Prayer and Fasting 10
LESSON TEN: MEDITATION AND FASTING
We are much like the African cheetah that must run down its prey to eat.
It is well suited for the task, as it can run at speeds of 70 miles per hour.
The cheetah has only one problem, however, in that it has a disproportionately small heart, which causes it to tire quickly.
If it doesn’t catch its prey quickly, it must end the chase.
How often we have the cheetah’s approach in prayer.
We speed into our closets with great energy, we speed to the front of the church, or we speed to someone else for prayer.
But lacking the heart for a sustained effort, we often falter before we accomplish what is needed.
For our next prayer excursion, we decide to pray harder and faster, when what is needed may not be more explosive power, but more staying power—stamina that comes only from a bigger prayer heart.
One helpful "tool" for stamina and effectiveness in both prayer and Bible study is meditation.
In this lesson, I would like to first discuss meditation, and then move to the topic of fasting and prayer.
Meditation is the missing link between Bible intake and prayer.
The two are often disjointed when they should be united.
We read the Bible, close it, and then try to shift gears into prayer.
But many times it seems as if the gears between the two won't mesh.
In fact, after some forward progress in our time in the word, shifting to prayer sometimes is like suddenly moving back into neutral or even reverse.
Instead there should be a smooth, almost unnoticeable transition between Scripture input and prayer output so that we move even closer to God in those moments.
This happens when there is the link of meditation in between.
At least two Scriptures plainly teach this by example:
David prayed in Psalm 5:1: "Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my sighing."
The Hebrew word rendered as "sighing" may also be translated "meditation."
In fact, this same word is used with that meaning in another passage, Psalm 19:14: "May the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."
Notice that both verses are prayers and both refer to other "words" spoken in prayer.
Yet, in each case meditation was a catalyst that catapulted David from the truth of God into talking with God.
In 5:1 he has been meditating and now he asks the Lord to give ear to it and to consider it.
In Psalm 19, we find one of the best-known statements about Scripture written anywhere, beginning with the famous words of verse 7, "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul."
This section continues through verse 11 and then David prays in verse 14 as a result of these words and his meditation.
The process works like this: After the input of a passage of Scripture, meditation allows us to take what God as said to us and think deeply on it, digest it, and then speak to God about it in meaningful prayer.
As a result, we pray about what we've encountered in the Bible, now personalized through meditation.
And not only do we have something substantial to say in prayer, and the confidence that we are praying God's thoughts to Him, but we transition smoothly into prayer with a passion for what we're praying about.
Then as we move on with our prayer, we don't jerk and lurch along because we already have some spiritual momentum.
About two hundred years after the Puritans came the man recognized as one of the most God-anointed men of prayer ever seen by the world, George Muller.
For two-thirds of the last century he operated an orphanage in Bristol, England. Solely on prayer and faith, without advertising his need or entering into debt, he cared for as many as two thousand orphans at a single time and supported mission work throughout the world.
Millions of dollars came through his hands unsolicited, and his tens of thousands of recorded answers to prayer are legendary.
In the spring of 1841, George Muller made a discovery regarding the relationship between meditation and prayer that transformed his spiritual life.
He described his new insight this way:
"Before this time my practice had been, at least for ten years previously, as an habitual thing, to give myself to prayer after having dressed in the morning. Now, I saw that the most important thing was to give myself to the reading of God’s Word, and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the Word of God, while meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord.
I began therefore to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning, early in the morning. The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words of the Lord’s blessing upon His precious Word, was to begin to meditate on the Word of God, searching as it were into every verse to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul.
The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less to prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession or intercession or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the Word may lead to it, but still continually keeping before me that food for my own soul is the object of my meditation. The result of this is that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation, and that my inner man almost invariably is even sensibly nourished and strengthened, and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not happy state of heart.
The difference, then, between my former practice and my present one is this: formerly, when I rose, I began to pray as soon as possible, and generally spent all my time till breakfast in prayer, or almost all the time. At all events I almost invariably began with prayer. . . . But what was the result? I often spent a quarter of an hour, or half an hour, or even an hour on my knees before being conscious to myself of having derived comfort, encouragement, humbling of soul, etc.; and often, after having suffered much from wandering of mind for the first ten minutes, or quarter of an hour, or even half an hour, I only then really began to pray.
