Many believers have tied prayer to fasting so much that they have felt that if they got anywhere in a fast where they could no longer pray while fasting, it meant that the fast had become useless and therefore had to be stopped. This is incorrect thinking.
Fasting is a distinct area of spiritual life, just as prayer is.
A person can pray successfully without fasting. He does not say, “Because I cannot fast along with praying, the praying is of no consequence and therefore must be stopped.” In the same way, fasting is such a distinct ministry that it can be carried out, even if it cannot be accompanied by prayer. When the Lord Jesus taught on fasting and prayer He did not mix the two. Rather, He separated them. He said. “And when you pray … ” (Matthew 6: 515). He also said “And when you fast … ” (Matthew 6 : 16 – 18).
He did not say, “When you fast and pray.” During His own fast of forty days the fact of His praying is not mentioned, even though I think He did pray. However, prayer was not the central thing. Fasting was.
During partial fasts and complete fasts of one to seven days it is possible to pray all the time. The body is generally strong and there is a great yearning to pray. The prayer is often very deep and powerful, and there is real flow from the Holy Spirit through the human spirit Godwards. Union with God in prayer is attained easily and there is unusual boldness in approaching the Eternal Father through the Eternal Son. However, during long fasts there is a point at which the body is too weak and the power of concentration low. At such times it is more difficult to pray. This is often the case after the twenty-fifth day of fasting. The fast should be continued, even when the body is too weak to pray.
One thing that will be realized during those periods when normal praying is not possible is that there will be much praying rising to the Father as groans and sighs. These are often too deep for words, yet they rise from the fasting heart to the Father. In addition to these there are the short, infrequent prayers that rise to the Father all day long. Such prayers may be heart cries like the following:
- Lord, enlarge my heart to love You.
- Lord, show me Your glory.
- Lord, send the right labourers into Your harvest among the Muslims of Libya.
- Lord, deliver Brother…..from the love of money.
- Lord, are You the One wanting me to go and preach, in ………………or did the desire have its origin in me?
- Lord, graciously provide for the financial needs of the ministry of Brother…..
- Lord, deliver me from the self life that often manifesting itself in self-justification.
- Lord, reveal Christ to….
- Lord, grant that…………should receive the baptism into the Holy Spirit.
- Lord, show me what must be done to deliver …, who has not yielded to the deliverance ministry on two occasions.
- Lord, create in me a pure heart and enable me to keep it pure.
- Lord, give me the courage to correct …, who is erring.
- Lord, move in Your Body in the city of …, convicting the saints of sin and leading them in the way of victory.
- Lord, I have not led someone to You for three months. I am barren. Lord, heal my barrenness.
- Lord, I sense in my spirit that Sister …, who is travelling, is in danger. Lord, protect her just now.
- Et etcetera.
One thing the fasting saint needs to realize is that God does not measure prayer by the length of time that it takes. In fact, the Lord Jesus warned, saying:
“And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6: 78).
He Himself prayed many short, potent prayers. For example, in Gethsemane He prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26: 39).
It was a short prayer, but it was far-reaching in consequence. Even His longest recorded prayer (John 17) must have been prayed in about three minutes. So do not ignore those one sentence prayers that come through during the latter days of the fast. One can pray a thousand such prayers in one day and do great good to the Kingdom of God and great harm to the kingdom of the evil one. We recommend that, as much as possible, the prayers prayed during the fast be recorded and the extent to which they are answered by the heavenly Father checked in the days, weeks, months, and years following the fast.
Since the body is stronger earlier on in the fast, we recommend that the fasting believer should arrange to give four to six hours to prayer each day during the first ten days of the fast, and actually labour at prayer. After the tenth day and before the twenty-fifth day, he should make sure that he spends at least three hours in prayer, and after the twenty-fifth day he should still labour to spend some fixed times in prayer in addition to the continuous cries that will come out of him to the Father all through the day. This calls for discipline. Because the Enemy can work to attack during the period of fasting, the whole matter of prayer during the time of fasting should be taken up with the Lord before the fast and settled with Him. After it has been settled with God and a fixed position reached, that position should be maintained, come rain or shine. Part of the purpose of the fast must be to commune with God. We know that there can be communion without words, but communion with words should not be lost.
I suggest that the fasting believer should determine to spend as much of the fasting time in prayer as possible. If he could spend fifteen hours daily in prayer from the start of the fast, it would be wonderful. He must learn to buffet his body and bring it under control. He must not allow minutes to slip by unused. Fasting is good and prayer is good, but when fasting and prayer are combined, it is tremendous. As we have already said, all fasting saints should do as much praying as possible. They should avoid everything and everyone who will interfere with their praying. Some people are forced by their peculiar circumstances to carry out long fasts while continuing to work. Such, therefore, have eight hours for work, and of the remaining sixteen hours, most of them should be consecrated to direct communion with the Lord in prayer and Bible reading, and perhaps planning spiritual strategy.
