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11. Prayer & Fasting

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Introduction

All throughout Scripture you can see God's servants fasting and praying. Prayer and fasting are mentioned literally hundreds of times. Sometimes it was done for show as was the case many times for the Pharisees. But, generally it was a demonstration of a serious heart cry to the Lord.
Jesus said "when ye fast", not "if ye fast". So he taught as if it was something that we would do as a regular spiritual practice.
Matthew 6:16–18 KJV 1900
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
As we study the subject my goal is that we would see what fasting is and why it is important in the life of a Christian.

I. What is Fasting?

Definition: Laying aside the physical to focus my heart on the spiritual. Highlighting my prayer with an increased level of volume. It's saying to God - I am serious enough about this need, situation, issue or problem - that I am going to demonstrate it by setting aside my physical nessesity of food.

A. Elements (What is included)

1. Abstinence from food & normal physical pleasures
Matthew 4:1–2 KJV 1900
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
1 Corinthians 7:5 KJV 1900
Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.
2. Prayer
Matthew 17:21 KJV 1900
Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.
3. Confession of Sins
Daniel 9:3–6 KJV 1900
And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments; We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments: Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.
4. Separation from the evil things of this world
James 4:4–10 KJV 1900
Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.

B. Specifics

1. How Long is a Biblical Fast ?
The Bible sets no specific time length for fasting. Daniel fasted 21 days. Esther and Mordecai fasted 3 days and nights. The Lord Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness. But frequently the Bible simply does not say how long people fasted. We are not told, for example, how long Ezra fasted before making the journey to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:21-23).
Fasting is a matter of individual freedom under the direction of the Holy Spirit. It can be one meal or many meals, according to the need of the hour and the direction of God. Romans 14 speaks of this sort of thing and says, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5).

II. What Fasting is Not

Warnings about Fasting
General Warnings:
- Be careful if you have health issues of medications
- If you have never fasted don't try to fast for 10 days
- You need to drink plenty of water when you fast
1. Some way to put God in a box
It does not guarantee an answer to prayer.
Example: 2 Samuel chapter 12 - David fasted for his son for 7 days but it did not change what God had declared through Nathan the prophet
2. A Spiritual Badge of Honor - Not a matter of Law but of Liberty
Fasting is not a matter of law but of liberty. It is a personal matter. Fasting is important and useful in Christian life and service, but it is not something that can be commanded and it is not something by which we are to judge the spiritual condition of others.
3. Some empty ascetic practice
Definition: Ascetic- a severe form of religious abstinence or discipline - basically a dry and empty legalism
Colossians 2:20–23 KJV 1900
Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

III. Why is Fasting Important?

When should we fast? Why should we fast?
1. When spiritual warfare requires it
Fasting is an essential part of spiritual warfare.
Mark 9:14-29
Mark 9:29 KJV 1900
And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.
This "kind" - kind of what? In verse 25 Jesus called it a "foul spirit"
Jesus had the authority over all and he was teaching the disciples that in order to access this power one has to fast and pray.
2. When wisdom is desired
Daniel 9:3 KJV 1900
And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
Daniel 9:21–22 KJV 1900
Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding.
3. When victory is desired in impossible situations
There was a situation when Esther was made queen that a man by the name of Haman was plotting to kill and exterminate all the Jews throughout the land.
Esther 4:10–17 KJV 1900
Again Esther spake unto Hatach, and gave him commandment unto Mordecai; All the king’s servants, and the people of the king’s provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days. And they told to Mordecai Esther’s words. Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this? Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer, Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish. So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.
4. When we are involved in ministry
Paul was mightily used by God and he knew the importance of fasting
2 Corinthians 6:5 KJV 1900
In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings;
2 Corinthians 11:27 KJV 1900
In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
5. When a new ministry is launched or new territory is desired
Acts 13:2–3 KJV 1900
As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
Acts 14:23 KJV 1900
And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.
5. When we are severely tempted
Matthew 4:2 KJV 1900
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.

IV. Why we don't Fast

1. Because we are carnal
2. Because we don't understand the need or the value
3. Lack of spiritual desire

V. Additional Points of Interest

Modern Translations weaken the doctrine of fasting
God promises a reward for fasting
Matthew 6:17–18 KJV 1900
But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
"shall reward thee"

VI. Fasting Examples

Judges 20:26--Israel fasted for victory in war.
1 Sam. 1:6-7--Hannah fasted for a son
1 Sam. 7:6--Israel fasted in repentance
1 Sam. 31:13--Men of Jabeshgilead fasted in mourning for Saul
2 Sam. 1:12--David and his men fasted in mourning for Saul, Jonathan, and the fallen of Israel
2 Sam. 12--David fasted for mercy upon his child
1 Kings 21:27--Ahab fasted for mercy
2 Chron. 20:3--Jehoshaphat and Israel fasted for help and protection
Ezra 8:21-23--Ezra and the Jews fasted for help and protection
Nehemiah 1:4--Nehemiah fasted in mourning and for help
Nehemiah 9:1-2--Israel fasting in mourning and repentance
Esther 4:16--Esther and friends fasted for victory
Esther 9:3--Fasting is mentioned as having had a role in the victory
Psalm 35:13-14--Fasting in prayer and mourning
Psalm 69: 10-11--Fasting in prayer and mourning
Isaiah 58:6-8--The fast which pleases God
Jeremiah 36:9--Israel fasted for mercy
Joel 1:14; 2:12, 15--God commanded fasting and repentance
Jonah 3:5--The Ninevites fasted in repentance for mercy
Daniel 9:3--Daniel fasted for wisdom
Matthew 4:2--Jesus fasted when tempted in the wilderness
Matthew 6:17-18--Jesus promised that the Father would bless fasting
Matthew 9:14-15--Jesus said his disciples would fast
Matthew 17:21--Fasting is necessary for overcoming some demonic strongholds
Mark 9:29--Fasting is necessary for overcoming demonic powers
Luke 2:37--Fasting was part of Anna’s service to God
Acts 13:2--Fasting was part of the ministry of the workers at Antioch
Acts 13:3--Ordination was accompanied by fasting Acts 14:23-- Ordination was accompanied by fasting
1 Corinthians 7:5--Fasting and prayer is the only proper reason for abstinence from the marital relationship
2 Corinthians 6:5--Fasting was one way Paul approved himself as a minister of Jesus Christ
2 Corinthians 11:27--Paul fasted often
These examples and instructions regarding fasting cannot be taken lightly. We are told that the examples of Scripture are as important as are its commands--1 Corinthians 10:11; Romans 15:4. The Lord Jesus Christ is our Pattern (1 Peter 1:21), and His fasting during the temptation in the wilderness is our example, just as His prayers during the temptations in the garden are our examples. Also we are told that the Apostle Paul is to be imitated (Philippians 3:17; 4:9), and Paul put before us the example of frequent fasting (2 Cor. 11:27).
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