I believe that the two subjects of fasting and prayer go together. People who have never fasted may not know what is involved; and fasting usually sounds like drudgery and difficulty. I’ve heard people talk about such long fasts that I thought, If I fasted that long, I’d die. I couldn’t possibly do that. I used to associate fasting with these long, long periods of time; yet a fast can be as short as one meal and still allow God to do some wonderful things in your life.
My late husband, Wally, had never been taught fasting, but when he first began to serve the Lord, he had a friend in a mental hospital about whom he was very concerned. As he prayed for his friend, the Lord spoke to him out of the Scriptures saying, “This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). Like I said, Wally didn’t know anything about fasting, so he “only” fasted one meal. Ever after such a short fast, the man was released from the hospital!
So, I don’t want you to think about the length of time you will fast, but how you can get your heart in line with the Lord and let Him speak to you.
WHAT FASTING DOES
First of all, let’s talk about the benefits of fasting and how God will prepare you to fast. If you can get sold on what fasting will do in your life, you will want to fast.
Jesus was spiritually prepared before the Lord led Him to fast for 40 days. Matthew 4:1 says, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” If you are going to fast, you need to be led by the Spirit. That’s why Jesus could endure 40 days of fasting. Forty days is a long time, and it could kill you if you aren’t really led of the Spirit. I don’t suggest that you suddenly decide to be like Jesus and fast for 40 days because it could be very dangerous. Instead, I suggest you be led by the Holy Spirit and let the Lord lead you in setting up the time frame.
Elijah also went on a fast for 40 days, but God prepared him for it. He was very defeated at the time God called him to fast. He had just called down the fire at Mount Carmel and had a tremendous victory over the prophets of Baal. God then opened the heavens in response to Elijah’s prayer for rain. Finally, in a supernatural anointing of strength, Elijah outran Ahab’s chariot into Jezreel.
However, upon arriving in Jezreel, Ahab’s hateful wife, Jezebel, sent him a message. She wasn’t very happy about the fact that Elijah had killed all her prophets. In fact, she was furious and threatened to kill Elijah. In a weak moment, Elijah became full of fear and ran into the wilderness, hid under a tree, and told God, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (1 Kings 19:4). Elijah left the revival because of a message from a woman.
Looking at Elijah, I see that God was determined for him to be a winner. I think God is just as determined for you to be a winner. Elijah had blown it, but God did something wonderful for him: He sent an angel to encourage him and give him food. Then Elijah went back to sleep after having eaten. Evidently, he really needed rest. Again, the angel woke him and fed him, but this time he said to Elijah, “I want you to go to Horeb, and it is a 40-day trip. You won’t have to eat anything because the food I gave you will sustain you” (1 Kings 19:7-8, author’s paraphrase). Elijah was prepared for his 40-day fast. He didn’t just decide to fast that long in his own strength. The angel of the Lord came to encourage him and prepare him.
When Elijah went to Horeb, the Lord revealed where he had “missed it.” He saw the fire, the wind, the earthquake—many manifestations of the Lord. But then he heard a still, small voice saying, “Elijah, you missed it because you didn’t wait for the leading of my Spirit. You looked at Jezebel and her message and ran away. Wait for the still, small voice. Learn to be led of the Spirit so you won’t miss it anymore.”
Never again do we read of defeat in Elijah’s life. Here was a man who had been very defeated. Yet he was led into a 40-day fast, heard the voice of God, learned how to be led of the Spirit, and was transformed. God will do the same for you when you fast.
Let’s go back to Matthew 17. Jesus had just descended from the mount of transfiguration when a man whose son was demon-possessed came to Him and said, “I brought [my son] to Your disciples, but they could not cure him” (v. 16). Jesus prayed for the son, and he was delivered. When the disciples asked why they couldn’t cast out the demon, Jesus answered, “Because of your unbelief; . . . However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (vv. 20-21).
What is the purpose of fasting? To cure unbelief. This is the key to fasting. Jesus told His disciples they were unable to cast out the evil spirit because of their unbelief. If they had been fasting and praying, however, they would have had the faith to cast them out. Fasting will put you in a position of higher faith. There are several biblical examples of fasting, including the Israelites (see 1 Samuel 7:6), Esther and the Jews living in Shushan (see Esther 4:16), and the Assyrians (see Jonah 3:5). But I want to talk about a very unusual fast recorded in Judges 19-20.
These chapters tell of a Levite man living in Ephraim who was supposed to have been a priest. However, he wasn’t much of a man of God. After all, during the time of the judges, Israel did what was right in their own eyes instead of following God’s Law. This Levite man had a concubine who went to visit her father. When he went after her to take her back to Ephraim, he stayed a long time with her father. After the two men ate and drank a great deal, the Levite and his concubine started back to Ephraim. They entered a town of Benjaminites, where they had no place to stay for the night. Finally, a man invited them into his house. The Benjaminites were well-known for their cruelty and immorality, and they gathered around the man’s house asking to have immoral relations with the Levite. Instead, the Levite gave his concubine to them for the night. They abused her and left her to die on the doorstep of the house where she and the Levite were staying.
When he was ready to leave the next morning, the Levite found his concubine dead outside the front door. He then cut her body into 12 pieces and sent one section to each tribe of Israel, saying, “This is what the Benjaminites have done to my concubine!” (Judges 19:30 and 20:4-7, author’s paraphrase). So, the other tribes came against Benjamin and said, “Give us those men so we can punish them!”
