May 22, 2010

Have you Ever Fasted 40 Days?

Fasting isn't very popular. Once, I was fasting a few days and some Irish workers at the construction site where I was  working asked me “Are you on a hunger strike?” Though fairly rare and somewhat underrated by the Church today, it may be time for more Christians to look into the practice of fasting. There is a saying “desperate times call for desperate measures.” While Christ has given us His deep love, peace and joy, there are times and seasons in life when the Holy Spirit may lead Christians to fast from food and pray in earnest for one or more reasons.

Just how “desperate” are the times we are in? Read the news for starters. The global economy does not seem to be recovering, but, rather, countries are beginning to adopt “austerity measures” to try and cope with the situation. Economic mismanagement and turmoil has led to rioting in Iceland, Greece and Romania. When people are jobless, family stress is increased and there can be a sense of depression. In addition, the moral decay of society continues seemingly unhindered as violence increases. This is not to mention unexpected times in life when a friend or loved one becomes sick with an incurable illness.

Is Fasting Really Going to Help?

I have been re-reading a paperback someone gave to me entitled “Shaping History Through Prayer and Fasting” that has been around since 1973. The author, Derek Prince, saw many dramatic answers to prayer and fasting, including victories in WW2 battles in North Africa, the establishment of the state of Israel, where he lived at the time, as well as the sudden death of Joseph Stalin. The book also contains excellent biblical references reinforcing the benefits and power of fasting and prayer. For example, the destruction of Nineveh was spared mercifully by God as people were gripped with a sense of repentance, fasted and prayed.

Prince also outlined the importance of fasting in the founding of the USA. Before leaving Leiden, William Bradford, his wife and his peers fasted and prayed, modeling Ezra's call to fast and pray before departing on a long journey with the Israelites (Ezra 8.21). The government of the Plymouth Colony in 1636 was granted permission "to command solemn days of humiliation and fasting, etc. and also for thanksgiving as occasion shall be offered." They were intent on laying a foundation of the gospel in the new land, which is in accordance with Isaiah's words (Isaiah 58.6) regarding sincere fasting and its result: "...You shall raise up foundations of many generations..." (Isaiah 56.12)  Indeed, the fasting and prayer practiced by the pilgrims to America did prepare a foundation which is still being used to advance the gospel in other countries. Healing was not a theme in Prince's book, but that is another exciting aspect of fasting. Jesus emphasized that certain ailments can only be healed supernaturally by prayer and fasting (Matthew 17.21). A documentary video rather graphically documents how Dr. Tom Renfro was healed of severe tumors as his church fasted and prayed. Link is entitled "God Heals Man of Cancerous Tumors."

The film was produced by the 700 Club, “A Life of Miracles.” I recently heard a testimony of healing from cancer at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, which also inspired me.

Is Fasting Really Relevant to the Church Today?

Jesus, our example, fasted forty days before being baptized, performing miracles and teaching full time. Why did Jesus fast forty days? It seems His fasting was a rite of passage before entering full time teaching and ministry work. A main purpose of fasting is to subdue the flesh nature. Jesus' main temptations are associated with this time of fasting. It seems it is not just a coincidence. After the fast, it says "Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit..." (Luke 4.14).

In His first sermon Jesus said “When you fast..” (in plural) not “If you fast...” as he listed fasting along with other Christian practices, such as prayer, giving, etc. (Matthew 6.16-18). Jesus said a sign the true Church, his Bride, would be the practice of fasting (Matthew 9.15). The early Church, our model, used prayer and fasting in seeking guidance from God. As five leaders of the church of Antioch fasted and prayed, the Holy Spirit led them to send out Paul and Barnabas as missionaries. Then they fasted again as they committed them to the work and laid hands on them (Acts 13.2-3). New elders were dedicated with fasting (Acts 14.23). Jesus mentioned we shouldn't boast about fasting, but He did talk about His own fasting, as did Paul, who considered his fasting one of the signs of his true apostleship (2 Corinthians 11.27).

The main prophecy of Joel signifies the outpouring of the Spirit in the last days. It refers to both the “former rain” and the “latter rain” in Joel 2.23. The former rain may be likened to the experiences beginning in Acts Chapter 2. The latter rain may signify the outpouring of the Holy Spirit before Christ receives His Bride, the Church. Joel says “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.” (Joel 2.28a) After what? For one thing, Joel calls for prayer and fasting three times before this verse (Joel 1.14, 2.12 and 2.15). As the apostles and their wives anticipated the promise of the Holy Spirit, I believe they practiced fasting. Are we hungry today to see an outpouring of God's Holy Spirit? In any event, these verses in Joel imply that a great spiritual revival may be yet to come preceded by a movement of prayer, fasting and repentance in the Church.

Should I Fast Forty Days?

There is no rule about fasting because Christians aren't under the legalism of the law. And fasting is completely in line with a grace-based lifestyle. Seek the leading of the Holy Spirit for guidance. As a practice, some may find it easier fasting one meal or day or one day a week, as the body gets into a rhythm. Personally, I find the first day the hardest and have found fasting for longer periods to be easier because the hunger all but ceases. Bill Bright was excited and  adamant about the forty day fast. He had done it once a year after 1994. He had prayed that two million Christians would fast for forty days in North America. It would be interesting to know how many have. Moses, Elijah and Jesus fasted forty days, even before the advent of the electric juicer. The first and only other time I fasted forty days, I was shocked that I could do it. I was praying about moving to Ukraine as a missionary. The key is to take one day at a time. Presently, I am fasting and praying for guidance for our ministry and family as well as praying for healing for my brother-in-law Jim Hayden who has a seemingly incurable disease, with tumorous growths in his brain, lungs and on his spine.

If you fast long term, it is recommended that you have juice for energy and perhaps some honey if you feel you need it. As a disclaimer, you should consult a doctor first, especially if you plan a water only fast. The longer your fast is, the more gradually you must begin eating again.  His book “The Coming Revival: Americas Call to Fast, Pray and Seek God's Face” encouraged me and offered practical advice. There is some free material by Bill Bright: “Your Personal Guide to Fasting and Prayer.”


Whether you fast or not is between you and God. Though it may bring dramatic results, fasting isn't a gimmick and its main effect is an internal spiritual one. Fasting shouldn't be seen as a means of trying to coerce God, but rather a means of humbling oneself. Fasting helps us to realize that we are dependent on God for our needs. The more we realize we are fully dependent upon God, the more He is able to act in our lives. Why? because God receives the glory when the focus is not on us, our skills, plans and programs. Isaiah 48.11 states "For my own sake, for my own sake I will do it; For how should my name be profaned? And I will not give my glory to another." Everything God does is ultimately by His grace and for His glory.

God promised to heal our land if people would “humble themselves” and pray (2 Chronicles 7.14). But what does the Bible say about humbling ourselves practically? King David described one means: “I humbled my soul with fasting” (Psalm 35.13). We make a choice to fast as a sign of devotion to God and then God works in the fast itself to change us and give us a changed heart. For one, we better comprehend the big picture of life, that it's just a passing vapor on this Earth and our priorities are re-established. The gospel is refreshed in our hearts. I have a wife and two children and I know it's not easy to take on a fast with a family, but it's possible by God's grace.

I want to encourage you to try it if the Spirit leads, because I believe it will help your personal spiritual life, I believe it will help the Church to see revival, and I believe there is no better time to try it. Besides, the health benefits far outweigh the risks. It's more difficult to fast in the US where fast food joints are ubiquitous, but with God all things are possible.

Have you ever fasted forty days? Would you be willing to try a long term fast? Why or why not?

Image from Andy Braner

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