Prayer and fasting are often joined together in the Scripture (see Ezra 8:23; Nehemiah 1:4; Acts 13:3,14:23, for a few places). Immediately after He gives the model prayer, Jesus turns His attention to fasting (Matthew 6:16-18)—undoubtedly because of their close association. And He did say, When you fast rather than If you fast.
Yet unless I’m misreading things, fasting is not part of the landscape for most disciples. While volumes are written concerning prayer; fasting garners a few pages. I believe this disparity in the literature reflects our practice. What accounts for our lack of interest? Fasting is not an established practice among most, so few grew up with it. It runs counter to our hectic lifestyles, so few have time for it. And it seems too austere to our consumer mindsets, so few embrace it.
I’m sure there are other reasons, but that’s not what I wish to address here. I’d like to touch upon a few of the ways this tool helps us to draw nearer to our Father. For if praying for our daily bread is expressing our complete confidence in God to provide, then so is fasting. In fact, fasting is when God becomes our food.
While fasting can involve abstaining from things other than food (see Daniel 10:2-3;1 Corinthians 7:5), its default definition is to willingly go without food for a period of time. What is the purpose of this? What does it accomplish? From a negative point of view, fasting is never about fasting. It is always attached to something and has a significance beyond itself.
Fasting humbles us. There’s a loss of energy, weakness, and general fatigue that is associated with fasting (Psalm 109:24). For anyone struggling with feelings of invincibility/invulnerability, fasting will put a quick end to that and remind us of our frailty. By humbling ourselves in this manner, it shows God the degree of seriousness with which we seek Him. We read of numerous times in the Old Testament when people fasted for this reason, whether to prepare for a special occasion (Exodus 24:38; Esther 4:16), or in penitence (Jonah 3:5-10; 1 Samuel 7:6). Fasting focuses us. Though it diminishes us physically, fasting can intensify our spiritual focus. This is why prayer and fasting are connected (Luke 2:37; Acts 13:1-3). This is also why repentance and fasting are often joined together, as it provides the penitent an opportunity to reflect upon their sins (Nehemiah 9:1-2; Joel 2:12-13). Fasting helps us stay hungry for God.