Practical faith is rooted and grounded in the Scriptures. The Bible shows us the basic pattern for serving God and teaches us the proper approach to fasting.
FASTING AND PRAYER IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
God’s chosen people, Israel, always had a special relationship with God. Israel’s history is exemplary of men today. In times of ease God is often ignored or forsaken, but in times of distress and difficulty we earnestly seek His face.
As we carefully examine the history of fasting in the Old Testament, we discover there is both united fasting and individual fasting.
In the Books of the Law, God commanded there would be a day in which Israel would seek His forgiveness for sin. This was called the Day of Atonement, which took place on the tenth day of the seventh month (Leviticus 16: 19-34 and Numbers 29:7-11). On this day all the people of Israel, including the priests and leaders, clothed themselves in holy linen, and wholeheartedly repented of their sins with fasting and prayer. It demonstrated their keen awareness of their need for redemption.
During the time of the Babylonian captivity and the following generation that returned to Israel, the people fasted four times a year, in the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months. Zechariah wrote, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace” (8:19).
During the Babylonian captivity, the fifth and seventh months were times of fasting and mourning (Zechariah 7:5). From the seventh to the tenth day of the fifth month was a period of fasting in remem- brance of the time when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple in Jerusalem with fire (Jeremiah 41: 1 and 52:12, and 2 Kings 25:8).
Some scholars believe that the seventh month fast was a time of memorial to the death of Gedaliah, governor of captured Israel. However, because he was killed by the youth of Israel for his flirtation with Babylon, we do not believe that this fasting day was kept in his honor, but rather to be in remembrance of the original Day of Atonement spoken of in the Law (Numbers 29: 12 and Jeremiah 16:30).
Additionally, we think the fast kept during the fourth and tenth month began during the generation that returned to Jerusalem from captivity. On the tenth day of the tenth month they were attacked by Babylon and on the ninth day of the fourth month Jerusalem was overcome by the Babylonian forces (2 Kings 25: I and Jeremiah 52:4, 6).
The people of Israel fasted and prayed during times of misfortune and misery in their personal lives and during times of national calamity. An example of this is found in Esther 4: 16, when Esther called the people to fast and pray for her as she went before the king to save the people of Israel from slaughter at the hand of Harnan.
We can see another example at the time when the sins of Nineveh reached God’s throne and God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and warn them that they had only 40 days to repent or He would destroy the city. At that time, the king, the governor, and all the people of Nineveh earnestly confessed their sins. They dressed in sackcloth and ashes and fasted and prayed. Even the household animals were not allowed to eat or drink. The Ninevites’ fasting and prayer and turning from evil stayed the hand of God from destroying the city. In these examples, the fasting and prayer of indi- viduals in times of national emergency moved the hand of God and changed the course of history.
The people of Israel also fasted individually. In times of personal sorrow, repentance and need, and of humbling themselves before God they fasted and prayed.
Times of fasting and prayer preceded great missions in individual’s lives. Moses climbed Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God, during which time he fasted 40 days and nights. This occurred shortly after the children of Israel left the land of Egypt under the leadership of Moses (Exodus 34:28). When the prophet Elijah sought refuge from King Ahab on Mt. Horeb, he walked and fasted for 40 days and nights. Daniel fasted and prayed three weeks to receive an answer from God. Hannah’s desire to bear a son brought her before the Lord in fasting and prayer (1 Samuel 1 :7).
King David wept and fasted in sorrow at the death of Abner (2 Samuel 3:35). When people captured in battle became ill, King David fasted and prayed for their healing (Psalms 35: 13), and he always fasted and prayed to receive answers from God (Psalms 109:22-26. When King Ahab heard the prophecy of Elijah that God’s wrath would be poured out upon his household, he repented in sackcloth and ashes and fasted (1 Kings 21:27). To receive God’s help, Esther fasted and prayed for three days (Esther 4: 16).
At the time when Hezekiah was sick unto death and sought the Lord, Isaiah came with God’s message, “Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.” When Hezekiah heard this he turned his face to the wall and earnestly sought God. Then God spoke again through Isaiah saying, “I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years” (Isaiah 38: 1-8). When the children of Israel went to battle to save their nation, they fasted and prayed (Judges 20:26 and 2 Chronicles 20:3). In times of disaster and misfortune they always fasted and prayed (Joel 1: 13-20). . When the believers wanted to have close communi- cation with God (Exodus 34:8 and I Kings 19:8), when a country was in upheaval (Daniel 4 and Judges 20:26), when people suffered personal sorrow (2 Samuel 12: 16), for revival of the nation (Deuteronomy 8: 11 and Isaiah 58:7), in confessing their sins (Daniel 9 and Joel 2:12), or when in any need, the people fasted and prayed.