I scarcely ever suffer now in this way. For my heart being nourished by the truth, being brought into experimental fellowship with God, I speak to my Father and to my Friend about the things that He has brought before me in His precious Word. It often now astonishes me that I did not sooner see this point. . . . And yet now, since God has taught me this point, it is as plain to me as anything that the first thing the child of God has to do morning by morning is to obtain food for his inner man.
Now what is food for the inner man? Not prayer, but the Word of God; and here again, not the simple reading of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water passes through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it and applying it to our hearts.
When we pray we speak to God. Now prayer, in order to be continued for any length of time in any other than a formal manner, requires, generally speaking, a measure of strength or godly desire, and the season therefore when this exercise of the soul can be most effectually performed is after the inner man has been nourished by meditation on the Word of God, where we find our Father speaking to us, to encourage us, to comfort us, to instruct us, to humble us, to reprove us. We may therefore profitably meditate with God’s blessing though we are ever so weak spiritually; nay, the weaker we are, the more we need meditation for the strengthening of our inner man. Thus there is far less to be feared from wandering of mind than if we give ourselves to prayer without having had time previously for meditation.
I dwell so particularly on this point because of the immense spiritual profit and refreshment I am conscious of having derived from it myself, and I affectionately and solemnly beseech all my fellow believers to ponder this matter. By the blessing of God, I ascribe to this mode the help and strength which I have had from God to pass in peace through deeper trials, in various ways, than I have ever had before: and having now above fourteen years tried this way, I can most fully, in the fear of God, commend it."
How do we learn to pray?
How do we learn to pray like David, the Puritans, and George Muller?
We learn to pray by meditating on Scripture, for meditation is the missing link between Bible intake and prayer.
Practical Note: "Solitude, quiet, and being set apart from the distractions of this world is vital to hearing God speak." - Ronnie W. Floyd
In a south Asian city when a missionary saw a cow about to be slaughtered in front of a mosque, he stopped his car, took a few pictures, then drove home.
But that night the Holy Spirit began to challenge him to be less of a tourist and more a missionary.
He was directed to commence praying and fasting, to return to the scene of the sacrifice and to be a witness to the greater sacrifice of Jesus.
In the steaming pre-monsoon heat of the next day, he set off with his shoulder bag full of tracts and gospels to the same place in the bazaar, where he had taken pictures the preceding day near the mosque.
Having sold and distributed much, as he returned home he felt well satisfied that he had done ‘his duty’.
But again the Holy Spirit impressed upon him that night to continue praying and fasting and to return to repeat the process in the same place the next day.
Night after night as the missionary continued to pray and fast, the Holy Spirit repeated his instruction.
It didn’t take long for local opposition to realize what was happening.
A somewhat angry group formed and waited for him in the bazaar and threatened to take his life.
He was dragged through the market place, doused in dye, kicked and pushed into a dirty ditch and stoned.
Twice a fanatic tried to kill him with a dagger, but was restrained by his own people.
Finally, two well trained trouble-makers were appointed to stop his witnessing.
They warned him that if he returned to the bazaar, he would not leave there alive.
On the fortieth day of this supernaturally sustained period of prayer and fasting, directed by what the Spirit was saying, he bade farewell to his wife realizing he might never see her again.
No sooner had he arrived in the bazaar than the trouble-makers showed up.
They tore his gospels and tracts to pieces and began to stir up the growing crowd which quickly gathered to watch the spectacle.
Soon there were calls to kill him.
Then just as men moved in to grab him, two unusually tall strangers appeared.
Spearing a path through the crowd which was now calling for the missionary’s blood, in one swift move they grabbed him, removed him from the crush of people and took him down a lane at the end of which was a waiting cycle rickshaw.
Amazingly, no one followed them.
Placing the missionary in the rickshaw, the unusual stranger said to him ‘It is enough for now. Don’t come back.’
God’s messengers had saved his servant.
That night the Lord spoke to him once more saying, ‘Now you know how much I love and care for Muslims.
It is not my will that any of them should perish without hearing the message of salvation.’
