is communication with God through the Holy Spirit.
C. Hearing The Word Of The Lord.
In response to Daniel’s fast, God sent an angel to give him insight and understanding .
"So I earnestly pleaded with the Lord God [to end our captivity and send us back to our own land]. As I prayed, I fasted and wore rough sackcloth, and I sprinkled myself with ashes." (Dan 9:3 TLB)
"Even while I was praying and confessing my sin and the sins of my people, desperately pleading with the Lord my God for Jerusalem, his holy mountain, Gabriel, whom I had seen in the earlier vision, flew swiftly to me at the time of the evening sacrifice and said to me, "Daniel, I am here to help you understand God’s plans. The moment you began praying a command was given. I am here to tell you what it was, for God loves you very much. Listen and try to understand the meaning of the vision that you saw!" (Dan 9:20-23 TLB)
Acts 13:1-3 also gives another reason for fasting. We have left our normal worldly routines behind and focused on the Lord so our ears are open and attentive.
Ezra was a priest and scribe that attempted to bring reform to Israel after they had been subjected to corruption from foreign contact. Rather than asking the King for protection, Ezra proclaimed a fast.
Ezra proclaimed the fast before leading a flock of exiled Jewish families on a perilous journey from Babylon and home to Jerusalem.
"Then I declared a fast while we were at the Ahava River so that we would humble ourselves before our God; and we prayed that he would give us a good journey and protect us, our children, and our goods as we traveled. For I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and cavalry to accompany us and protect us from the enemies along the way. After all, we had told the king that our God would protect all those who worshiped him, and that disaster could come only to those who had forsaken him! So we fasted and begged God to take care of us. And he did." (Ezra 8:21-23 TLB)
Note that Ezra and the people did more than to just go without eating. They humbled themselves and sought God. They sought Him through prayer and God responded by listening
E. Avoiding Disaster and Destruction
During a devastating famine in Israel, the prophet Joel -- inspired by God--decreed that there should be a holy fast. He ordained a solemn assembly with all the people confessing their sins and the priests weeping and interceding before the altar (Joel 2:12-17).
In the Book of I Kings we learn that Ahab was an evil King when he reigned over Israel along with his wife Jezebel (21:20-29)
Elijah spoke to Ahab the words of the Lord. Elijah said that God was going to destroy Ahab and his wife because of their evil deeds. Ahab responded by tearing his clothes and placing sackcloth upon his flesh as a way of humbling himself. However, more significantly is that he received the Word from God with a truly repentant heart. God then reversed His judgement upon Ahab and Jezebel. Ahab had responded the way God wanted and avoided destruction.
F. Help In Times Of Trials, Tribulations and Battles
Joel describes the plague of the locusts and calls the people to repentance. He urges them to mourn, tremble, fast and pray.
"The grapevines are dead; the fig trees are dying; the pomegranates wither; the apples shrivel on the trees; all joy has withered with them. O priests, robe yourselves in sackcloth. O ministers of my God, lie all night before the altar, weeping. For there are no more offerings of grain and wine for you. Announce a fast; call a solemn meeting. Gather the elders and all the people into the Temple of the Lord your God, and weep before him there." (Joel 1:12-14 TLB)
"That is why the Lord says, "Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me all your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, mourning. Let your remorse tear at your hearts and not your garments." Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful. He is not easily angered; he is full of kindness and anxious not to punish you. Who knows? Perhaps even yet he will decide to let you alone and give you a blessing instead of his terrible curse. Perhaps he will give you so much that you can offer your grain and wine to the Lord as before! Sound the trumpet in Zion! Call a fast and gather all the people together for a solemn meeting." (Joel 2:12-15 TLB)
Once all of the people joined in the fast and sought God’s face, the Lord promised restoration; "See, I am sending you much corn and wine and oil, to fully satisfy your need. No longer will I make you a laughingstock among the nations. I will remove these armies from the north and send them far away; I will turn them back into the parched wastelands where they will die; half shall be driven into the Dead Sea and the rest into the Mediterranean, and then their rotting stench will rise upon the land. The Lord has done a mighty miracle for you." (Joel 2:18-20 TLB)
When God does answer and vindicates you, it is very important to praise Him for His wondrous grace and mercy. So here we see a wonderful case of God’s deliverance. The locusts in this story can represent for us today, any kind of battle or opposition in our lives.
When King Jehoshaphat heard the news that the surrounding kingdoms had declared war on his kingdom he gave orders that "everyone throughout Judah should observe a fast. So the people from all the towns of Judah came to Jerusalem to seek the Lord." (II Chronicles 20:3 NLT)
The people cried out to God and declared, "Whenever we are faced with any calamity such as war, disease, or famine, we come to stand in your presence before this temple where your name is honored. We cry out to you and you will hear us and rescue us". (II Chronicles 20:9 NLT)
H. Power For World Outreach.
The Book of Acts includes "the minutes" of a pivotal meeting of disciples. "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ’Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul"’ (Acts 13:2a, NIV). The fruit of that fast was the commissioning of two missionaries who set the gentile world on fire for Jesus Christ.