The Power of Fasting
By Pastor Michael Olawore
New Wine Church, London
Foundation Scripture: Matthew 6:5-8, 16-18
Sunday 7th June 2015
During these 30 days of ‘Deeper & Higher 2015’, it is vital that we give some perspective to this season. Most of us may have been fasting and praying over the past couple of days, yet it is better not to presume that we all understand what fasting and prayer is and the reasons why we regularly engage in the practice. It is for this reason that I would like to share this series with you titled ‘The Power of Fasting and Prayer’.
Prayer and fasting is non-negotiable. It is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’. Some of the verses from our foundation scripture highlight this: ‘And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words’. “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly’ (Matthew 6:5-7, 16-18).
As Christians, fasting and prayer is not an option. Prayer is the means by which we connect with God and His power. It is also the means by which we access our spiritual inheritance and blessings, and release them from the spiritual realm into the natural realm. Fasting strengthens our prayer power. An incidence in Matthew 17 underscores this truth. A man approached Jesus with a plea to cure his epileptic son. He had asked for help from Jesus’ disciples earlier but they were unable to heal the boy. The scripture records that Jesus rebuked the demon and the boy was instantly cured. Later on, when the disciples came to Jesus privately to inquire why they could not cure the boy, Jesus responds in verse 20-21, saying: ‘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.” This scripture pinpoints the right approach to dealing with complex problems, as prescribed by Jesus. His response seems to suggest that the disciples were oblivious to the combined effect of fasting and prayer. We can also deduce that this instruction is Jesus’ prescription for dealing with difficult situations in our lives. In other words, Jesus makes it clear that difficult issues cannot be solved by those who choose to gratify their natural desires over their inner spiritual being. In essence, fasting and prayer is vital to resolving unyielding situations in our lives.
Furthermore, Jesus’ response in the passage above is a rebuke to undisciplined Christians who have not considered the necessity of engaging in a strict routine of fasting and prayer, as this practice requires discipline and commitment. If we want to experience the move of God in our days like the days of the Apostles, then we have to be disciplined in crucifying our flesh. It is the means by which our spiritual being (our Spirit-man) can commune with God and be strengthened as a result.
Let me illustrate this concept with this story: Two lumberjacks headed to work in the forest one bright morning – a young chap who recently began the craft, and an older guy who had been in the trade for years. With his zeal, the young man began cutting the trees and continued all day till dusk. The older man on the other hand, took a 15 minute break every hour. At the end of the exercise, the younger man realised that the older man had cut a third more trees than he did. The younger man then inquired from the older man how he had managed the feat, despite his breaks every hour. The older man replied ‘I took breaks not only to rest, but to sharpen my axe!’ And sadly, many Christians are oblivious to the power of fasting in turbo-charging our prayer lives. Jesus emphasized this truth as stated in Matthew 17 and we must begin to take advantage of this.
Jesus further highlights this in Mark 2:19-20 when he said: “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days”. While Jesus was on earth, his disciples had no reason to fast, since Jesus was around to solve every difficult problem. Today, it is now our time and responsibility to continue from where Jesus left off, by engaging in fasting and prayer like he did.
Here is a full definition of fasting: It is the deliberate abstinence from some forms of physical gratifications for a period of time in order to achieve a greater spiritual goal. It is an opportunity to spend time in worship, prayer and reading God’s word in order to be sensitive to God. It is an opportunity to say ‘no’ to natural desires and ‘yes’ to God. It is an appropriate response to physical and emotional needs, difficult and challenging circumstances of life and moments when one needs guidance and direction. Hence as Christians, in order to align ourselves with the will and purpose of God for our lives and hear clearly from Him, we must devote time regularly to fast and pray - Unless we hear from God, life becomes a matter of trial and error. Fasting removes the barrier between God and our spirit, in order to commune directly with Him. The human nature (or sinful nature) has no desire to obey and embrace the will of God. However, fasting quietens the human nature and empowers the spiritual being, bringing us into submission to God’s will for our lives.
As Christians, we are tripartite beings – primarily spirit, possessing a soul, inhabiting a body. Fasting empowers our spirit, and enables us to align with God’s Spirit. Every spiritual exercise that we engage in during fasting, such as reading the word and praying, simply empowers our spirit and sensitises us to hear God clearly. Our spirit, once empowered by God during fasting, can influence the soul (made up of our will, emotions and feelings) and the soul can in turn influence the body. In this way, the Spirit can subdue our sinful nature and bring it under submission to God’s will. The reversal happens when the spiritual man is not strengthened by spiritual exercise. The body (the flesh) dictates to the soul and the sinful nature overrules. Our fasting hence is beneficial to us in ensuring that we live a life that is God-centered and purposeful. It helps us to look to God, depend and trust in Him.