With no other resources other than the practice of sustained prayer and fasting, that missionary went on to be God’s instrument to build what became one of the largest churches in that somewhat hostile environment.
When Christians combine prayer with fasting, powerful spiritual forces seem to be harnessed and then released.
Today however, at least in the western church, fasting is hardly a widespread or spiritual discipline.
In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that the practice of the opposite, overeating, may be more widespread.
However, the Bible has much to say on the topic of fasting.
By fasting, we mean voluntarily going without food and/or fluids for a period of consecrated prayer.
The Bible is studded with many examples of the practice.
Moses fasted for forty days, twice (Deuteronomy 9:9-18).
Joshua fasted after defeat at Ai (Joshua 7:6).
The entire nation of Israel was called to fast (Judges 20:26 and 1 Samuel 7:6).
From its historical experience, Israel knew that within the context of fasting and prayer, potent victories were won.
King Jehosaphat won a military battle through fasting and prayer without engaging in physical combat (2 Chronicles 20:1-30).
By prayer and fasting Ezra obtained safe passage (Ezra 8:21-23).
Queen Esther was used to transform potential genocide into national salvation, through prayer and fasting (Esther 4:16).
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus refers to the three interconnected responsibilities of giving, praying and fasting (Matthew 6:1-18).
On each of these Jesus did not say, ‘If you give,’ or ‘if you pray,’ or ‘if you fast.’
He said, ‘When you give ... when you pray ... when you fast.’
As usual Jesus demonstrated his teaching by His own example.
In the gospel of Luke we read that Jesus was ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 4:1).
He then went out into the desert where He prayed and fasted during an encounter with Satan.
Afterwards, ‘He returned in the power of the Spirit’ (Luke 4:14).
He started out ‘full’ of the Spirit and after praying and fasting, became ‘empowered’ by the Spirit.
Jesus went on to stress that if we would achieve spiritual breakthroughs we needed both to pray and to fast (Mark 9:29).
Religious leaders of Jesus’ time also fasted. So accepted was the practice, that onlookers were surprised when they noticed that on a particular occasion when fasting was expected, Jesus’ disciples weren’t fasting.
Jesus defended them by equating his presence with that of a bridal celebration (Mark 2:18-20).
But He also clearly inferred that after his departure his disciples certainly would fast.
The first missionary personnel were identified and commissioned within the context of prayer and fasting (Acts 13:1-3).
Leaders were identified and appointed also by prayer and fasting (Acts 14:21-23).
Paul was praying and fasting prior to his own commissioning and commencement of ministry (Acts 9:9).
Later on, He referred to fasting as a sign of the legitimacy of His missionary ministry (2 Corinthians 6:3-10; 11:23-27).
We can see that throughout the record of biblical history, fasting was a normal practice of God’s people.
It remained a practice throughout much of the history of the church.
So what happens when believers fast?
First, it may be that true fasting is emotionally and spiritually a form of mourning.
But this is not to be confused with human sadness. Godly fasting is different.
Jesus said that after his departure His people would fast because as with a bridegroom leaving, there would be sadness (Matthew 9:15).
But that fasting would eventually be replaced by feasting (Revelation 22:17,20).
Fasting which is prompted by the Holy Spirit, helps us to identify with God’s grief over the sin and folly of humanity.
We are sharing in God’s feelings.
Jesus said: ‘Blessed are they that mourn.’ (Matthew 5:4)
Elsewhere we are promised that there will be, ‘beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the Spirit of heaviness’ (Isaiah 61:3).
Second, we fast to bring our physical bodies into submission.
Paul said: "I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." (1 Corinthians 9:27)
Paul kept his body under subjection.
It is said of fire that it is a wonderful servant but a terrible master.
The same could be said of our bodies.
Each time we fast, we are showing our bodies who is in charge.
In effect we are saying, ‘Body, stomach, fleshly appetites, you will serve me. I will not be dominated by you.’
Paul wrote that: "The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other." (Galatians 5:7)
Closely connected to our sinful nature is our ‘flesh’.
It is through our flesh that sin comes enticing us.
Fasting deals with two great barriers which are erected by our own carnal natures.
These are the self-will of the soul and the insistent self-gratifying appetites of our bodies.
Rightly practiced, fasting brings both soul and body into submission to the Holy Spirit.