If they indulged in ceremonial ritual and formality only, God openly rebuked them (Isaiah 58:5); but whenever the children of Israel fasted and prayed, God always heard. The Jews not only practiced this approach to God; they taught this precious truth to the succeeding generations.
During times of fasting there were those who were more diligent than others, but all realized that this was the only way to receive help for their physical and spiritual problems.
FASTING AND PRAYER IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
In the New Testament we find some very practical teaching concerning fasting and prayer. It is easier for us to relate to the fasting experiences recorded in the New Testament than those recorded in the Old Testa- ment.
Our Lord is the supreme example for fasting and prayer. Before He began His public ministry, He fasted 40 days and soon after met and defeated the tempta- tions of Satan (Mark 1: 12 and 13). Before proclaiming the message of redemption Christ spent time in fasting and prayer. Isn’t it wonderful that this truth of fasting and prayer was shown to us by the personal example of our Lord?
Let us consider some of the teaching found in the Gospels concerning fasting and prayer. In Matthew 6: 16 through 18, Jesus said,
“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.”
This passage shows us the proper attitude in which to fast and pray. We should fast naturally for the development of our faith, but God will judge those who make an outward display and hypocritically fast. God does not judge fasting itself, but shows us the essence of fasting. He teaches the necessity of sincerity and pureness of heart in fasting.
In the time of Christ, the Pharisees omitted the essence of fasting while clinging only to the formali- ties. Because they desired to show men their piety, God withheld His blessing. For example, Mark wrote,
“And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not? And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bride- chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days” (2: 18-20). (Also see Matthew 10: 14-17 and John 5:33-39). This passage reveals the fundamental spirit and principles of fasting and prayer. We must follow Christ’s teaching and exercise His methods of faith and apply them to our lives.
In Matthew 17: 19-21, Jesus gave us another example of the importance of fasting and prayer.
“Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them” Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, I f y~ have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place: and it shall remove: and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. ”
While Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the Mount of Transfiguration, a father brought his demon-possessed son to the other disciples and asked them to heal him. However, the disciples could not cure him. When Jesus returned from the mountain, the father came to Him with his boy, and Jesus cast the devil out. This troubled the disciples. They later asked Jesus privately why they were unable to cast the devil out. Jesus told them it was because of their unbelief. Now, particularly note what verse 21 says: “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” Prayer and fasting was to be the key to spiritual power. Even though Jesus, the Son of God, was very busy in His mimstry, He went away for times of fasting and prayer.
Our Lord, who loved the souls of men more than anything in the world, was willing to spend a whole day without food to mmister to the despised Samaritan woman and to achieve God’s will. John 4:30-34 says, “Then they went out of the city, and came unto him. In the mean while his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat. But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of. Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him aught to eat? Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.”
Our Lord personally fasted and prayed that He might be an example to us. Today, whoever you are, whatever our problems, if we will put our trust in Jesus Christ, we can receive spiritual and physical healing. How precious to God’s people is the inspired hymn, Sweet Hour of Prayer!
Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne,
Make all my wants and wishes known!
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief,
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer.
Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
The joys I feel, the bliss I share
Of those whose anxious spirits burn
With strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place,
Where God my Saviour shows His face,
And gladly take my station there,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer.
Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
Thy wings shall my petition bear
To Him, whose truth and faithfulness
Engage the waiting soul to bless;
And since He bids me seek His face,
Believe His Word, and trust His grace,
I’ll cast on Him my every care,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer.
Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer
May I thy consolation share,
Til from Mount Pisgah’s lofty height,
I view my home, and take my flight;
This robe of flesh I’ll drop and rise
To seize the everlasting prize;
And shout, while passing thro’ the air,
Farewell, farewell, Sweet Hour of Prayer.
