When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your 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 6:16-18)
Fasting should always be done prayerfully. There are many biblical reasons for Christians to fast. Here are just a few to study as you ask God for direction about this important spiritual discipline.
- Hunger for God. Fasting has a way of helping us really to understand what it means for our souls and flesh to yearn for God (Ps. 63:1). Every time we feel a pang of hunger, we can direct it into a craving for deeper intimacy with the Lord.
- Repentance and humility. The only regular fast God required of His people under the Old Covenant was on the Day of Atonement. That day— essentially a prayer retreat on a grand corporate scale—was a day of fasting, repentance, and deep humility. We, too, can benefit when we humble [our souls] with fasting (Ps. 35:13).
- Power over temptation. Jesus fortified Himself against temptation with a 40-day fast in the wilderness. Most of us won’t be called to fast for that long (and if we are, we should consult a doctor first); however, fasting is a great way to subject our bodies to our spirits. People who struggle with sins of the flesh may especially benefit from a time of extended prayer combined with fasting.
- In Crisis. There are many occasions of crisis in Scripture when people were called to extended prayer combined with fasting (see 2 Chron. 20:1-4; Neh. 1:4; Est. 4:15-16; Dan. 9:3; Jon. 3:6-9).
- For wisdom. When Daniel sought to understand a perplexing vision he fasted (Daniel 10). Similarly, when the church in Antioch needed to know who to send out as missionaries, and later who to appoint as elders in the missionary churches, they met together for prayer, worshipping, and fasting (Acts. 13:1-2, 14:23).
Gracious God, teach me how to fast and pray. I know You are calling me to seek You at deeper levels and I have not been very faithful to go without physical food to draw closer to You spiritually. You have called me to deny myself, even to die to self for the sake of a fuller Christian life. Why do I have such a hard time with this important discipline? Help me to dig more deeply into Your word, and to obey the instruction of the Holy Spirit when I feel that I should fast for wisdom, in times of crisis or need, to have power over temptation, or when I need to repent and humble myself before You. Most of all, Father, teach me how to fast so I can learn how to hunger and thirst for more of You!
–Adapted from Giving Ourselves to Prayer: An Acts 6:4 Primer for Ministry (Chapter 28, Personal Prayer Retreats by Cynthia Bezek). This book is available at prayershop.org. Use the code CONPSP3 at checkout to receive an additional 10% discount.
Praise God as one who is perfect in power and judgment but also perfect in mercy and kindness. Give thanks for God’s mercy to you (Eph. 2:4-5). Confess your inability to show mercy as completely and graciously as your Father does. Commit yourself to living with a greater awareness of God’s mercy and kindness in your life (Eph. 1:7-8). Ask God to extend this grace to others who have irritated or hurt you.
Ask God to make his church worldwide a shining example of people who extend mercy and kindness even to their enemies (Mt. 5:44-45).