Over the years, I’ve had people ask me questions about the topics of prayer and fasting. I have compiled a few of those questions and answered them below. In last week’s blogI answered many questions related to fasting, so this week’s post mostly answers questions about prayer. I hope that you will find the answers informative and that they will encourage you in your prayer walk.
Q: Can a person “pray without ceasing” according to 1 Thessalonians 5:17? How long should we pray every day?
A: Prayer is an intimate conversation with the Father. First Thessalonians is a reminder to always be in an attitude of prayer. Whatever we’re doing and wherever we are, there should be no time when we are void of the assurance of the presence of God with us and in us. Paul was indicating in that verse that God gave us the gift of praying in tongues so that we could be in communion with Him all day. By praying in the Spirit, we can redeem what might otherwise be wasted time. I have found that praying in the Spirit is wonderful when I am driving, cooking dinner, studying, etc. Whatever I’m doing, praying only heightens the end results. If you think about it, God has given us many, many opportunities to pray throughout each day. By taking advantage of these opportunities, you can flow in a continuous refreshing of the Holy Spirit.
As far as setting aside daily prayer time, all Christians should pray every day. God’s Word says that if we seek Him early, we will find Him (see Proverbs 8:17 KJV). I like to take that Scripture literally. In the morning your mind is like a blank slate—and that’s the best time for God to write on it! You don’t have to pray for 10 hours every day but give God some special time each day to prepare you for walking in His will. I want God’s wisdom for my day, and I know that you do too!
Q: Why did David say in the psalms that he prayed against his enemies, but Jesus commands us to pray for our enemies and love them?
A: When David prayed for death and destruction toward his enemies in the psalms, I don’t believe he was praying against flesh and blood. David was coming against the principalities and powers—the demonic forces—behind the person who was causing him trouble. Ephesians 6:12 says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Therefore, it was scriptural for David to pray that the work of his enemies be destroyed. It was good spiritual warfare to pull down the strongholds that had come against his life.
However, we are to bless our enemies as Jesus commanded (see Luke 6:28) in order that they might come into the knowledge of God and receive Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Sometimes I have thought that God allows us to have enemies just so we could bless them, pray for them, and do good to them. Once, a man in my city said some very ugly things about me to his congregation. He even called me a false prophetess. Personally, I wanted to tell him off. But the Lord asked me, “How do I treat my enemies?”
“You love them,” I replied.
The Lord then told me, “Treat him the way I would.”
From that time on, whenever I heard that pastor’s name, I said, “Lord, bless him.” Then one day God gave me special instructions to bless him through promoting his church. I obeyed the Lord and saw the fruit of my obedience. Not long afterward some people from the man’s congregation called me saying their pastor’s attitude had completely changed. He now spoke highly of me, and he had even invited his congregation to read through the Bible using my devotional plan!
I asked the Lord, “What happened?”
He responded, “When your ways please me, I make even your enemies to be at peace with you.”
I don’t think you need to speak God’s blessing directly to a person who offends you. Sometimes that “enemy” might live in another state or country, and then you cannot speak to them in person. But bless them in your prayers and pray that God would do good to them. Then, if possible, bless them with your actions. Send a letter or some flowers just to say, “I care about you.” If you will bless your enemies, pray for them, and do good to them, God will transform those relationships!
Q: Why do we have to pray to the Father in Jesus’s name? Can’t we call upon Jesus directly? Aren’t they one-in-the-same?
A: The reason we need to address the Father in Jesus’s name is because Jesus gave us this instruction (see John 16:23). He did this because the position of the Father in the Godhead is one of authority.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct individuals who are one in unity. Jesus is not unequal to the Father, but He submits to the Father’s authority. A similar illustration would be that a wife is not unequal to her husband, but she is in submission to his headship. As the architect of the universe, Father God is the one who has the responsibility to fulfill the prayers we ask according to His Word. Jesus is our mediator because of His sacrifice. Therefore, we come in Jesus’s name.