Barriers are broken down, communion is opened up.
Fasting does not change God, His purposes, plans or standards.
But it does change us.
King David once committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12).
As a result of that act a child was conceived and born.
But God decreed that the child would die.
David commenced and continued to pray and fast.
The child died. God did not change, but David certainly did.
He came to an attitude of repentance and then God was able to forgive him.
Third, when we fast we ought to expect to be victorious overcomers in the matter upon which our accompanying prayer is focused.
King Jehoshaphat once was faced with a hostile army invading his territory from the east (2 Chronicles 20:1-30).
He lacked resources adequate to meet the threat.
Therefore, "He proclaimed a fast throughout Judah. He gathered together all the people so that they might ask God’s help." (2 Chronicles 20:3-4)
Jehaziel lead the people in singing and praising God.
Israel did not have to engage the enemy in hand to hand contact.
The invaders self-destructed.
So sweeping and startling was Israel’s victory, that no other nation dared to attack them for years to come.
Collective fasting was a high priority employed in the spiritual area to gain supremacy in the realm of the physical.
Paul highlights this principle when he says:
‘The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary they have divine power to demolish strong holds.’ (2 Corinthians 10:4)
His spiritual weapons included united prayer combined with fasting.
When Jesus’ disciples asked Him why they couldn’t be as effective as He was in ministry, He replied that some things are achieved, ‘only by prayer and fasting’ (Mark 9:29).
Victory is achieved firstly in the realm of the spiritual and then in the physical.
Fourth, we fast so that we may be heard in heaven.
When Ezra faced the difficult assignment of leading his people through dangerous territory from their place of exile back to their own land, so that they might know how to proceed and receive God’s favor and protection, he proclaimed a fast (Ezra 8:21-23).
The result was that through their long trek through hostile areas, they were neither molested by bandits not attacked by savage tribes.
They suffered no loss of property or persons because they had been heard and were protected from on high.
Similarly, when the Jewish nation faced its greatest crisis through a decreed threat of annihilation in the days of King Xerxes, Queen Esther requested Mordecai to ‘gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast...’ (Esther 4:16).
The outcome was that in spite of the overwhelming odds against them, the Jewish people were all spared and the enemy was destroyed in a sudden remarkable reversal of royal edicts.
If the principles and outcomes are timeless, then as we might expect, they will be confirmed today.
In 1991 Peru’s much feared ‘Shining Path’ guerilla terrorist group, issued a death threat against that nation’s National Director of ‘Every Home Crusade’, Philip Ortiz.
‘Stop the work or pay the price with your life,’ they said.
Through a method of tract distribution, Christian workers had been winning the battle for the hearts and minds of people who lived in the province which was a ‘Shining Path’ stronghold.
Ortiz called for protective prayer cover and fasting for himself and his teams.
In the next two years, even though they traveled to the remotest villages on foot and known guerillas and drug traffickers were in their audiences, as they continued to preach and distribute their literature, no harm came to them from any source, including Peru’s most feared guerilla group.
Fifth, we fast to seek revelation regarding the will of God.
Being heard in heaven is only half of the process for those of us who minister on earth.
Obviously if the kingdom of God and the will of God is to be ‘done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matthew 6:10), those of us who are instruments of its coming need to know the will of the Father and be willing to act accordingly.
The Bible records the well-known story of Daniel waiting before God for revelation.
Daniel says that he ‘turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting... ‘(Daniel 9:3).
Eventually the angel Gabriel was able to reach him and advise, ‘Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding’ (Daniel 9:22).
Stories such as this in the Bible do not guarantee that fasting must always result in such clear guidance.
But it would seem that by fasting at least we place ourselves in a position where the Holy Spirit may have easier access to us.
When the supply of foreign medicines failed to be available to a refuge for opium addicts, Pastor Hsi of China faced a major challenge.
It was absolutely vital to have medicine to continue appropriate treatment of patients.
With no other course of action available, Pastor Hsi desperately sought the Lord with prayer and fasting, as to what he might do.
As he continued to pray and fast, the Lord instructed him on which ingredients could be used and in what proportions.
Having written out a prescription and compounded the various medicines, he hastened back to his refuge to administer the new mixture.
