Prayer and fasting are the believer’s secret weapons. “Consecrate a fast, / Call a sacred assembly; / Gather the elders / And all the inhabitants of the land / Into the house of the LORD your God, / And cry out to the LORD” (Joel 1:14).
Prayer alone is a powerful force—“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16)—but fervent prayer in combination with spiritual fasting comprises an “unbeatable duo” against which all the resources of hell cannot prevail. It must be “spiritual” fasting, because mere physical fasting, for health or to lose weight, does not move God.
But when one becomes so concerned, so burdened over a need, a person, a country, or a problem that he chooses not to eat for a period of time in order to devote himself to prayer, then prayer with fasting becomes a power that can shake even the very demons in hell.
Though many fasts are recorded in the Bible, the Bible tells of only three men who fasted for as long as forty days—Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Each of them fasted for a specific purpose. During their lengthy fasts, each was supernaturally sustained. At the conclusion of each of these fasts, each person had achieved his spiritual objective.
A call to fast and pray was uttered at a time when a great move of the Spirit of God was needed amongst the people of God during the days of the prophet Joel: “Consecrate a fast, / Call a sacred assembly; / Gather the elders / And all the inhabitants of the land / Into the house of the LORD your God, / And cry out to the LORD” (Joel 1:14). God knew the power that would be released when His people would cease eating and all ordinary pursuits—and pray. God knew it and commanded the prophet Joel to proclaim the fast.
Throughout the Bible there are examples of outstanding events that came about when God’s people fasted.
Nations Were Saved through Prayer and Fasting
“And I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you committed in doing wickedly in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger” (Deut. 9:18). This was a crucial time in Israel’s history.
After Moses led the people out of Egypt, they began to murmur, to grumble, to complain. Nothing pleased them. Then they reverted to their former idolatry. At this point God moved to judge them. He expressed His anger to Moses, saying, “I have seen this people, and indeed they are a stiff-necked people. Let Me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven” (Deut. 9:13-14).
Moses fell down—prostrated himself on his face—before the Lord and prayed. He fasted and prayed for forty days and forty nights, without eating any food or drinking any water. He interceded for the people whom God wanted to destroy.
Moses was willing to give his very life for these people. It is a medical fact that one cannot live without water for forty days and nights. Fasts of forty days have been recorded even in modern times, but it is impossible to live without water or liquids for that length of time. So God miraculously sustained Moses while he interceded for the Israelites.
Because of his earnestness, his sincerity, his burdened and broken heart, Moses’ prayer was heard by God and He spared the people!
Fasting with prayer can perform miracles for a person. It can perform miracles for a country. Our own country needs many to pray and fast for it right now. Our president has proclaimed days of prayer for our land, and many thousands have prayed. But we haven’t seen the miracles we need to see, because those thousands who prayed weren’t as desperate as Moses was when he prayed.
Nineveh was also saved by prayer and fasting.
Nineveh was an extremely wicked city to which God had dispatched Jonah to preach. After initially refusing to go, Jonah finally went to the city. He went into the very heart of Nineveh “and cried out and said, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’” (Jon. 3:4).
Nineveh had a choice. Its people could have chosen to ignore Jonah’s cries, or they could have simply ridiculed Jonah and laughed him out of the city. They could even have said, “Well, let’s wait and see. If things get bad, then we will do something about it. But let’s just see.”
Of course, if God had dropped fire upon them as he had Sodom and Gomorrah, there wouldn’t have been anything left to wait for. But God was merciful. We read:
The people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it (Jon. 3:5-10).
Nineveh was a city overrun with sin, a city upon which God had laid His judgment, a city saved by fasting with prayer! Nineveh, one of the great metropolises of that day, was saved from God’s fierce anger when its people fasted and prayed.
Could it be that some of your prayers (and mine) are not answered because we have not fasted? Could it be that we have not been sincere enough to forego a few meals to pray? Could it be that the face of our great land might be changed in the same way as Nineveh—through prayer and fasting?
A Major City’s Building Project: Directed by Prayer and Fasting
The Israelites had been held captive in Babylon for many years. When a portion of them returned to Israel, they found that the land had been laid waste. Jerusalem, their beloved city, was in ruin. The buildings had been razed. The walls were broken down and the great wooden gates had been burned. It was a terrible sight to behold.
When word of this utter destruction reached Nehemiah, cupbearer for King Artaxerxes, in Shushan, he was greatly upset. He wrote:
So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said: “I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.
Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’ Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. O LORD, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” For I was the king’s cupbearer (Neh. 1:4-11).
Jerusalem was really in a mess. Thousands of people were coming back from their long captivity to inhabit their “wonderful city,” and it was in almost total ruin. These people had no place to live and no protection against the roving hordes of enemies who sought to wipe them out. It was a terrible situation.
What happened? Nehemiah and the people prayed and fasted, and God granted them the finances to rebuild the city and provided them with protection while they did so!—because people fasted and prayed!
Fasting is hard work, I know. I’ve fasted on numerous occasions, and my body doesn’t like to fast. Your body doesn’t want to fast either, nor do your friends want you to fast. The devil doesn’t want you to fast; he knows that fasting and prayer unleash the powers of heaven.
Prayer and Fasting Changed a Modern-Day Prison
I remember one Christmas Day when I went to a prison with several large boxes of oranges, apples, and candy to give to the prisoners. After I had sacked it all up and given it out to the inmates, I stood up and spoke to them.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” I said, “I refused my Christmas dinner today and left my family at home, just to be with you, just to tell you that I love you. I want you to have your Christmas, but I don’t want any. I preferred to come and be with you—to tell you that you are lost. I came to tell you that Jesus loves you, and I’m going to pray for you.”