In this whole matter of fasting and prayer I have found that the will is crucial. During my first twenty-one-day fast, I found it extremely difficult to read the Word and pray. I also found it very difficult to have any daily meditation (quiet time). I think I had my quiet time only for five of the twenty-one days. During the preparation for the forty-day fast, I took the matter up with the Lord seriously in prayer and decided to apply myself to the tasks of prayer, daily meditation, and Bible reading. The result of this was that during the last fast I had my daily meditation for 60 percent of the days and on the average I read the Word for two hours each day. I did not apply myself in a disciplined way to prayer, and so I did not do much praying after the first twenty-five days. I know I could have done better. For the next twenty-one day fast I have set it as my ambition to spend a daily average of fifteen hours actively before the Lord in prayer, Bible meditation, and Bible reading. I have decided to read the Bible for five hours each day, pray for seven hours each day, and meditate for three hours each day. I plan to place myself under very severe discipline. Fasting is already a matter of buffeting the body. I will further buffet the body that is al- ready being buffeted. The Apostle Paul said:
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9: 2527).
Many people can fast for the same length of time, of, say, twenty-one days, but come out of it with varying spiritual blessings, some having much and some very little. How much one will gain spiritually out of a fast will depend on many factors, including the following:
1.The degree of purity of one’s heart.
2.The depth of one’s hunger after God.
3.The depth of burden on one’s heart.
4.The extent to which one applies oneself to prayer, Bible reading, and
meditation during fasting, i.e., the extent to which one is prepared to discipline oneself.
Of the four factors named above, discipline may be the most important one, since it also bears on the other three. We conclude that disciplined believers will get more out of their fasts than non disciplined ones. The spiritual world belongs to the disciplined. No one should just allow himself to be controlled by his feelings of weakness, tiredness, et etcetera, which characterize some periods of the day during long fasts. He should, first of all, exploit to the fullest those periods during he is strong (and there are many of them), and then during the periods of weak- ness he should not allow the feeling of weakness to conquer him. He should confess with the Apostle Paul:
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12: 10).
He should also confess with the Prophet Joel:
“Let the weak say, ‘I am strong’ ” (Joel 3: Job, KJV).
Having confessed strength, let him receive it from the Lord and press on in prayer. During the moments of extreme weakness, the fasting saint may lie down and rest to renew his strength. However, it is one thing to lie down for fifteen minutes and then stand up to read the Bible and pray, and another thing entirely to lazily lie down for two hours. Even when a fasting believer lies down in bed, that is no invitation to be idle. He should continue to pray in bed. God is not preoccupied with the posture of the body during prayer. He bids men to pray all the time. He says,
“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5 : 17, KJV).
That command that is repeated in Romans 12 : 12 is for all believers at all times, in- cluding times of fasting.
An Important Lesson
For most people who fast, one crucial problem is the fact that the hours go too slowly. This is even more evident at night. The nights are so long in the last quarter of a long fast that the fasting believer literally pleads for the break of day. During that part of the long fast, sleep seldom comes. The believer is awake most of the time. Many believers find that even in a short fast of seventy-two hours there is not much sleep at night. Personally, I find that two to three hours’ sleep is enough for me. I am awake and I am alert and very strong for the first fifteen days of any fast. I have often tried to use this time well. However, during a recent forty-day fast I found out that there were many nights during which I was completely awake from six o’clock in the evening to six o’clock in the morning or I slept for just thirty min- utes or one hour. To be candid, I found that to be the most testing experience of that fast. I almost wept for the hours to go by quickly, but how slowly the clock moved! After the fast I took the matter up with the Lord, since during the
preparation I had asked Him to give me abundant sleep. The Lord explained things to me. He said that the prayer request that I made asking for abundant sleep during the fast was wrong. I had asked amiss: He asked me, “Does a soldier who is pre- paring for war ask that he be given abundant sleep when he is at the battlefront? Is it safe for him to sleep at the battlefront? Will the enemy spare him while he is sleeping? Will he win the battle asleep?” It was then that I began to understand. God continued to make things clear. He said that He was the One who had caused sleep to forsake me. He was doing me a great favour, but I was foolish not to realize it. He said that He took away sleep so that I might watch with Him. He does not sleep. He never slumbers. The Bible says: “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121: 4). He therefore wanted me to watch with Him. I ought to have considered it a privilege to be awake, neither slumbering nor sleeping but keeping watch with Him. I had failed to do so. The Lord Jesus asked Peter, the disciple, in Gethsemane: “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh
is weak” (Mark 14 : 37-38).
The Bible says:
“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake (watching) when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them” (Luke 12: 37).
Watching is an aspect of prayer. The one watching is awake to bless God, to ensure that the Enemy does not attack the interests of the Lord. During the fast, the Lord takes away sleep, so that we may be awake and watch. So when sleep is withdrawn from you, count it a blessing. Do not cry out for day to break. Be involved with the Lord. Watch and pray. Be God’s companion, and He will bless you abundantly! I am anxiously looking forward to my next fast. I shall plead with God to give me many sleepless nights, so that I can watch with Him. The Apostle Paul wrote:
“We put no obstacle in any one’s way, so that no fault may be found with our min- istry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities; beatings, imprisonments, tu- mults, labours, watching, hunger” (2 Corinthians 6: 35).
He again wrote:
“In toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night (watching) in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11: 27).
One way to grow in the Lord is by removing from our lives unnecessary things. The Lord takes away sleep during fasts so that we may grow in a knowledge of Him and be like Him. Let us rejoice at the opportunity that He has created for us to grow, and let us give Him honour and glory. Then let us look forward to the sleepless nights as tokens of His wondrous love for us, rejoice in them, and use them to praise Him and war along with Him. Glory be to His holy name.