Is God Calling Us to Fast? (part 4)
Wesley confessed that “Some have exalted religious fasting beyond all Scripture and reason” – but he pointed out equally that “Others have utterly disregarded it.” He argued that the Devil doesn’t mind either extreme, just so long as we fail to grasp why God calls his people to fast before him. The Devil fears fasting because he knows, perhaps better than we do, that fasting helps our prayers to be heard in heaven.
I have left this fourth motive till last in this four-part mini-series of blogs on fasting, because it flows out of the other three great motives that the Bible gives us for fasting. We have a tendency to assume that all of our prayers are heard equally in heaven, and that fasting is therefore unnecessary. However, Scripture tells us that this simply isn’t true. God’s call for Christians to fast flows out of the thinking behind the many Bible verses which inform us that all prayers are not heard equally in heaven.
“When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen” (Isaiah 1:15).
“The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him … If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are detestable” (Proverbs 15:8 & 28:9).
“Confess your sins to each other … The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:18).
“Husbands … be considerate as you live with your wives … so that nothing will hinder your prayers … For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:7&12).
That’s where fasting comes in. It does not win us any ‘merit’ with God. That’s the satanic counterfeit of true fasting, where people try to turn a means of living grace into a dead work. Fasting is not a Christian form of hunger-strike, in which we twist the arm of an unwilling God. It is a God-given aid through which we change our hearts towards him, not his heart towards us. Fasting helps us to come before God and to receive the finished work of Jesus with a pure heart. When the Lord warns us in Isaiah 58:4 that “Fasting like yours will not make your voice heard on high”, he is encouraging us that true fasting will make our voices heard on high! He is calling us to embrace the first three motives that I have already outlined, so that, through fasting, “You will call, and the Lord will answer” (Isaiah 58:9).
Biblical fasting helps our prayers to be heard in heaven because fasting expresses our delight in the Lord. For all the reasons that I outlined in the first blog in this mini-series, it communicates to God that we love him more than the fleeting pleasures of this world. We love him even more than we love our own bodies. We long for his glory to be revealed in us and in the world around us. “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting,” the Lord urges us in Joel 2:12, because it is one of the tools that he has given us to concentrate our full attention on him. Fasting enables us to do what God calls us to do in Jeremiah 29:13-14. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.”
Biblical fasting also helps our prayers to be heard in heaven because fasting helps to activate humility and repentance. The Lord detests pretend obedience and every other form of hypocrisy. He explains in Zechariah 7:13 that “When I called, they did not listen; so when they called I would not listen.” For all the reasons that I outlined in the second blog in this mini-series, fasting therefore is a powerful aid towards integrity. It is a God-given corrective to the pride that makes believers say one thing and do another. It humbles us before the Lord (Psalm 69:10, Ezra 8:21). It helps us to feel deep grief over our sins (Matthew 9:15, Joel 2:12). It enables us to embrace the truth of James 4:6-8. “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble … Come near to God and he will come near to you.”
Biblical fasting also helps our prayers to be heard in heaven because fasting pushes back the Devil and his demons. Prayer is warfare. It involves wrestling with principalities and powers which are quite unwilling to vacate the areas of the world that have fallen into their clutches. If it took Daniel twenty-one days of fasting to achieve breakthrough in his prayers for the Jewish nation (Daniel 10:1-3&11-13), then why would we imagine that similar struggles are unnecessary for us to see breakthrough in our own? We must never forget that when we cry out to the Lord against our Enemy (Luke 18:3), that Enemy is standing in his courtroom in opposition to us (Job 1:6, Zechariah 3:1). For all the reasons that I outlined in the third blog in this mini-series, fasting helps us to confront the forces of darkness that stand against us. It enables us to plead the blood of Jesus in heaven’s courtroom so that our Enemy loses his grip on the world around us. That’s why it’s so vital that we rediscover what fasting is for.
Andrew Murray likens fasting to firing our very selves at the Enemy in prayer. “Fasting helps to express, to deepen, and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, to sacrifice ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.” Arthur Wallis adds that “In giving us the privilege of fasting as well as praying, God has added a powerful weapon to our spiritual armoury. In her folly and ignorance the Church has largely looked upon it as obsolete. She has thrown it down in some dark corner to rust, and there is has lain forgotten for centuries.” If we are willing to pick up this weapon, the Lord promises us that it has lost none of its former power. It is still mighty to demolish strongholds.
If the evil King Ahab fasted and found that even his prayers were heard in heaven, then shouldn’t we consider fasting too? (1 Kings 21:25-29) If the bloodthirsty pagan citizens of Nineveh fasted and found that even their prayers were heard in heaven, then shouldn’t we consider fasting too? (Jonah 3:4-10)
In the face of the coronavirus crisis; in the face of the unprecedented economic and social traumas that are yet to be felt fully; and in light of the many Gospel breakthroughs that could be ours in the midst of this shaking of nations, shouldn’t we consider fasting? If not now, then when?
“Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord … ‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning’” (Joel 1:14 and 2:12-13).
“So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer” (Ezra 8:23).
The quote from John Wesley comes from his ‘Sermon 27’, on Matthew 6:16-18.
The quote from Andrew Murray comes from ‘With Christ In The School of Prayer’ (1895).
The quote from Arthur Wallis comes from ‘God’s Chosen Fast’ (1968).