It succeeded so well that it entirely changed aspects of early opium refuge work.
Whatever principles are called into operation, the general testimony is that prayer is intensified, spirituality is sensitized and ministry is more powerfully effective.
Derek Prince says that:
‘Fasting deals with two great barriers to the Holy Spirit ... self-will ... and self-gratifying appetites of the body (Galatians 5:19) ... with these carnal barriers removed, the Holy Spirit can work unhindered in his fullness through our prayers ... fasting makes way for the Holy Spirit’s omnipotence.
Sixth: To bring liberation from the bonds of wickedness and to set the oppressed free.
Fasting prepares our hearts to hear what God has to say on the issues of life so we can take appropriate action and receive the spiritual freedom only He can grant.
Seventh: To relieve us of heavy burdens.
In addition to personal bonds of wickedness, we all carry burdens arising from the everyday stresses and strains of life on this earth.
Jesus said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heaven laden" (Matt. 11:28).
When we fast and listen with our hearts, He will begin sorting through the tangle of our lives and will replace our burdens with His own, which means freedom and peace, "for My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matt. 11:30).
Eighth: To increase our sensitivity toward the needs of others so we can minister in a practical manner.
"Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him …?" (Isa. 58:7).
Fasting makes it possible for us to give resources we would otherwise keep for ourselves.
When we are not busy feeding our own faces, we can feed others!
Ninth: To invest ourselves in our families.
One who seeks God through fasting will "…not hide himself from his own flesh" (Isa. 58:7).
Though the discipline of fasting is not for show, it is often good to let family members know of our intent.
PROMISES TO GOD TO THOSE WHO FAST FOR HIM (from Isaiah 58:8-14):
¨ Insight and understanding (v. 8)
¨ Remarkable positive changes in physical well-being (v. 8)
Fasting can have an unusually positive effect on one's health.
Fasting can bring about an unusual sense of well-being to many.
¨ A deep sense of what is right (v. 8).
¨ Others' awareness that you have been with God (v. 8).
¨ A sense of immediate access to God in your prayer life (v. 9).
¨ Release from spiritual oppression (v. 10).
¨ Moment-by-moment guidance from the Lord (v. 11).
¨ Satisfaction at times and places when and where it would otherwise seem impossible (v. 11).
¨ Increase strength to accomplish the Lord's work (v.11).
¨ Fruitfulness through the work of the Holy Spirit within us (v. 11).
¨ Recovering and restoring what has been lost by turning away from God (v. 12).
¨ Gaining a reputation as a rebuilder (v. 12).
Blessings of Rest & Peace Attend Careful Obedience to the Will of God. These include (Isaiah 58):
¨ The Lord will become our delight (v. 13).
¨ We will be carried along the waves of God's movement throughout the earth (v. 14).
¨ We will enjoy "the heritage of Jacob" (v. 14).
Heritage of Jacob: Genesis 28:13-14: "There above it stood the LORD, and he said: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring." (NIV)
Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade, gives these reasons to fast:
¨ It is a biblical way to truly humble oneself in the sight of God (Psalm 35:13; Ezra 8:21)
¨ It brings revelation by the Holy Spirit of a person's true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and change.
¨ It is a crucial means for personal revival because it brings the inner workings of the Holy Spirit into play in a most unusual powerful way.
¨ It helps us to better understand the Word of God by making it more meaningful, vital, and practical.
¨ It transforms prayer into a richer and more personal experience.
¨ It can result in dynamic personal revival -- being controlled and led by the Spirit and regaining a strong sense of spiritual determination.
¨ It can restore the loss of one's first love for our Lord.
REASONS NOT TO FAST:
However, we do need to remind ourselves that we do not fast out of self-centeredness or to draw attention to ourselves.
It occurs only within the context of prayer and worship ‘unto the Lord.’
Jesus said that He was opposed to anything related to self-centerdness with respect to prayer or fasting (Matthew 6:5—18).
If we do it for selfish ends, forget it.
It is not to be a means of getting something from God.
It can never be reduced to formulas of exaggerated self-denial.
Fasting must be God initiated and God ordained (Isaiah 58).
We are to be drawn by the Spirit, not dominated by the law (Galatians 5:18).
