A Call to Fast and Pray

Will you join me in fasting and praying every Tuesday until we can worship together once again? 

When Nehemiah hears of the condition of Jerusalem, he fasts and prays before God. They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.” When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 1:3-4)

In light of the situation with COVID-19, it seems appropriate for us to weep, mourn, fast, and pray before the God of heaven. 

Fasting with a spiritual purpose

I am encouraging us, as a church body, to follow the example of many in Scripture who cry out to God for mercy while fasting and praying. The purpose of calling our church to fast and pray is to ask God to awaken us to think Biblically and to be the light of the world in these dark times. We are chosen by God to declare His excellencies (1 Peter 2:9). Our family, neighbors, friends, and coworkers need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ in this time of difficulty. Let’s awaken our spirit to answer the call to be ambassadors for Christ.

We should never fast unless we have a spiritual purpose in mind. Without a purpose, fasting can be a miserable, self-centered experience about us fighting against our hunger with sheer willpower and endurance. When we have a spiritual purpose, we can use the times of feeling hungry to remind us of our mission and bring us to pray.

What to pray

Here are four suggested items to pray:

  1. God, we value the assembly of worship. Will You please bring us together again soon? In the meantime, help us maintain a spirit of worship.
  2. God teach us during this time to understand the importance of eternal life and salvation. Reveal how You are opening the door for the Gospel.
  3. God, make me a light in the darkness. Help me to have spiritual conversations that point people to Jesus.
  4. God, awaken my spirit to be zealous for Your kingdom. May Your kingdom come, and Your will be done.

How fasting enhances prayer

Here are some ways fasting can enhance our time of prayer:

  • Fasting doesn’t atone for our sin: only Christ’s blood atones for our sin. It doesn’t “twist God’s arm” to make Him listen. The intent of fasting is it helps make us humbler and more contrite.
  • Fasting awakens us from complacency. As we fast, hunger reminds us to focus on the work of God’s kingdom. It serves to remind us of our need for zeal and compassion.
  • We fast to be reminded that we need to tell others of the unfathomable riches of Christ.
  • Fasting can help us overcome the temptation not to pray. We are saying to our flesh, “Flesh, you are not in charge, I deny my flesh food so I may feed my spirit. Flesh, submit to the Holy Spirit.”

John Piper has a book on fasting titled, A Hunger for God. When fasting, we can express a hunger for God. We desire a fresh encounter with God, an answer to a prayer, for God to save someone, or for God to work in our church. We are expressing we hunger for the food God made for our spirit more than food for our flesh.

Fasting is expected

The Bible expects that we will fast. Jesus said, “When you fast …” because He expects His followers to fast (Mt. 6:16-17). Few of the spiritual disciplines go so radically against our flesh. As our body responds with aggression to abstinence from food, we will recognize the biblical significance of fasting.

Jesus said the time will come when His disciples “will fast when the Bridegroom is away” (Luke 5:35). That time is now. The “Bridegroom” is away. We are to fast as part of our longing for and anticipation of His return. Piper writes, “Christian fasting at its root, is the hunger of homesickness for God.”

What is fasting

Strictly speaking, fasting is abstinence from food. Fasting may be new to some Christians, but it is not new to God’s people.

If you have never fasted before, you may find it easier to start small with fasting only one or two meals.

There are many types of fasts. We may partake in an absolute fast, with no food or water (Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:16; Acts 9:9). We may drink water and only fast with food. We may fast by limiting our food choices (such as give up meat or sugar). We can fast privately, as a group, or as a congregation. We can fast weekly or monthly. There is a great deal of flexibility with fasting.

We also may apply a broader application of fasting for spiritual purposes, such as to deny ourselves the enjoyment of something. For example, we might give up Facebook, television, looking at our phone except for phone calls. These are all good things to do and encouraged. But, as far as the Bible is concerned, fasting is about abstinence from food.

Some people fast for up to 40 days. Long-term fasting is not for everyone. Please get medical counsel if you are unsure if you should fast due to a medical condition.

For more information

In writing this post, I found “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” by Donald S. Whitney, Navigators Press, to be an excellent resource. I encourage you to get a copy of the book if you want to know more about fasting and other spiritual disciplines.