Q: What does the writer of James mean when he mentions “praying amiss?”
A: Asking “amiss” is defined by James as a prayer which satisfies our own worldly lusts (see James 4:2-4). This chapter also discusses other reasons for unanswered prayer: lust, murders, covetousness, strife, adulteries, pride, rebellion against God, backsliding, sin, and doublemindedness.
On the other hand, any prayer that is prayed according to the promises of God will never be “amiss” (see 1 John 5:14-15).
Q: How can someone determine God’s voice and know they are led by the Spirit of God and not their own thoughts or desires?
A: In John 10: 2-5, Jesus offers us a wonderful promise:
“He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep . . . the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out . . . the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
There have been times when I felt certain that God was leading me, yet I discovered that the “leading” was nothing more than a fleshly thought. I cried out, “God, show me how to walk by the Spirit!” And He began to show me a helpful way to know that I am being led by the Spirit. In Galatians 5:16 we are told, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” Basically, I have found that walking in the Spirit means that we are not living according to the instincts of our senses. To walk after the flesh means that we are living by what we smell, see, taste, feel, and fear. But to walk by the Spirit means to act on God’s Word, no matter what sense-knowledge tells us. When Christians get off-track, they are usually walking according to their senses rather than by faith in God’s Word.
One time, many years ago, I received several letters saying that I should go on the radio in a certain needy area of the U.S. I asked my staff for counsel on this, and they said, “That situation would not produce enough positive results. Your efforts would be better spent in some other area or project.” But I kept receiving the letters, so I made a personal decision to broadcast my program in that area. I had prayed about the situation, but I hadn’t really prayed for the leading of the Lord. Just as my staff had warned, the radio broadcast in this area never went anywhere. Eventually, I had to admit that I went on that station from a personal leading, rather than a leading from the Holy Spirit. I had listened to the voice of my flesh and the letters being sent to me, without seeking the voice of the Lord. Had I asked God for His leading, He could have directed me to use that money in a wiser way to benefit more people.
I believe that our flesh seeks after “signs”—something we can see or feel. But Jesus said, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign . . . ” (Matthew 16:4). Such people are walking after their sense-knowledge. We aren’t supposed to look for signs. We are supposed to look to God’s Word and allow signs to follow us! Check the leadings you have and ask yourself, “Is this my flesh wanting a sign, or is this God’s Word directing my spirit?” If you follow the Word, you will never be disappointed.
Q: Jesus said that the bride doesn’t fast while the bridegroom is with her (see Mark 2:19). Jesus is fully with us, isn’t He? Why do you encourage people to fast?
A: Mark 2:19 and Matthew 9:15 speak of the bridegroom and fasting. However, in Matthew 9:15 Jesus says, “But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” He also said in John 15 that He would be taken away and it was to our advantage that He go away since He would send the Holy Spirit who would be with us as our helper. Technically speaking, it is not Jesus in the fullness of His being who is with us, rather it is the Holy Spirit who indwells us.
Q: What are the spiritual benefits of fasting? How should a person prepare to go on a fast? How do you know if the Lord is directing you to do so?
A: By studying Joel 2 and Isaiah 58, you can get a good idea of what fasting will do for you. Matthew 17:21 connects prayer and fasting with overcoming disbelief or, in other words, feeding your faith and starving your doubts.
Jesus was spiritually prepared before the Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness to fast for 40 days (see Matthew 4:1). If you are going to fast or if you sense in your spirit that God is calling you to a fast, seek Him in prayer for a specific direction. The Spirit’s leading is a still, small voice within your spirit. It is also known as an “inner witness” (see 1 Kings 19:12). I wouldn’t suggest that you be like Jesus and fast for 40 days because it could be very dangerous. Instead, be led of the Spirit in your fasting; and let the Lord lead you in setting up a time frame. Check out last week’s blog for more details.
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.