Praying Effectively with Fasting
Are you wanting your prayers to be more effective? James 5:16 says that a righteous person’s prayers are powerful and effective. That’s a wonderful promise! The requirement for powerful and effective prayers is living righteously. All it takes is a willingness to follow God by loving and obeying Him.
Sometimes, your prayers can be made more effective by fasting. The main purpose of fasting is to draw near to God, usually by giving up food and drink (other than water). When you’re fasting, you become more reliant on God and allow His presence to sustain you.
A Privilege, Not a Burden
Fasting should be considered a privilege and not a burden. The moment you feel that it’s a burden is the moment that you begin resenting God and the things of God. When you understand that it’s a privilege, then your suffering will turn to joy.
The Apostle Paul fasted often. Sometimes it wasn’t by choice, but he knew that nothing happened to him without God’s knowledge, so he would have taken the opportunity to commit those times to prayer as well. He understood how weak the flesh could be. He even boasted in his weaknesses, because he understood that it was an opportunity to lean on God’s strength and not his own. God even spoke to him directly and told him that power is perfected in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9‑10).
Fasting is your opportunity to connect with God on a deeper level. The desire for food is a huge drive in life, so when you lay that aside, you are driven towards God. It’s a time of you becoming less and God becoming more.
It’s harder to fast when you have to be around food. I remember the few times I fasted while serving as a missionary on board Operation Mobilization’s ship the Doulos. Those times weren’t easy, because I was a “pantry girl” and part of my job included serving food. Ironically, it happened more than once that the times I chose to fast ended up being days when there were leftover pastries from a conference being held on the ship. One time I gave in to the nice-looking food and broke my fast. Afterward, I realized that it wasn’t worth it and regretted my weakness. The next time I resisted and held to my fast, but then resentment toward God and fasting crept in. At this point, I realized that my attitude needed readjusting.
Is it okay for people to know that you’re fasting? Sometimes people might find out or need to be told that you’re fasting. There are also times when people choose to fast together. There’s nothing wrong with people knowing. People noted that Anna the prophetess fasted and prayed for many years during her widowhood in the house of the Lord (Luke 2:36‑37). The scripture that speaks about fasting in secret is about not trying to parade around to get credit from others (Matt. 6:16‑18). It’s your attitude and motive that’s important.
Reasons to Fast
There are different reasons to fast. Often people decide on doing a biblical fast with their hearts in the wrong place. They might with the desire to lose weight, gain worldly praise, or out of a sense of obligation due to social pressure. Losing weight might be an outcome of fasting but should not be your motivation. However, don’t make losing weight the reason for biblical fasting. It might be an outcome of your time fasting but should not be your motivation. There are also times in your life when you might feel more of a need to fast and other times less so. It’s best to be led by God and not by a feeling of I ought to.
In Isaiah Chapter 58, God rebuked the people because they fasted with hardened hearts. They wanted God to bless them, but they didn’t want to obey Him and do what’s right. While they fasted, they did as they pleased. They exploited their workers and they argued with one another, which came to blows. God told them that the kind of fasting He wanted was to end oppression and arguing and to feed the hungry.
It’s not a time to be selfish. My youngest daughter, Amanda, suggested that the money not spent on food during fasting could go to a feeding scheme. Such a simple and practical thing is doable. Just to be clear, I don’t expect children to fast and I don’t recommend it, but it’s certainly a topic that parents can discuss with their kids.
One reason people fast is to return to God. In the Book of Joel, God asked the people to return to Him with fasting, weeping, and mourning. He wanted them to tear their hearts instead of the outward tearing of their clothes (Joel 2:12‑13). In Isaiah, God told His people that if they obeyed Him with their whole hearts, then they would be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings (Is. 58:12). Unfortunately, it was not realized in their time, but we have been given the same calling as God’s children. How cool is that?
If there’s a need for returning to God after backsliding, then confessing our sins and being repentant is a good way to restore a broken relationship with God. The Israelites did so in Nehemiah Chapter 9 and the people of Nineveh in Jonah Chapter 3 during their fast.
Another reason to fast is for healing. King David fasted for his infant son’s health. It was also a time of grieving and repentance (2 Sam. 12:1‑23). This is reflected in Psalm 51, which he wrote during this heart-wrenching time.
Sometimes people fast for God’s protection or intervention. Esther and the people fasted for 3 days for protection (for Esther) and intervention (for the Jews). It was dangerous to approach the king unannounced, but Esther needed to petition him on behalf of her people (Est. 4).
Fasting can also be done when needing guidance from God. The believers in Acts were led by the Holy Spirit to set apart Barnabas and Saul (the Apostle Paul) for missionary work while they were worshiping and fasting. It seems like they were given guidance without even asking, but it happened while worshipping and fasting. After they had fasted and prayed, they sent them off (Acts 13:1‑3).
Another reason to fast is when asking God for help. During their missionary work, Paul and Barnabas chose elders and committed them to the Lord with prayer and fasting (Acts 14:23). They wanted God to assist the new elders in the work that they would be doing.
Ways to Fast
Just like there are different reasons to fast, there are different ways to fast. You might be in a situation where giving up all food and only drinking water is not good for you. No rule says you must fast, so first be sure that it’s something you should be doing before you start. If you do choose to fast, then you should decide how long and what you will fast.
Have you heard of the Daniel Fast? It’s a partial fast based on 2 accounts in Daniel. In Chapter 1 it says that Daniel and his 3 companions only ate vegetables and only drank water for 10 days. Daniel’s reason for this partial fast wasn’t to lose weight but to avoid being defiled by the king’s food. Afterward, it became their diet while in training at the palace. In Chapter 10 it says that for 3 weeks he gave up all choice food, including meat and wine. He was mourning over an upcoming great war that he had seen in a vision. Something less well known is that he also forewent all body lotions in those 3 weeks.
Christians today who choose to do the Daniel Fast usually decide on 3 weeks or, similarly, the 40 days of Lent. A partial fast is a good option for anyone who wants to fast for an extended time and also for anyone whose health would be adversely affected if they gave up all food.
Fasting isn’t only about giving up food. There are creature comforts that people can also forego while fasting. In several biblical accounts, people chose to put on sackcloth and ashes (or dust) while they fasted. Usually, this was done to humble oneself or for mourning. Daniel and Mordecai did so when seeking intervention from God for the future of their nation. Both of these occasions were a prelude to great change (Dan. 9:3 and Est. 4:1). Daniel also forewent body lotions in his 3-week fast (Dan. 10:3). King Darius gave up sleep and his evening entertainments while fasting for Daniel’s life to be spared (Dan 6:18). King David gave up sleeping in a comfortable bed and chose to lie on the ground in sackcloth while he fasted for his infant son’s life (2 Sam. 12:16). A married couple may choose to give up sex and devote their time to prayer, but only for an agreed amount of time, so they’re not tempted to sin (1 Cor.7:5).
E.M. Bounds understood the need to pray diligently because he believed in the power of prayer. He stated, “Our praying, however, needs to be pressed and pursued with an energy that never tires, a persistency which will not be denied, and a courage which never fails.” The more effective our prayers are, the more victorious we’ll be!