Psalm 37:23 reads: ‘The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and He delights in his way’. Our steps can be ordered by God when our spirit is active and in communion with God’s Spirit. Psalm 109: 24 further states that: ‘My knees are weak through fasting, and my flesh is feeble from lack of fatness’. God desires that we live a fasted life, instead of being driven to fast only when we have a difficult situation confronting us. Rather, a fasted life should prepare us for the difficult days ahead. When Jesus was speaking to his disciples in Matthew 17:21, he categorically stated that: ‘However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting’. If we have to wait for a crisis, before we begin to fast, haven’t we waited too late? Beyond fasting during this season, it is encouraged that as Christians, we should fast at least one day a week. Again, it sensitises our spirit in communicating with God, and prepares us for times of crisis.
Apostle Paul in discussing this subject of disciplining our human nature, writes in 1 Corinthians 9:27 ‘But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified’. It must be noted that we cannot engage in fasting, in order to impress God. God’s favour cannot be earned by fasting either. As Christians, we are favoured by God because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. Fasting simply aligns us with God’s purpose in order to receive all that Christ, through grace has procured and made available for us.
Here are five benefits of fasting:
(a) Fasting strengthens our prayers: Fasting sharpens and empowers our intercession. Ezra called the nation of Israel to fast as they prepared to return from exile in Babylon. Ezra 8:23 reads ‘So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and he heard our prayer’ (NLT). Nehemiah also engaged in prayer and fasting as he interceded for the nation of Israel, after he was informed about the appalling living conditions of the residents of the city. Nehemiah 1:4 reads: ‘When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven’. As a result of Nehemiah’s fasting and praying, God granted him favour before king Artaxerxes who granted him permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city.
(b) Fasting aids us in seeking God’s guidance: There is a biblical precedence in understanding and knowing clearly the will of God, when we fast and pray. Judges 20:27 reads ‘The Israelites went up seeking direction from the Lord. (In those days the Ark of the Covenant of God was in Bethel, and Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron was the priest.) The Israelites asked the Lord, “Should we fight against our relatives from Benjamin again, or should we stop?” The Lord said, “Go! Tomorrow I will hand them over to you” (NLT). Acts 14:23 also gives us another account where the Apostles engaged in prayer and fasting in seeking God’s direction: ‘Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust’ (NLT).
(c) Fasting aids us in seeking deliverance or protection: The story of King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20 is a classic example of this benefit. A vast army was marching towards Jerusalem, frightening the whole nation, including the king. Jehoshaphat called for a national day of fasting and prayer. Verse 3-4 reads: 'Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the LORD for guidance. He also ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting. So people from all the towns of Judah came to Jerusalem to seek the LORD's help' (NLT). As Christians, this should be our attitude whenever we are faced with a difficult crisis like this. God's spirit through Jahaziel gave an instruction of what to do. Here is verse 15-17: 'He said, "Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid! Don't be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God's. Tomorrow, march out against them. You will find them coming up through the ascent of Ziz at the end of the valley that opens into the wilderness of Jeruel. But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the LORD's victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the LORD is with you!" The nation was in a state of panic initially, but as soon as they quietened their human nature with fasting and prayer, they soon heard the solution to the crisis. Conversely, God has a solution to every difficulty we may be facing today, and He is ready to gives us instructions on what to do if we will quieten our flesh and listen to Him.
(d) Fasting humbles us before God: As Christians, we must be totally dependent on God for His guidance. James 4:6 reads: ‘But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble" (NIV). Also see Psalm 35:13.
(e) Fasting empowers us over temptation: Jesus ministry began with a time of fasting and prayer. When the enemy came around to tempt him, he was able to declare the word ‘It is written....’ because he had spent forty days in studying the word and praying. God desires that we also engage in fasting and prayer, with a time of studying His word, in order to empower us against the temptations in life.
In deciding how long should you engage in fasting, let God’s Spirit lead and direct you. If for any medical reasons, you may not be able to fast from food, then seek counsel from your health specialist in deciding what is right for you. If you are advised not to abstain from food, then seek alternative things to abstain from.
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