As I spoke, the Spirit of the Lord came upon that prison and people began moving toward God. I think everyone in the bullpen where I was preaching was converted. Some prisoners in the other cells got saved too. They came and knelt where we were and began to weep and cry. They made such a racket that the jailers came running downstairs.
“What’s happening this Christmas?” they asked.
They saw all the prisoners kneeling and praying, while the others were rejoicing, and they couldn’t comprehend it all. “What’s happening?” they asked over and over again.
I said to one guard, “Well, about everybody in jail has gotten saved.”
Even as I spoke to that jailer, the Spirit of God came upon him and he fell to his knees on the other side of the bars. With tears running down his face, he wept and prayed until God met his heart’s needs. It was a marvelous day, and all because of fasting and prayer! I know that if I had not fasted and prayed that prison revival would not have taken place. I know it, because prayer with fasting is a powerful force. I’ve seen the difference.
Daniel Pierced the Unknown through Prayer and Fasting
The redemption of Israel, including the rebuilding of the temple, was expected but had not yet come. Daniel showed his concern when he said, “Then I set my face toward the LORD God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Dan. 9:3). He went on to say, “Yes, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, ‘O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you skill to understand’” (Dan. 9:21-22). Daniel precisely exclaimed that he fasted: “In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth; nor did I anoint myself at all” (Dan. 10:2-3).
Daniel was in earnest. His people had been in captivity for seventy years. Even most of those who had come as young children had died, and few remembered their homeland. But a remnant strongly desired to go back to repopulate the land. The promised time for their return had come and passed. Now, as a man of God, Daniel threw his entire being into the spiritual battle to regain Israel for his people. He fasted and prayed for three weeks. It took some time for an answer, but God did answer his petition.
Suddenly, a hand touched me, which made me tremble on my knees and on the palms of my hands. And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.” While he was speaking this word to me, I stood trembling. Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words” (Dan. 10:10-12).
The impasse was broken and the battle was won when a man of God prayed and fasted! Jesus Himself declared that there are some battles in the unseen world that can only be won “by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21). Daniel won his battle with the use of those powerful spiritual weapons.
Witnesses Were Sent Forth When the Church Fasted and Prayed
John Wesley once declared that God doesn’t do anything except in response to prayer. That premise might be debatable, but biblical evidence indicates that God does move when effectual, fervent prayer is offered.
It was so in the first-century church. The Word of God was being well received throughout Israel and in the surrounding areas. But there was a need to reach out even further as Jesus Himself had commanded in His Great Commission. But who was the fledgling church to send? The problem was solved in a most interesting manner.
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said,
“Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away (Acts 13:1-3).
The biblical method of sending forth prophets and teachers is through prayer and fasting. How many evangelists, pastors, missionaries, and other workers do we anoint and send forth by the same method? If we desire total victory in the Lord, we must do everything according to the pattern laid down in His Word.
Cornelius Received God’s Revelation by Prayer and Fasting
For a number of years after the Day of Pentecost the gospel was preached only to the Jews, and very few non-Jews (Gentiles) came into the faith. But God desired the Jews to be a “light to the Gentiles” (Isa. 42:6). How was this to be? It all came about when a certain Gentile prayed and fasted. When, in a totally unprecedented move, Peter came into Cornelius’s home to preach the gospel, Peter asked him how it had all come about.
Cornelius answered, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house” (Acts 10:30). The spiritually hungry man prayed and fasted; then God spoke to Peter in a vision, which provided the necessary impetus for Peter’s entering an unclean Gentile’s home and sharing Jesus Christ with him. Again, prayer and fasting were the keys.
Why Should I Fast?
When you fast, you minister to and benefit every portion of your tripartite nature—you strengthen your spirit; you bring your soul into subjection; you weaken the hold your body has on your entire being. The body and its five senses try to dictate to the spirit and soul. Most of the time it does a pretty good job and we listen to our physical body.
When our body says, “I’m tired, and I don’t want to read the Bible. I’m too tired to pray,” the undisciplined believer usually allows the body to do what it wants to do. When the body says, “I’m hungry, feed me,” we usually do as the body demands. All of this points to the fact that in most believers their bodies’ needs transcend the needs of their spirits and souls. But the apostle Paul declared that he determinedly brought his body into subjection (see 1 Cor. 9:27), and urged all believers to follow his example (see 1 Cor. 11:1).
Fasting is one way to bring the body into subjection. Thus, when I strengthen my spirit (in the Word), my spirit begins to talk to my mind, emotions, and will (which make up the soul); and the mind tells the body, “Body, you are not in control. You are the slave of your spirit!”
So, basically, fasting enables the believer to gain control of his entire being and to bring himself into a strong, positive, ever-deepening relationship with God. Fasting—gaining control over your body—proves to God that you love Him and that you can put Him first in all things.
That’s why, when you are fasting, you are able to focus your entire being upon praying. You deny the body the ability to usurp your attention from the Word of God and the purpose of your praying. So, with all bodily powers brought into line with God and His Word, “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).
A fasting believer is an effectively praying believer. A fasting church is a strong, growing church. Let’s involve ourselves in the exciting business of praying with fasting. It’s a dynamic key to spiritual power through answered prayer.