Summary: Legalistic fasting is not a prayer key. It is just going hungry. Spiritual awareness that prompts us to pray may also prompt us to fast. May God make us more spiritually aware. May his spirit prompt us to pray, even to the point of forgetting to eat.
Prayer Keys - Fasting by Mark Stepherson
“But when you fast, put oil on you head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:17-18
Did you hear about the man who joined a monastery to become closer to God? The monastery emphasized contemplation and prayer. To aid their contemplation, to help focus all their thoughts on God, the monks took a one year vow of silence. They would abstain, they would "fast" from speaking. At the end of the year, they could speak two words about their meditations, then they were to take another one year vow of silence.
After the first year, the head monk asked, "What have you contemplated this first year?" He answered, "Bad food." Then he took an oath of silence for another year.
After the second year, the head monk asked, "What have you contemplated this second year?" He answered, "Hard bed." Then he took an oath of silence for another year.
After the third year, the head monk asked, "What have you contemplated this third year? He answered, "I quit."
The head monk said, "I’m not surprised. For three years you’ve done nothing but complain."
Fasting from speech did not improve his contemplation and prayer. It was not the experience he expected. Fasting from food was not the experience I expected.
Going into teaching this series, the Bible studies that made me most nervous were on not doubting and this one on fasting.
It is understandable that I would be nervous studying and teaching about not doubting when I have to begin with a confession that not only do I struggle with doubt, I struggle with the idea that it is possible not to doubt. My reasons for being nervous about this study may be less obvious.
First, I disagree with most of what I have read and heard about fasting. We should always be cautious when most people who study the Bible conclude one thing and we conclude something else.
Second, when I have intentionally fasted, the experience was never what I expected. I never felt closer to God, more focused on his will, or spiritually stronger. I knew I was not supposed to rely on feelings, that I was to walk by faith and not by sight, but my faith seemed to remain unchanged.
First, I disagree with most of what I have read and heard about fasting. Maybe you have heard or read some of the same things. For example:
1. Fasting takes our eyes off of the world and focuses them completely on God. It strengthens our dependence on him and deepens our fellowship with him.
2. Our physical hunger is redirected to a hunger for the things of God. We give up the natural in pursuit of the supernatural.
3. Fasting demonstrates to God and to ourselves that we want a deeper relationship with him, that we are devoted to him, that we are living in submission to him, that we trust him, that we are depending on him alone.
4. Fasting is a way to suffer or sacrifice for the Lord, and God always blesses our suffering and sacrifices.
5. Fasting cleanses the body and soul.
6. Fasting builds our faith.
7. New Testament Christians regularly practiced prayer and fasting.
Andrew Murray wrote the classic collection of books on prayer, including, “With Christ in the School of Prayer.” He said, "Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God."
Hudson Taylor spent 51 years as a missionary in China. In addition to direct mission work and aiding to translate the New Testament into one of the Chinese dialects, he founded China Inland Missions, directly responsible for sending 800 missionaries, starting 300 schools, and leading 18,000 Chinese people to Christ.
Hudson Taylor said, "Fasting is really a Divinely appointed means of grace. Perhaps the greatest hindrance to our work is our own imagined strength; and in fasting we learn what poor, weak creatures we are - dependent on a meal of meat for the little strength which we are so apt to lean upon."
My Bible study preparing for this lesson included every passage I could find on fasting or not eating. There are not as many as I expected. Nowhere does the Bible say any of the things just listed. There may be some truth in most of them, but the Bible does not confirm them. Most of them may be valid, personal experiences, but other people’s experiences should never be the source of our faith. For this study, I want to emphasize what the Bible emphasizes.