Prayer and Fasting 2


I had a friend once who was greatly confused by God’s inaction. My friend had fasted for 40 hours in relation to a job he was pursuing. At the end of the fast, he learned that someone else got the job.  His disbelief at another candidate being promoted turned into something of a crisis for this young man. He didn’t understand how he could be so zealous for God and have it come to nothing.

Yet, fasting is not about our proving to God how serious we are about life—or even about faith.  God doesn’t need for us to testify about what is in us because he already knows what is in us, and he knows it better than we do (John 2:24-25).  So, my friend was a little confused about the nature and purpose of Christian fasting.  Fasting is not a means by which we can obligate God to act on our behalf. Rather, fasting is a means given to us by God to subjugate the flesh so we will act on God’s behalf.  In other words, fasting does not prove our faith, it improves our faith.  Fasting does not turn God’s will toward us; rather, it turns our wills toward Him.

Think of Jesus’s remarks in Luke 18 concerning the manner in which God views the righteous Pharisee in contrast with the manner in which He receives the unrighteous tax collector.  On the one hand, the Pharisee didn’t simply fast every week, he fasted two times every week without fail. How would the tax collector compete with that level of righteousness?  He wouldn’t compete with Pharisaical righteousness.  All the tax collector could bring before God was his own sin and the desperate desire he had to be rid of it.  The Pharisee was glad that he wasn’t like the tax collector, but such gladness did nothing to endear him to God. Indeed, Jesus taught that the sinner went home justified, while the Pharisee went home a self-righteous sinner who fasted twice a week in vain.

Fasting does not improve God’s disposition toward us.  Instead, it is designed by God to improve our own disposition toward Him.  Fasting changes us, while God remains the same yesterday, today, and forever.  In Him, there is no variation or shifting shadow.  Instead of changing God, fasting is designed to change us.

More specifically, fasting is designed to change our desires and our appetites and our hunger.  When we fast, we come face to face with the power our flesh has over us.  If you have gone a day or two without eating, then you will know what I mean.  The first few hours after skipping breakfast, you still feel all right and think, “I’ve got this. No problem.”  Fasting even feels good at first because it gives you a sense of righteousness, knowing that you are doing the right thing and God must be pleased.

But then, all of a sudden, it seems that God must be turning on you because everything starts to go wrong.  Your head hurts. You have no sense of satisfaction.  Instead, a sense of near panic enters in, and you wonder why you are doing this.  Your body is crying out for sugar.  Your head is shouting for caffeine.  Your stomach and intestines are crying for nutrients.  Of course, God isn’t turning on you; everything inside of you is in rebellion against you.  You find out your body hates you, and it is screaming that you’d better find a solution to this problem quickly.

In the heat of the battle, you find God’s design for fasting—to bring your body into obedience to Christ.  When your body is screaming at you, you are ready for spiritual battle.  You pray that you will hunger for holiness the way your body hungers for food.  Even as Jesus taught, you begin to understand more clearly what it means that you are not to live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.  So, you confess that you want your true food to be the word of God rather than that which goes into the stomach only to go out again.  You want to put in the word and feed upon it so that you are full of Godliness, not fleshly desires.

Fasting is an opportunity for you to focus both your body and your mind on the will of God.  It is designed to build into you an appetite for God the way that you obviously keep an appetite for food.

So, then, is it wrong to ask God for things while you are fasting?  No, it isn’t wrong, but your asking must fit in with the purpose of fasting.  What does that mean?

Well, think of it this way, when we pray for the lost, we aren’t saying, “God, I am really serious about this person being saved.  You see how I am fasting?  Then, surely, you must hear my prayer and save this person because I am really serious about seeing them saved.”  That kind of prayer would be more in line with the Pharisee than with the tax collector who went home justified.  Rather, the prayer that we would pray for the lost is, “Lord, I confess that I have never hungered for the souls of others to be saved the way I am hungry now for food. Oh, change me, Lord, that I might have the right desire to see Christ glorified in the salvation of sinners. Oh, bless me Lord with the right affections so that I might join all of Heaven as the shouts go out at the repentance of ___________.  Save him for Christ’s sake, O God, and let me have a part in it according to your will.”

