How Fasting Fuels Prayer
As we all use the occasion of the new year to reflect on ourselves and think about different resolutions that we need to make for self-improvement, many Christians will likely conclude, “I need to improve my prayer life.” Prayer is a vital part of our relationship with God.
In prayer, we are communing with and communicating to our heavenly Father. In prayer, we are conversing with our Savior and friend, Jesus. In prayer, we open ourselves to experience and receive the Holy Spirit.
So it’s no wonder that many believers will want to grow this aspect of their spirituality.
The more difficult question is, How? How do I improve my prayer life? And there are any number of helpful suggestions for this question. You could read one of the many great books on prayer or start a prayer group. Maybe you could begin to schedule your time more intentionally. But I want to suggest that one way you can grow your prayer life is through fasting.
In Scripture the activities of prayer and fasting are very often coupled together (Nehemiah 1:4, 9:1–3; Psalm 35:13; Daniel 9:3; Matthew 6:9–18; Luke 2:37, 5:33; Acts 13:3, 14:23; 1 Corinthians 7:5). There seems to be something about fasting and prayer that makes them go together. My suggestion for you is that if you can embrace the discipline of fasting, then it will naturally lead to improving your prayer life.
To that end, here are three ways that fasting fuels our prayers.
1️⃣ Fasting creates space
As humans, we are limited. We have a limited amount of strength, a limited amount of knowledge, and (relevant to our prayer lives) a limited amount of time. So if we desire to improve our prayer lives, there is the practical reality that praying will use up some of our limited time. In other words, if we are going to add to our lives more prayer, then we must subtract from our lives something else.
Fasting is a discipline whereby we subtract something from our lives (usually food and drink) to add to our lives the opportunity to pray. When you sacrifice the half-hour or so that it takes to eat a meal, you then gain a half-hour or so to pray.
It’s often been said that time is the only thing you can’t get back. This pithy quote reflects the truth that we can’t make more time; we can’t manufacture a twenty-fifth hour to the day. So if we sincerely desire to grow our prayer lives, then we must square with the need to sacrifice something else.
So look at your calendar and all the things taking up space there. What can you set aside? What can you remove to make space for prayer?
2️⃣ Fasting produces dependence
We are always dependent on God. Every breath, heartbeat, and millisecond of life we experience depends on God and His life-sustaining power. At the same time, we don’t always feel our dependence. We make our way through life getting things done, moving from here to there, and accomplishing each day’s tasks. Within our experience of productivity and accomplishment, we can lose a sense of our dependency on God.
However, when we fast (especially from food), there is a constant reminder that we are dependent. We are dependent on food to nourish our bodies, which is ultimately a reflection of our dependence on God for all of life. Every hunger pang is a signal to our souls that we are empty apart from God and that we rely on him for every provision.
It’s one thing to mentally affirm our dependence on God, but it is another thing to feel our dependence on Him. The physical sense of our dependence upon God will drive us to pray dependently upon God. Fasting fuels prayer by ridding us of self-reliance and independence. It fuels prayer by heightening our sense of reliance and dependence upon God.
3️⃣ Fasting sharpens focus
Perhaps more than any time in history, we are distracted. The most recent attention-stealing culprit is our phones. Alarms and notifications from our phones capture our focus constantly. The internet, too, is another culprit. One quick Google search can quickly turn into a half-hour of giving our attention to something we never intended to.
But even before all of this technology, God’s people have always struggled with distraction in prayer. Instead of praying with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples were distracted unto sleep (Matthew 26:36–46). And writing in the 18th century (about 250 years before the smartphone was invented), John Wesley complained,
“A thousand things which daily occur are apt to dissipate our thoughts, and distract us from attending to his voice who is continually speaking to our hearts… The whole visible world, all we see, hear, or touch, all the objects either of our senses or understanding, have a tendency to dissipate our thoughts from the invisible world; and to distract our minds from attending to him who is both the Author and end of our being.”
So distraction in prayer has always been and will always be with us.
But fasting has a way of arresting our focus and helping us shift our attention to God. As constant as our phones may distract us, the discomfort from an empty stomach is even more constant, and that uncomfortable feeling is a steady reminder to seek God in prayer. Fasting sharpens our focus on God and fuels our prayers to Him.
Donald Whitney has helpfully stated, “Fasting does not change God’s hearing so much as it changes our praying.” In other words, God always hears the prayers of his children, but fasting can fuel how often and how sincerely we pray.