I had the concept of fasting growing up. Back then, in the religious Catholic setting, I was taught that fasting is about self-control in order to earn God’s favor. I was taught that I have the option to fast on meat, desserts and/or a favorite leisure during a “holy” week/season so I can be “holy” too. As a child then teen, I complied to fasting as a religious activity.
When I was still an infant in the faith, new to a personal love-relationship with God, I heard of a sermon about prayer and fasting. Then I was encouraged by someone in our church family to pray and fast with her. “Oh, so I have to do this. This is part of growing in Christ”, I thought to myself. Yet again, I complied to prayer and fasting only because I was told to try it. Nothing wrong with trying it, really. However, I prayed and fasted without understanding why I should do it so I ended up doing it with a lot grumbling. I was like those hypocrites described in Matthew 6:16-18.
Then I came across passages about Jesus fasting for 40 days and 40 nights (Matthew 4:2) and followers of Jesus spending time in prayer and fasting (Acts 13:2-3, Acts 14:23, Luke 2:37). I thought, “Wow. Jesus did it and His followers did it so I must do it, too.” However, I had the impression that prayer and fasting is a way of manipulating God into doing what I desire and giving what I want/need. My heart was encouraged to do it because Jesus and His followers did it but again I was doing it for the wrong reasons. So instead of praying persistently, I ended up just constantly thinking about food while fasting. This is really embarrassing to share but I used to cheat on my praying and fasting schedules with snacks on the side or an early (really) heavy breakfast prior to it. What a hypocrite.
When I participated in a month-long leadership/discipleship training last year, I was encouraged yet again by my teammates to pray and fast. We did it once a week for four weeks. Somehow, God revealed to me that time that prayer and fasting is dependence on God. It’s like saying, “Lord, I can work all I want, share all I can, give all I must but nothing will ever make sense and nothing good will ever be produced apart from Your work, share and provision.”
So after that training, I tried to stick by a personal once-a-week fasting schedule but unfortunately, it was short-lived. The world and all the “doing” sucked me in, totally underestimating and intentionally neglecting the value of a private praying time with the Lord. Sure, I was present in our once-a-month congregational prayer and fasting schedules at church but the lack of personal commitment or lack of drive to “be” with the Lord resulted to nothing but lack of intimacy, narrow vision and of course, unfruitfulness.
Along the way, I experienced stressors in and out of my personal ministry. I tried my best to “handle” each concern but I only found myself in a couch one night — in fetal position, crying, heartbroken and finally, FINALLY praying. My reversion to self-dependence resulted to weariness and unproductiveness. But in that moment of prayer, I realised that I was like a rusting defective car stuck in layers of mud in desperate need of someone to save me.
Then the Lord led me to spend time in the book of Ezra for 10 days.
Ezra was an ancient Jewish scribe who was one of the primary leaders of Israel when they returned from exile to rebuild Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple. He was a knowledgeable leader of the Jewish law, and also a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses.
God had blessed Ezra to the point that Artaxerxes, king of Persia, gave Ezra whatever he needed to make the journey and to rebuild the temple. Ezra was a faithful servant of the Lord who made it a point to study and do all that the Lord has commanded him.
Then on the 8th day, I encountered Ezra 8:21-23. These verses taught me head on what prayer and fasting is truly about. Indeed, there is a difference between knowing God’s truth and experiencing God’s truth yourself. It says:
21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. 22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.
Prayer and fasting does not only imply total dependence on God, it also shows humility before Him (verse 21). Ezra here could easily ask the king for provision. He has that right. Soldiers and horsemen can easily be made available to protect them, their children and all their possessions from all enemies on the road, but Ezra did not ask the king. Instead, he directly asked God for their safe journey. He relied on God to be their ultimate protector and provider. He looked unto God and depended on His gracious hand. They fasted and fervently asked God for protection and provision. They fasted and fervently asked God to lead them to where He says they should be heading.
And then the last five words say, “and He answered our prayer”
The purpose of prayer and fasting is for us to take our eyes off the things of this world and focus our thoughts on God. Personally, I view it also as a reminder that we are mere mortals incapable of sustaining our strength before an everlasting God whose power is unfathomable.
The context of fasting is longing for the not yet of the Kingdom in the presence of the King. It is not God regulating a behaviour, it is God testing our hearts — the authenticity of our faith. So even though prayer and fasting results to breakthroughs, it is not merely for the purpose of achieving such breakthroughs; it is for the purpose of being with The One who gives it. More than “doing the prayer and fasting”, it’s really “completely being with my God who longs for me”.