Believers who desire to receive God’s blessings must follow the examples of Christ and dedicate their lives unreservedly to minister to the physically ill and help bring deliverance to those in spiritual need. Even though in the natural we find circumstances difficult, let us accept the challenge to develop our faith. Through Paul’s experiences in faith, God was able to use him mightily both as a missionary to the Gentiles and in writing part of the New Testament. Paul zealously persecuted the Christian Church until he met the Lord on the Damascus road. From that time his life was totally surrendered to the cause of Christ. Im- mediately after his miraculous conversion, he fasted and prayed for three days, taking neither food nor water (Acts 9:9). Then Ananias prayed for him, and he received his sight. Following this experience, he went to the wilderness of Arabia and there prepared himself for the preaching of the gospel (Galatians I: 17). Paul’s life is another example to us. He continually prayed to be full of the power of God and fasted from time to time. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 11 :27, “In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. ”
Through Paul’s experience in fasting and prayer, he demonstrated to us assurance that Christ alone can give. Through this assurance that Paul possessed we can know that great power is available to us by faith. Our main source of information regarding fasting and prayer in the early Church comes from the Book of Acts. It is evident that believers did fast and pray. In Acts 1:14,
“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.”
In July, 1972, during an evangelistic trip that took me to 42 countries, I visited Jerusalem and saw Mark’s upper room. This upper room is shaped like a top shell; to go up one must climb a spiral staircase. It seemed so small that I wondered how 120 people could possibly sit together at the same time. In the circumstances of those believers, hiding and avoiding the Roman soldiers, I can imagine that they found it impossible to eat and drink. I do not doubt that they fasted and prayed earnestly. At other times also they fasted and prayed.
In Acts 13:2 and 3,
“As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabus 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.”
And in Acts 14:23,
“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.”
From the preceding passages, we see that the believers in the early Church fasted and prayed before sending out missionaries and before appointing leaders of the Church. By beginning the preaching of the gospel with fasting and prayer, the early Church apostles left us a beautiful example of what must precede the spreading of great revival fires to the whole world.
I had fasted and prayed for my children and family, at times for maybe three days and again for one week. However, I did not pray for the glory of the Lord but often from self pity.
In January, 1974, the Lord challenged me to commit myself to Him in sacrificial prayer and fasting for three weeks.
Several days before finishing my fast, suddenly early one morning the Lord gave me a vision. This was a vision of the chaos which will follow the second coming of Jesus Christ. Unsaved people cried out in agony as they were cast into the Lake of Fire, a place of eternal torment, to be forever separated from God. After this vision I started to weep and pray for the unsaved in my family and among my relatives. God also gave me a burden for the lost souls of our nation. No longer did I fast and pray for my desires to be met, but that lost souls would come to know Christ. Shortly after beginning to pray in this manner, God began to do miracles. Family differences were recon- ciled, and major problems regarding our business were solved.
At this time I was a Bible school student. As I dedicated my life to God, He blessed me and I began to do the work of an evangelist. By the power of the Holy Spirit, J saw many miracles happen. Demons were cast out, and many people came to Christ. I want to give thanks, honor, and glory to our Lord. Hallelujah!
-Yei Ja Urn
189 Chungjungro, 3 Ga
Seodamum Ku, Seoul, Korea
I was filled with despair as I realized there was no hope of recovery from the cancer that filled my stomach. The doctors had given me different kinds of medication, and I had received treatment at several hospitals; but there was no improvement in my condition. I became very discouraged.
One day my son came and said, “Father, if you go to the Full Gospel Prayer Mountain and pray and believe on Jesus you will be healed. Many miracles happen there.”
I had never heard about Jesus, but as my son continued to urge me to go, at last I made my way to the prayer mountain.
Everything – the singing, the worship, the preaching – was so strange to me at that time. But as I listened to testimonies of salvation and healing, faith began to grow in my heart as I realized that I also could receive healing for my soul and body. Realizing I was a sinner, I repented and accepted Christ. I then began to seek God. I would often be tempted with the desire for food and cigarettes, but each time this occurred I sought God more earnestly to overcome this temptation. Agonizing before God, I yielded myself to His will.
After fasting and praying for one week, God did a miracle in my body. Suddenly, I felt something strange happening in my stomach. I discharged a dark, red blood mass and the root of the cancer. Praise the Lord!
How can I thank and give Him honor and glory for His boundless grace and love? I will praise and serve Him for the rest of my life.
I know God will continue to be glorified as many people seek His face and are saved through the mercy of Jesus at the Full Gospel Prayer Mountain. Hallelujah!
-Chong Guk Kim