Prayer is talking and listening to God. Fasting is denying yourself certain foods or another item in order to focus more intently on God. In the Bible, the men and women of faith practice spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting to develop a closer relationship with God and to experience spiritual breakthroughs. Jesus instructs His followers concerning prayer and fasting.
5 “Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! 6 But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. 8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.’
16 “Whenever you fast, don’t be sad-faced like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so their fasting is obvious to people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head, and wash your face, 18 so that you don’t show your fasting to people but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Jesus says, “Whenever you pray…” and “Whenever you fast….” He doesn’t prescribe the frequency of prayer and fasting, but by using the word “whenever” He is indicating that His followers will pray and fast. There will be a rhythm of prayer and fasting in their lives.
The Bible says that we are to pray without ceasing, meaning that we should be ready to pray at any moment. The Bible gives examples of people praying to their Heavenly Father in the morning, at noon and in the evening. In the same way, we should develop a daily time of prayer with the Lord where we block off the distractions of the world and focus on the Lord.
In regards to fasting, the children of Israel as a nation were instructed to fast annually on the Day of Atonement. Throughout the Bible, people fast on special times of seeking the Lord. Fasts can be various lengths of time. Throughout Christian history, people have chosen to fast with various frequencies. Some fast one or two days per week, others fast one or two days per month, others have an annual time of fasting. There is no right or wrong rhythm for fasting. Again, Jesus says, “Whenever you fast…”
In Jesus’ day, some people were praying and fasting just to appear spiritual. Their purpose for prayer and fasting was all wrong. They were doing it only to try to impress other people. They were standing on the street corners and in the synagogues spouting off prayers, but their heart was in the wrong place. They would have over-exaggerated sad faces and particular clothing to make it obvious to everyone that they were fasting. Their focus was on the wrong thing and their hearts were in the wrong place. Jesus called these people hypocrites!
Prayer and fasting is about spending time with our Heavenly Father. Our purpose for prayer and fasting may include seeking God’s direction, asking for His guidance on a big decision of life. We may be looking for a spiritual breakthrough to overcome a particular sin, habit or addiction in our life. We may be praying for financial provision, for the salvation of someone we care about, or for the blessings of God upon our church, our nation or the world. There may be a variety of reasons that we pray and fast, but they all begin and end with spending time getting to know God better.
Jesus instructs His followers on how to pray and fast, and God’s people give us examples to follow throughout the Bible. Jesus tells us that we should find a private room in which to pray, a quiet room where we can focus on talking and listening to God. In regards to fasting, Jesus gives practical advice, saying that it is important to take a shower, wear regular clothes, and not even to appear to others to be fasting.
Daniel is one person in the Bible that participated in a particular fast for particular reasons. A fast known as the Daniel Fast is one plan that people follow to seek the Lord. The Daniel Fast is a partial fast, meaning that you are giving up certain foods but still eating others. Following the example of Daniel and his friends found in the book of Daniel chapter 1, the food items eaten during a Daniel Fast are only fruit, vegetables, nuts and whole grains, and the only drink is water. Following the length of time that Daniel fasting in the book of Daniel chapter 10, most people follow the Daniel Fast for 21 days.
For more on the Daniel Fast, including Biblical context, food lists and recipes, visit this website: www.daniel-fast.com. Another good author concerning fasting is Elmer Towns, and one of the books he has written is Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough.
Other people decide to fast for one meal per week, or even one meal for 21 days during the time of a Daniel Fast. Still others fast for one day, for three days, or another period of time. And others decide to fast from all media, from certain television shows, etc during the period of time in which they are fasting.
Those who pray and fast for earthly applause may get that, but that will be the only reward they will receive. Jesus says, “They’ve got their reward.” The rewards we receive by genuine Christ-centered prayer and fasting include peace, strength, perspective, wisdom, sustenance, faith and perseverance. We truly learn that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
The most important reward we receive during prayer and fasting is God Himself. He is our reward. Prayer and fasting accompanied by reading the Word of God helps us to know God more and to learn from Him. He is our reward.