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On Prayer and Fasting
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On Prayer and Fasting
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PRAYER AND FASTING
In Mark 9:29 Jesus says, “THIS KIND CAN COME OUT BY NOTHING, SAVE BY PRAYER AND FASTING.” Here Jesus introduces us to the greatest struggle connected with prayer. 

While Jesus and three of the apostles were on the Mount of Transfiguration, a man had brought his son, possessed of a dumb spirit, to the other apostles. They had tried to cast out the evil spirit, but they had not succeeded. When Jesus came down, the father brought his son to Him, and Jesus healed the boy. As soon as the apostles had come into the house and were alone with Jesus, they asked Him why they could not cast out the evil spirit, to which Jesus replied, “THIS KIND CAN COME OUT BY NOTHING, SAVE BY PRAYER AND FASTING.” 

Before inquiring into the relationship between prayer and fasting, we must briefly explain what is meant by fasting. 

To fast is to abstain from eating for a shorter or longer period of time.
Fasting was enjoined by law in
Israel. The whole nation had to fast on a certain day of the year (Leviticus 16:29). After the captivity several annual days of fasting were introduced (Zechariah 8:19). And the Pharisees went so far that they fasted twice each week (Luke 18:12
).
The Hebrew word for fasting signifies the humble submission of the soul to God, the Holy one. For that reason it was observed on the great day of atonement when the people effected their great annual reconciliation with God, and otherwise upon occasions of national disaster (Judges
20:25, Joel 2:12
, Jonah 3:5) or mourning (I Samuel 31:13).
Jesus did not abolish fasting; He lifted it from the legalism of the Old Covenant into the freedom of the New. Fasting is an outward act which should be carried out only when there is an inner need of it. (Matthew 9:14-15). Furthermore, Jesus warns against fasting as a means of displaying (piety) so as to be seen of men (Matthew
6:16
-18). 


But should we fast? 

This is no doubt a live question in the minds of many Christians of our day. Many look upon fasting as a part of the outward ceremonialism which belonged only to the Old Covenant, and which the Catholics have incorporated into their legalistic system of work-righteousness. That free, evangelical Christians should fast is entirely strange and foreign to their way of thinking. 

So far from the teachings of Jesus and the apostles concerning fasting have we strayed. It is no doubt high time that we feeble, weak-willed and pleasure-loving Christians begin to see what the Scriptures say concerning this element in our sanctification and in our prayer life.
Fasting is not confined to abstinence from eating and drinking. Fasting really means voluntary abstinence for a time from various necessities of life, such as food, drink, sleep, rest, association with people and so forth.
The purpose of such abstinence for a longer or shorter period of time is to loosen to some degree the ties which bind us to the world of material things and our surroundings as a whole, in order that we may concentrate all our spiritual powers upon the unseen and eternal things. 

Fasting in the Christian sense does not involve looking upon the necessities of life, which we have mentioned, as unclean or unholy. On the contrary, we have learned from the apostle that nothing is unclean of itself (Romans
14:14
). And that food has been created by God to be received with thanksgiving (I Timothy 4:3). Fasting implies merely that our souls at certain times need to concentrate more strongly on the one thing needful than at other times, and for that reason we renounce for the time being those things which, in themselves, may be both permissible and profitable. 

Fasting is, therefore, entirely in line with what we have said about the necessity of having quiet and secluded seasons of prayer, is in reality only a prolongation of the latter. None of them have been ordained for God’s sake, but for our sakes. it is we who need to fast. 

We take as our starting point the thought which we have come upon again and again in our inquiry:
The one great secret of prayer is the Spirit of prayer. The most significant thing that we can do in connection with prayer is to establish contact with the Spirit of prayer. To strive in prayer means in the final analysis to take up the battle against all the inner and outward hindrances which would dissociate us from the Spirit of prayer.
It is at this point that God has ordained fasting asa means of carrying on the struggle against the subtle and dangerous hindrances which confront us in prayer. 

Fasting must be voluntary, Jesus says.
The Christian resorts to fasting when he finds that some particular thing is acting as a hindrance to his prayers. This may be some special difficulty of which he is cognizant and which he feels as a hindrance, or it may be something that he does not understand. All he knows is that there is something impeding his intercourse with God in prayer. 

He resorts to fasting in order to set his distracted and worldly-minded soul free for a time from material things and the distraction of his environment, and thus give the Spirit an opportunity to search out his whole inner being and speak with him about the things which are grieving the Spirit of prayer, in order thus to re-establish unhindered communication with the Spirit of prayer and a greater influx of divine power. 

Let us now consider briefly those circumstances in life in which Christians feel the need of fasting.