Fasting is not meant to impress others (Matthew 6:16-18; Luke 18:12).
Nor is fasting a hunger strike to force God’s hand to get our own way as politically inspired people sometimes like to do (Jeremiah 14:10-12).
Fasting is not even meant to be a health kick.
It is that which we do as a ministry unto the Lord.
For this reason God asked an earlier generation:
‘When you fasted, was it really for me that you fasted?’ (Zechariah 7:5)
Was it self-initiated, self-ordained, self-promoted?
Whenever prayer and fasting are practiced according to the ways and will of the Lord, then we may expect extraordinary responses from Him.
Bright, Bill. "The Coming Revival: A Call To Fast, Pray, And Seek God's Face. Singapore: New Life Publications, 1995.
Elliff, Tom. A Passion For Prayer: Experiencing Deeper Intimacy With God. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998.
Floyd, Ronnie W. The Power Of Prayer And Fasting: 10 Secrets Of Spiritual Strength. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holdman Publishers, 1997.
Robinson, Stuart. Positioning For Power: Kneeling Low In Prayer, Standing Tall In God. Kent, England: Sovereign World Ltd., 1998.
Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian L.I.F.E. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991.
FASTING. Fasting in the Bible generally means going without all food and drink for a period (e.g. Est. 4:16), and not merely refraining from certain foods.
I. In the Old Testament
The Heb. words are s\uÆm (verb) and s\oÆm (noun). The phrase ÔinnaÆ nap_sûoÆ (to afflict the soul) also refers to fasting. First, there were certain annual fasts. Thus the Hebrews fasted on the Day of Atonement (Lv. 16:29, 31; 23:27-32; Nu. 29:7). After the Exile, four other annual fasts were observed (Zc. 8:19), all of them, according to the Talmud, marking disasters in Jewish history. Est. 9:31 can be interpreted as implying the establishment of yet another regular fast.
In addition to these there were occasional fasts. These were sometimes individual (e.g. 2 Sa. 12:22) and sometimes corporate (e.g. Jdg. 20:26; Joel 1:14). Fasting gave expression to grief (1 Sa. 31:13; 2 Sa. 1:12; 3:35; Ne. 1:4; Est. 4:3; Ps. 35:13-14) and penitence (1 Sa. 7:6; 1 Ki. 21:27; Ne. 9:1-2; Dn. 9:3-4; Jon. 3:5-8). It was a way by which men might humble themselves (Ezr. 8:21; Ps. 69:10). Sometimes it may have been thought of as a self-inflicted punishment (cf. the phrase ‘to afflict the soul’). Fasting was often directed towards securing the guidance and help of God (Ex. 34:28; Dt. 9:9; 2 Sa. 12:16-23; 2 Ch. 20:3-4; Ezr. 8:21-23). Fasting could be vicarious (Ezr. 10:6; Est. 4:15-17). Some came to think that fasting would automatically gain man a hearing from God (Is. 58:3-4). Against this the prophets declared that without right conduct fasting was in vain (Is. 58:5-12; Je. 14:11-12; Zc. 7).
II. In the New Testament
The usual Gk. words are neµsteuoµ (verb), and neµsteia and neµstis (nouns). In Acts 27:21, 33 the words asitia and asitos (‘without food’) are also used.
As far as general Jewish practice is concerned, the Day of Atonement is the only annual fast referred to in the NT (Acts 27:9). Some strict Pharisees fasted every Monday and Thursday (Lk. 18:12). Other devout Jews, like Anna, might fast often (Lk. 2:37).
The only occasion when Jesus is recorded as fasting is at the time of his temptations in the wilderness. Then, however, he was not necessarily fasting from choice. The first temptation implies that there was no food available in the place he had selected for his weeks of preparation for his ministry (Mt. 4:1-4). Cf. the 40 days’ fasts of Moses (Ex. 34:28) and Elijah (1 Ki. 19:8).
Jesus assumed that his hearers would fast, but taught them when they did so to face Godward, not manward (Mt. 6:16-18). When asked why his disciples did not fast as did those of John the Baptist and of the Pharisees, Jesus did not repudiate fasting, but declared it to be inappropriate for his disciples ‘as long as the bridegroom is with them’ (Mt. 9:14-17; Mk. 2:18-22; Lk. 5:33-39). Later they would fast like others.