The tribe of Benjamin answered, “No, we won’t do that,” and prepared for battle. The other 11 tribes joined together to fight the Benjaminites, who were left-handed and were so outstanding at throwing stones that they never missed. It shocked me to learn that the Benjaminites won the first two battles in which 40,000 men were killed! This seemed unfair to me. I thought, God, the other tribes were right. Why did you let the Benjaminites win? But after two major losses . . .
. . . All the children of Israel, that is, all the people, went up and came to the house of God and wept. They sat there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. So the children of Israel inquired of the Lord . . . saying, “Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?”
And the Lord said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand.” (Judges 20:26-28)
They only fasted one day! But after this short time of fasting and praying, they won the war and defeated the Benjaminites. Why did they lose the first two battles? Because Israel was so backslidden that the powers of darkness had overwhelmed them. This shows how it took fasting and prayer to finally break the powers of darkness so that the 11 tribes could win. Fasting and prayer will not only bind up your unbelief; it will also break the powers of darkness.
WHEN TO FAST
There are many times when God may call you to fast, below are just a few examples.
- I think that when you’re not seeing results after having stood on the Word and having had people pray, you need to fast and pray. Then you will see the powers of darkness break.
- When you are stumbling, or in an overwhelming situation and don’t know what to do, fast!
- I believe a person who is involved in weekly fasting and prayer begins to manifest the fruit of the Spirit and something spiritual happens to push his old nature out. If you are very impatient, or if you have personality problems, be consistent with your fasting and prayer. It will change you.
- Fasting and prayer will help you go out in the anointing of God into the ministry He wants you to have. Paul began fasting as a brand-new Christian (see Acts 9:8-9) and continued throughout his ministry (see Acts 13:2, Acts 27:39, and 2 Corinthians 6:5). I believe fasting was the “secret” of the anointing upon Paul’s ministry.
TIPS FOR FASTING
- Fasting is to be done in secret. Jesus said in Matthew 6:16-18:
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
- Fast with pure motives and a clean heart, confessing your sin to the Lord (see Isaiah 58 and Zechariah 7:5-7).
- I personally believe that the best kind of fasting is consistent fasting. It is easy to fast when you get in trouble. However, if you were consistent in fasting and prayer, would you get into trouble so often? Fasting and prayer can keep you in a place of faith and victory so that when crises come, you will be so full of the Word and the Spirit that they won’t even be a crisis to you. You will already be prepared.
- As far as a length of time, if God speaks to you to go on a three-day fast and you have that witness in your spirit, do it. If He leads you to go on a fast for one, seven, or ten days, do that. It is good to be led by the Spirit in fasting. At one point in my life, God led me to fast seven meals each week. I didn’t do them all in one or two days, and I did different meals depending on my traveling schedule. This is only an example to encourage you to seek your own plan from the Lord.
- When you’re fasting, consider donating to a local food bank or other church/organization that helps the less fortunate (see Isaiah 58:7).
- Fasting will help you know how to pray and have compassion for people, and you will see them come forth to victory (see Isaiah 58:7).
- Speak powerful words in your fasting and keep your conversations right. Don’t have a critical attitude or talk about your problems when you’re fasting. If you fast and gripe, you may as well buy a hamburger and forget it.
PRAYER WITH FASTING
I studied the Scriptures on prayer, and I found that all the men with tremendous prayer lives prayed early in the morning. Jesus prayed early in the morning, long before daybreak (see Mark 1:35). To encourage yourself in this, look up: 1 Samuel 1:19, Job 1:5, Psalm 57:8-9, Psalm 88:13, Psalm 119:147, and Proverbs 8:17. Why is prayer good early in the morning? Because it gives you a good start. In the morning you are not yet occupied with the things of the day.
When does dew come? Early in the morning. When the sun comes up, the dew evaporates. The dew is often taught as a type of the presence of the Lord, teaching that there is a special presence of the Lord early in the morning. To get up early in the morning is to get the dew of His presence. This isn’t to say you can’t pray throughout your day; Daniel and David both prayed three times a day. But I do strongly encourage you to begin your day with prayer.
Finally, prayer must accompany fasting. Keep them together and you will have an amazingly effective prayer life!
***Before commencing a fast you should assess your health and consider visiting a health professional.
Marilyn Hickey Ministries acknowledges and embraces the numerous references found in the Bible that speak to the practice of fasting. We believe that Christ encouraged fasting for His disciples and for us, through His example. We believe that the purpose of periodic fasting is to accompany prayer, but we do not believe that there is a biblical requirement or instruction for everyone to participate in fasting. Christ in Scripture, distinguished between appropriate and inappropriate times for fasting.
As in all other aspects of your relationship with God, you should make a decision to participate in fasting only after taking into consideration whether fasting is appropriate for you as an individual—apart from and without any involvement in a group that may be fasting. We encourage you to thoroughly confirm your spiritual and physical suitability before fasting for any period of time. Carefully consider your personal health condition, contraindications of any medicines you may be taking, as well as the appropriate fasting procedures and measures to conclude a fast. These factors are the responsibility of the individual (you). We always recommend that a person consult his or her physician before a strict or prolonged fast.
For more on the topic of prayer and fasting, click here.