In the first place,DURING SPECIAL TEMPTATIONS.
When Jesus was to be tempted in a special way, immediately after He in Baptism had been endued with power for His ministry, He fasted. Note the fact that He fasted a long time, forty long days. So seriously did Jesus take His struggle against temptations. This is a reminder to us of how different we are about the temptations which assail us.
Even Jesus, who was sinless, felt the need of acquiring composure of soul by fasting before He entered the fight against Satan.
After the miracle of the loaves in the desert, when the people desired to make Him king, we notice that Jesus immediately resorted to fasting again, though in a shorter and simpler form, by denying himself His night’s sleep (Matthew 14:23) in order to acquire concentration of soul through undisturbed communion with the Father and thus by fully endued with power to meet the tempter who was again pursuing Him.
Our temptations have acquired, and are maintaining, a great deal of power over us because we have not sought the divine nearness and holiness which fasting affords, and which would enable us to deal radically differently with our temptations.

In the second place, Christians feel the need of fasting BEFORE MAKING A DECISIVE CHOICE.
When Jesus was to choose ills apostles, a choice fraught with great significance to the whole world, He spend the whole preceding night alone with the Father in prayer (Luke 6:12). Although Jesus maintained an unbroken relationship of obedience to His Father, and although His spiritual sense had never been blunted by sin, nevertheless He felt the need of concentrating His soul in the quiet of the night upon uninterrupted communion with His Father in order to be certain that He would be following the Father’s leading when He made His choice the following day. 

In this connection I might also mention the little incident which is recorded in Acts 13:2, “AS ‘IILIY MINISTERED TO TUE LORD, AND FASTED, THE HOLY SPIRTT SAID, SEPARATE ME BARNABAS AND SAUL FOR THE WORK WHEREUNTO I HAVE CALLED THEM.” While the apostles were fasting, the Spirit spoke to them the decisive words which sent Paul out upon his first missionary journey, the words which started the whole missionary movement to the Gentiles.
We would not make so many rash and unspiritual choices, nor would we be so frequently at a loss what to do in the face of important decisions, if we would begin to fast in the Christian sense, and thus give the Spirit of prayer an opportunity to speak to our souls. We are too often occupied with outward things, and as a result we often become very hard of hearing spiritually. 

In the third place, fasting is useful IN TILE PLANNING AND CARRYING OUT OF EXCEEDINGLY DIFFICULT TASKS.
In Acts 13:3 and 14:23, we read of how the first Christians prepared themselves by fasting for important acts in the congregation, such as ordaining elders and sending out missionaries. The purpose of this was evident enough. They wanted to concentrate spiritually and put themselves wholly and completely at the disposal of the Spirit of prayer in order that, by prayer and the laying on of hands, they might mediate the grace which the Spirit desired to impart to these brethren.
These early, Spirit-filled Christians felt the need of this; we earthly-minded, overly-busy, and spiritually poverty-stricken Christians of today have put aside fasting entirely. We feel that we do not need it!
Of course, fasting is and must be voluntary. Only the Spirit of prayer can make us so humble that we gratefully make us of all the means that the Lord has given us.
In the fourth place, fasting is useful BEFORE GREAT AND MIGHTY ACTS.
Jesus said, “THIS KIND CAN COME OUT BY NOTHING, SAVE BY PRAYER AND) FASTING.” Thus He explains why the disciples were powerless in dealing with demoniac possession on this occasion. We are told here, too, that there are differences in mighty works. Some require more power from above than others.
Jesus shows here that fasting is the means whereby believing prayer can mediate the accession of needed power from God.
To make use of a rather mechanical, but nevertheless vivid illustration, we might compare this with the transmission of electrical power. The greater the volume of power to be transmitted, the stronger the connection with the power house must be, that is, the larger the cable must be.
We have seen, prayer is the conduit through which power from heaven is brought to earth. Jesus says in effect that the greater the volume of power to be transmitted from above, the stronger must be the
prayer cable which unites the soul with God. 


How does this take place?
As we have mentioned again and again, everything depends upon the spirit of prayer. Our prayers are rendered ineffectual in the same degree as they take a different course than that in which the Spirit would lead us. And they become even more impotent when we come in conflict with the Spirit and grieve Him.
Fasting helps to give us that inner sense of spiritual penetration by means of which we can discern clearly that for which the Spirit of prayer would have us pray in exceptionally difficult circumstances. 

At the same time it helps to cleanse our souls of any impure motives which might be present when we pray for mighty acts. This cleansing takes place when we, in the quietude and concentration of fasting, discover the love of honor and other impure motives which lie concealed in our prayers, and when we receive power to confess these things to the Lord, saying, “I would rather that the miracle be not permitted to take place than that I by taking honor unto myself should defile Thy name and desecrate prayer. But if Thou canst perform the miracle without my disturbing or desecrating anything that is Thine, then grant it, Lord.”


NOTE: This material on Fasting comes from PRAYER. A WORLD FAMOUS CLASSIC by 0. Hallesby, Augsburg Publishing House, 1931, copyright renewed in 1959, 1975 Pocket Paperback Edition. Now out of print.