Fasting & Prayer

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose they will be heard for their many words. So, do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

– Matthew 6:5-8 NASB

Prayer is personal and private. It is a conversation between you and God. Corporate prayer is important as well – praying collectively as a group is powerful and it is vital for our churches and communities to grow and thrive, but it can’t replace our time alone with God. We need to listen closely to the instructions of Jesus and heed his advice. It is just as relevant now as it was then. We need to enter into our prayer closets and get alone with God in a secret place. We need to examine the motivation of our hearts. Are we praying to be heard by others or to be heard by God? Are we repeating meaningless words, or are we being intentional with the words we are praying?

What is the purpose of prayer?

  • Communication – When we pray, we’re having a conversation with God. We’re talking to our Father. We’re talking to our Best Friend. It’s not intended to be impressive. We don’t need to overthink it or try to say all the right words. God knows what we need before we ask. He just wants to hear from us. He just wants to commune with us.
  • Submission – Prayer is about humbling ourselves before God. It is how we ask Him for a specific need or desire. It is how we confess our sins. It is how we honor Him and give Him reverence. We can’t take for granted the immensely undeserved gift it is to be able to enter His presence. We don’t need to physically bow down knees or lay prostrate before Him every time we pray, but we should be aware of the posture of our heart. We need to enter His presence with humility and respect, because He is God and we are not. He is worthy, and we are not. We need to surrender ourselves before Him.
  • Intercession – The Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t have the words to pray. Romans 8:26 says He intercedes for us “with groanings too deep for words.” We pray in the name of Jesus, because it is through the sacrifice of Jesus that we have access to God. We don’t need to make a blood sacrifice to enter His presence, because Jesus became our sacrifice. We don’t need a priest to forgive us of our sins, because Jesus became our High Priest. The veil has been torn. We can enter into the Holy of Holies because of Jesus. Jesus is our intercessor, and because of His intercession, we too can intercede for others. Have you ever considered that maybe you are where you are in life right this moment because someone at some point in their life interceded for you when you were far from God?
  • Transformation – The purpose of prayer is to transform us from the inside out. The purpose of prayer is to shift our focus from the object of our fear to the object of our faith. Our prayers are not intended to change God’s mind, but to change our hearts. When I pray, it puts things into clearer focus. My perspective changes because I am looking up instead of looking around. We are transformed by the power of prayer.

Jesus didn’t just tell us how to pray, He showed us how.

“Pray then, in this way: Our Father who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”

Matthew 6:9-13 NASB

“Our Father who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name.”

In the first two words of this prayer, Jesus shows us how to address God in prayer. We come to God because of the relationship we have with Him. We come to Him as a child coming before their Father. Prayers in the Old Testament often addressed God as Lord, but in the New Testament He is addressed as Father. Our relationship with Him is more personal because of Jesus. Prayers in the Old Testament often addressed Him as “The God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Abraham, etc.” but the New Testament refers to Him as Our Father. We are adopted children. We are prodigal sons and daughters. We are heirs to the throne. He is not only the God of the patriarchs; He is our God. He is our Father.

He is our Father who is in Heaven. With these words, Jesus shows us where our prayers should be directed. Our prayers are directed upward, towards the Heavens. Looking to Heaven allows us to reflect on the greatness of God. It humbles us and magnifies Him. Looking toward Heaven puts our thoughts into perspective. Isaiah 55:9 says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The inclusion of the phrase “Hallowed be Your Name” shows us that prayer should be entered into with a heart of worship and reverence. “Hallowed” means to be holy and set apart. His name is YHWH – a name too Holy to even be written or spoken in the Hebrew language. YHWH means “becoming one.” He becomes who we need Him to be. He is El Roi meaning He is the God Who Sees. He is El Shaddai, the Almighty God. He is Jehovah Jirah, our Provider. He is Jehovah Nissi, our Banner of Victory. He is Jehovah Shalom, our Peace. He is Jesus. He is Yashua which means “The Lord has become our salvation.” He is Immanuel, God with us. In Exodus, God told Moses, “I am who I am.” In the book of John, Jesus issued seven “I am” statements. I am the Bread of Life. I am the Light of the World. I am the Gate. I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Resurrection and the Life. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I am the True Vine. He becomes what we need. He is all that we need. He is the I Am, and His Name is Holy.

“Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Kingdoms represent royalty, power, and dominion. The Kingdom of God is a Monarchy. A monarchy can be trusted when the King can be trusted, and our King is worthy of trust. Matthew 6:33 tells us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Jesus prays for God’s Kingdom to come – meaning it must move from one place to another. Jesus prays for God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. It’s important that Jesus included this, because our human will is often in opposition of God’s will. Jesus Himself in the Garden before His death prayed, “If it be your will let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but your will be done” (Luke 22:42).

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

A prayer for bread is a prayer for provision and nourishment. Our physical well-being is an important part of our spiritual well-being. Pray for what you need, but know that it may not always look like what you think it should. When the Israelites were hungry in the wilderness and prayed for bread, God sent manna down from the sky. It wasn’t any kind of bread they had ever seen before. It was flaky and appeared like dew on the ground. The word Manna in Hebrew means “What is it?” because they had never seen anything like it before. But it was God’s provision, and it was exactly what they needed. God gave them enough for each day and told them not to store it up. They took only enough for that day, and trusted God to supply it again the next day.