Prayer and Fasting 1

Our church has just begun a three-week prayer and fasting campaign for our community. We long to see Christ exalted in our county.  We are hungry for souls captured in sin to be set free.  We are not blind to our own shortcomings either.  So, in weakness, we submit ourselves before the Almighty in the hope of his all-sufficient supply to empower us.


Why are we praying? We are praying because the living God is real.  We make no religious pretense about

Christians Praying for the Persecuted

prayer. We join no cultural cliché when we announce to someone, “I am praying for you.” What we mean by that line is nothing less than the fact that we have an audience with the king of the universe. Further, we mean that when we are granted access to his presence and even offered permission to speak to him, we will be sure to speak to him about their cause.

Imagine what we are saying when we say that we will pray.  Have you ever met a very famous person?  Typically, we live our lives and never get alone in a room with the people we admire most. How hard would it be to gain access to Peyton Manning, President Obama, or Sarah Palin?  (I understand you may not want to have access to some or all of these, but stick with the point).  It would be quite difficult for us to demand an audience with any of them, or with any of our evangelical leaders. Could we call John Piper or R. C. Sproul on the phone at any hour?  Important people offer very limited access.

How much more important than any of these—or than all of these combined—is the God who created them and who sustains their every breath?  If you were to speak with any of these mentioned (or with your own favorite person of fame), what would you say?  You finally get alone in a room with them, and what will you ask?

I remember I once ended up in a bookstore with John Piper. I hated to interrupt him, knowing that alone time in public is probably a rarity for him.  Yet I also knew that I would never be alone with John Piper again.  So, I had to make the most of the opportunity. I decided I had to learn something from him. I had to gain wisdom from him in this instant, providential encounter. So, what would I ask him?

I asked him what I should do about people in the church who have no joy.  Without being callous, his reply was simply that I had to outlast them.  His point was that joy will spread, but it will also be opposed. Some folks are born as wet blankets, and they are very good at fighting fires. Their gifts are useful when the burning fire is destroying kingdom work, but their gifts are harmful when the burning fire is fueling kingdom labors.  So, Piper’s counsel was that I had to maintain an unshakable joy that would eventually come to characterize the congregation.  I remember he told me that leaven works both ways and that a little leaven (of joy) will eventually leaven the whole loaf.

Back to the point of this post, I have remained encouraged by the wonder-filled encounter I had with John Piper that day.  When I gained his attention, I cherished it. I was determined to extract the sweetest nectar of truth from it.  Yet, who is John Piper that I should be so in awe of his wisdom?  He is a great man, but I already possess greater access than any chance encounter Dr. Piper could match.  I have access to the living God through Jesus Christ.  I have a great high priest who intercedes for me.  I have been raised up and seated with him so that I can have an audience with Almighty Holiness.  What will I say in His presence?

I will give over this awesome privilege to plead with him to show mercy to a few people with whom I intend to share Christ.  These are not wealthy people. These are not influential people.  These are not people who will enrich the kingdom or enhance the marketing image for kingdom advertisements (if there were such awful things).  These are people no better than I am.  These are people who have, in fact, rebelled against God.  These are people with whom He is rightfully angry.

And yet, I am asking God not to be angry with them any longer. I am asking him to inject faith into their hearts to believe Jesus Christ.  I am asking God to be gracious to them and not condemn them along with the rest of the world (which is condemned already).  Why should God listen to me? Why should he give a care about my concerns? Why should he hear me and turn from his anger against them?

He shouldn’t. There is no reason I can think of which would explain why God should hear me on behalf of other sinners.  And yet, I have his word that he will in fact hear me for Christ’s sake. I have his word that I can make my requests known to him and know that he cares for me as a father cares for his child.  I have gotten word from him that I can call him “Abba,” or “Dad.”

And so, We now pray to him, as Jesus taught us, “Our Father in Heaven, your name alone is to be honored as holy…”  We approach His Holiness as Our Father.  Let us approach with trembling joy, making the most of our opportunity and being quite eager to get the most out of it–especially for unbelievers living without hope.