The Benefits of Prayer with Fasting
When combined with prayer and a sincere passion for God, fasting can have a powerful influence on the effectiveness of our prayer life as well as our spiritual relationship with the Lord. Prayer with fasting has been a long-established regimen of God’s people, and was a standard practice of Jesus, His disciples and the early church. It is so important and vital for every believer, that it should be practiced on a regular, frequent basis.
Fasting is often thought of as simply abstaining from food, but it is much more than that. Its intent is to withdraw our attention from earthly and physical things, so to focus more clearly upon God and spiritual things. It is a type of discipline to humble our flesh, to reaffirm that we will not allow it or its desires, to manipulate or rule us... but that we give greater weight to our spiritual man in which God’s presence dwells.
Before the New Testament, the Jewish people had a long history with fasting. Among other special days set aside for fasts, pious Jews observed weekly fast days of Mondays and Thursdays... which was what a certain hypocritical Pharisee was boasting about, when he said, “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:12).
In the New Testament, Paul referred to prayer with fasting as something commonly practiced by believers (1 Corinthians 7:5). Jesus also expected His followers to fast, reminding them that “when you fast,” not to do so as a pious display, but as a private act of humility and sacred devotion to God (Matthew 6:16-18).
There are also scriptures that associate fasting with prayer for special instances of God’s presence or power, such as when hands were laid on Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2-3), or to ordain and commission elders into ministry. “So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23).
Scripture often associates fasting with seeking God passionately with one’s “whole heart,” such as by humbling ourselves before the Lord, repenting for sin, or seeking an answer or breakthrough from God. Such is illustrated when the prophet Joel called upon his people to repent for their sins. “Now, therefore, says the Lord, Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm” (Joel 2:12-13).
Abstaining from food is meant to humble or “lower” our “self” nature before God, to bring our natural man under submission to Him, to decrease its impact over what we think, believe and do. One of many past leaders and scholars who wrote extensively about this was Derek Prince, who fasted at least one day a week during his entire adult life. Citing from many scripture passages, such as Isaiah 58:5-9, Prince taught that humbling self is really what the fasting is all about. He wrote that “The primary purpose for fasting, as revealed in the Bible, is self-humbling. Fasting is a scriptural way to humble ourselves. All through the Bible God required His people to humble themselves before Him. God has revealed that a simple, practical way to humble ourselves is through fasting.”1
When combined together, prayer with fasting then becomes an intensified devotion toward God, drawing from His Spirit and strength... while also pulling away from earthly and physical influences and appetites. We might describe it as a discipline to tip the balance of what has leverage over us... away from our flesh nature, and toward the spiritual nature of God’s presence. This internal conflict is something believers will always contend with, and we must “continually” humble and surrender ourselves to the Lord so that He and His presence will govern our thoughts, decisions and lifestyle, rather than the superficial sensual nature of our flesh.
This helps to understand why prayer with fasting has such a beneficial influence on the effectiveness of our faith. Unbelief draws its strength from the carnal influences of the flesh, which will challenge and interfere with the spiritual nature of faith. The flesh is also the target of Satan’s many deceptions and temptations, through which he tries to disrupt or hinder our confidence in God and His Word. Consequently, prayer and fasting is a necessary ingredient to help purge the influences of unbelief, and to boost our sensitivity to the source of our faith, which is God and His Word.
An illustration of this can be seen in the instance when Christ’s disciples were unsuccessful in their attempt to exorcise a demon from a man’s son. In desperation, the man turned instead to Jesus for His help, who rebuked and expelled the devil. Later in private, the disciples came to Jesus, asking why they had failed. He replied that it was due to their unbelief... adding that this kind of challenge to their faith would require “prayer and fasting.” “Why could we not cast it out? So Jesus said to them, Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, move from here to there, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:19-21).
The famed Christian writer, Andrew Murray, once wrote, “Prayer needs fasting for its full and perfect development... Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. 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.”2
John Wesley believed so strongly in the spiritual importance of fasting that he refused to ordain young men to the ministry who would not fast two days each week.3 Martin Luther fasted regularly, and so did John Knox. Charles Finney said, “When empty of power I would set apart a day for private abstinence and prayer… after this, the power would return in all its freshness.”4
Other legendary figures such as E.M Bounds, John Calvin, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, D. L. Moody, Smith Wigglesworth, Oral Roberts, Gordon Lindsay, Lester Sumrall, Leonard Ravenhill, George Mueller, John Hyde and Billy Graham also were known to have made fasting, a part of their Christian discipline.
Finally, Bill Bright, the late founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, may have summed it up best from a single line in a little booklet he wrote. He said,“Fasting is the most powerful spiritual discipline of all the Christian disciplines. Through fasting and prayer, the Holy Spirit can transform your life.”5
1 Fasting: The Key to Releasing God’s Power in your Life, Derek Prince, 1993