Jesus prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He didn’t pray for a week’s worth of bread, or a month’s worth of bread, or five-year supply of bread. He asked only for today. In Matthew 6:34 He tells us, “Take no thought about tomorrow for tomorrow has enough worries of its own.” We should pray for daily provision, and trust for divine provision tomorrow. Jesus asks God to give us the bread. That tells us that God’s provision can’t be bought, and it can’t be earned. It’s given. It’s a free gift of grace.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

A debt is that which is owed. It is justly and legally due. Romans 6:23 tells us the wages of our sin is death. Your wage is that which is earned. When we work for sin, when we focus our time and energy on sinful thoughts and activities, then the payment we are due is death. A debtor was often tormented, thrown into prison, or sold as slave until the debt was paid. Jesus lived a perfect life. He was without sin, but He died to pay a debt He didn’t owe. God gives because He loves. As He loved us and forgave our debt, so should we love and forgive those who sin against us.

This is the only part of Jesus’ prayer that He expounds on later. In verses 14 and 15 He says, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” This tells us that we should pray with sincerity. We shouldn’t pray a prayer if we aren’t willing to do what needs to be done to make it a reality. We can’t pray for forgiveness if we aren’t willing to forgive. God knows our heart. He knows our intentions. Forgiveness is no easy task. It is so much easier said than done, but it can be done. We can forgive because we have been forgiven. True forgiveness is a powerful force of love. It is a powerful demonstration of the love God has for us.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Jesus covers past, present, and future needs in this prayer. The prayer for daily bread covers the present, the prayer for forgiveness covers the past, and “lead us not into temptation” is a prayer for the future. Jesus is asking for God’s leadership and guidance. He is asking for deliverance from the traps of the enemy. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to withstand. It tells us God will provide a way of escape. This is Jesus praying for that escape. If we pray for it, then we have to be willing to look for it. When we’re caught up in the moment and temptation is right in front of us, it’s easy to put blinders on to any escape sign God may be trying to direct us towards. That’s why we have to be alert, be attentive, and pray without ceasing. We have to always be watching for God’s leadership, and we can’t allow ourselves to get into situations that will try to pull us off the path He has us on. When we do fall into temptation, we have to know that true repentance means turning away. It often seems that we’re in an endless loop of prayers for forgiveness and deliverance. Once our sin has been forgiven, we have to turn away and not look back. We have to focus on where God is leading us so we won’t be led astray.

“For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

Jesus opened the prayer with a heart of worship, and He closed the prayer with a heart of worship. In the beginning, and in the end, He acknowledged the greatness of God. He acknowledged the Holiness and reverence of God. By closing the prayer in this way, Jesus is closing the prayer with comfort, confidence, and peace in who God is and in what He is able to do. He is closing the prayer on a note of hope.

Jesus didn’t say if you fast, but when you fast.

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

– Matthew 6:16-18 NASB

Fasting as a Spiritual discipline is implied in Scripture. It wasn’t commanded, because it was already expected. Fasting should be a habitual, integral part of our Spiritual lives. Jesus was prepared for the wilderness because He had practiced the disciplines of study, silence, and solitude – but he fought and endured through the wilderness because He fasted and prayed. Fasting requires Self-Discipline, Self-Denial, & Self-Control. It’s a learning process. It is a way for us to exercise the power of our spirit over the power of our flesh.

What is the purpose of fasting?

  • Fasting starves the flesh to feed the spirit – The first ever temptation was a temptation to eat. Food is a foundational part of our humanity. Eve was tempted because it was pleasing to the eye. She saw it, and she desired it. Our fleshly desires are those human characteristics that instinctively draw us toward sin. We crave it. Fasting breaks up our habitual cravings and regular routines. On a regular day, we will eat 2-3 times per day without a second thought. When we fast, it redirects those thoughts and focuses them on God rather than on satisfying the needs of our flesh. Fasting and prayer move our fight from the physical realm to the spiritual realm.  Fasting from food is a way of feasting on God. We must be emptied to be filled. In Matthew 4:2-4, Jesus hungered in the wilderness. And when Satan tempted Him to turn some rocks into bread, He quoted Scripture saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the word of God.” In the next chapter, during His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:6, He declared, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
  • Fasting shifts the carnally minded to the spiritually minded – When our minds are set on carnal and fleshly things it leads to death, but when our minds set on the Spirit it leads to life and peace (Romans 8:6-7). The strongholds we face are a battle of the mind (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) and fasting allows us to take our carnal thoughts captive and replace them with positive, life-giving, spiritual thoughts. Fasting gives us a kick-start, a reboot, to cleanse our mind and focus our thoughts on things above.
  • Fasting strengthens us through weakness – In Psalm 109:24 the Psalmist said, “My knees are weak from fasting…” When our knees are weak, it puts us in a better position to hit the ground and pray. When our knees are weak, we’re more dependent on God and leaning on Him to hold us up and strengthen us. Without weakness, we wouldn’t know what it felt like to be strong. Without hunger, we wouldn’t know what it felt like to be filled. Our weaknesses point us to Christ. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 the Words of Jesus say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Our weaknesses demonstrate God’s strength.

In Matthew 17:14-21 Jesus encounters a boy with a demonic spirit. The disciples tried to drive on the demon, but they could not. Jesus cast the demon out, and afterwards the disciples came to Him asking why they could not do it. “Because of the littleness of your faith,” he said. “For truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible to you. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” Fasting and prayer gives us the power to do what only Jesus can do. Fasting and prayer gives us the power to move mountains and drive out demons. It gives us the power to do the impossible in the name of Jesus.

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