In Acts leaders of the church fast when choosing missionaries (13:2-3) and elders (14:23). Paul twice refers to his fasting (2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27). In the former passage voluntary fasting, by way of self-discipline, appears to be meant (neµsteia); the latter passage mentions both involuntary ‘hunger’ (limos) and voluntary going ‘without food’ (neµsteia).
The weight of textual evidence is against the inclusion of references to fasting in Mt. 17:21; Mk. 9:29; Acts 10:30; 1 Cor. 7:5, though the presence of these references in many mss in itself indicates that there was a growing belief in the value of fasting in the early church. h.a.g.b.
FASTING. Observed on occasions of public calamities, 2 Sam. 1:12; afflictions, Psa. 35:13; Dan. 6:18; private afflictions, 2 Sam. 12:16; approaching danger, Esth. 4:16; ordination of ministers, Acts 13:3; 14:23.Accompanied by prayer, Dan. 9:3; confession of sin, 1 Sam. 7:6; Neh. 9:1,2; humiliation, Deut. 9:18; Neh. 9:1; reading of the Scriptures, Jer. 36:6.Habitual: by John’s disciples, Matt. 9:14; by Anna, Luke 2:37; by Pharisees, Matt. 9:14; Mark 2:18; Luke 18:12; by Cornelius, Acts 10:30; by Paul, 2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27.In times of bereavement: of the people of Jabesh-gilead, for Saul and his sons, 1 Sam. 31:13; 1 Chr. 10:12; of David, at the time of Saul’s death, 2 Sam. 1:12; of his child’s sickness, 2 Sam. 12:16,21-23; of Abner’s death, 2 Sam. 3:35.Prolonged: for three weeks, by Daniel, Dan. 10:2,3; forty days, by Moses, Ex. 24:18; 34:28; Deut. 9:9,18; Elijah, 1 Kin. 19:8; Jesus, Matt. 4:2; Mark 1:12,13; Luke 4:1,2.
Unclassified Scriptures Relating to: Ezra 8:21-23; Psalm 35:13; 69:10; Isa. 58:3-7; Jer. 14:12; Dan. 10:2, 3; Joel 1:14; 2:12, 13; Zech. 7:5; 8:19; Matt. 6:16-18; 9:14, 15; 17:21; Acts 27:9,33,34; 1 Cor. 7:5
Instances of: Of the Israelites, in the conflict between the other tribes with the tribe of Benjamin, on account of the wrong suffered by a Levite’s concubine, Judg. 20:26; when they went to Mizpeh for the ark, 1 Sam. 7:6. Of David, at the death of Saul, 2 Sam. 1:12; during the sickness of the child born to him by Bath-sheba, 2 Sam. 12:16-22; while interceding in prayer for his friends, Psa. 35:13; in his zeal for Zion, Psa. 69:10; in prayer for himself and his adversaries, Psa. 109:4,24. Of Ahab, when Elijah prophesied the destruction of himself and his house, 1 Kin. 21:27; with verses 20-29. Of Jehoshaphat, at the time of the invasion of the confederated armies of the Canaanites and Syrians, 2 Chr. 20:3. Of Ezra, on account of the idolatrous marriages of the Jews, Ezra 10:6. Of Nehemiah, on account of the desolation of Jerusalem and the temple, Neh. 1:4. Of the Jews, when Jeremiah prophesied against Judea and Jerusalem, Jer. 36:9; in Babylon, with prayer for divine deliverance and guidance, Ezra 8:21,23. Of Darius, when he put Daniel in the lions’ den, Dan. 6:18. Of Daniel, on account of the captivity of the people, with prayer for their deliverance, Dan. 9:3; at the time of his vision, Dan. 10:1-3. Ninevites, when Jonah preached to them, Jonah 3:5-10. By Paul, at the time of his conversion, Acts 9:9. Of the disciples, at the time of the consecration of Barnabas and Saul, Acts 13:2,3. Of the consecration of the elders, Acts 14:23.
Swanson, James, Editor, New Nave’s Topical Bible, (Oak Harbor, Washington: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1994.