Fasting for Life: Medical Proof Fasting Reduces Risk of Heart Disease, Cancer, and Diabetes - Francis E. Umesiri (2016)
Part 2. Fasting for the Whole Person
Chapter 14. FASTING AND PRAYER
But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.
—MATTHEW 17:21, MEV
Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. . . . The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.
—JAMES 5:13, 16, NLT
FASTING AND PRAYER GO TOGETHER. JUST AS FASTING ought to be accompanied by prayer, you should strengthen your prayers with intermittent fasting. The heartfelt prayer of a believing person counts for something in this land of the living. It is effective to meet most of life’s challenges. However, as the Lord Jesus reminded His disciples, some challenges can only be conquered through prayer and fasting.
Desperate times require fasting and prayer, which is what Jesus told His disciples after they couldn’t help a distraught father whose son’s epileptic seizures plunged him into fire and water. They prayed and did their best, but were still powerless. The father knew that if no help came, they would have to return home—to danger. It was a desperate situation; having to watch your beloved son suffer and know you can do nothing is pure torture. This kind calls for divine intervention, which is why this desperate dad found his to way to Jesus amid a huge crowd and fell down at His feet to beg for God’s mercy. Isn’t God’s mercy all any of us can reasonably expect? A mercy that includes compassion, grace, forgiveness, and healing. It opens the gate for us to come in to His kindness, salvation, and life, and partake of His riches.
The father’s plea didn’t go unnoticed. Jesus responded by speaking a word; the devil went out of the boy, and he was cured. Granted, epilepsy may have other underlying biological and physiological causes, but this kind was caused by an evil spirit interfering with this boy’s life. It involved spiritual forces at play, beyond mere physical considerations.
There is a spiritual component to human life. We are spirit beings who live in bodies and have souls. We are not merely organic because of the spiritual, intangible aspect of our humanity. Academic literature uses different names, such as the subconscious mind, the metaphysical, or the paranormal. In each of those references a secular culture alludes to an intangible, spiritual element of life. When the spirit realm is connected to God’s Spirit, it is influenced by the Holy Spirit and shapes much of our physical existence in a positive way. It bears our infirmities and gives us inner strength to carry on with life victoriously. This gives us a wholesome personality and brings us closer to God.
However, when an evil spirit is allowed to influence our lives, the outcome is often disastrous, leading to hatred, depression, disease, or a broken heart. Since an evil spirit caused this type of epilepsy, the moment Jesus sent that evil spirit away, the boy instantly regained his health. The question is not whether we believe that evil still lurks in this world, but what action we will take when a streak of evil crosses our path.
So, what should we do in desperate seasons? Fast and pray and fast. Believing in God’s goodness is important, but as the master told His disciples, there may be something else we ought to do when evil touches us physically. There is a great lesson in what happened after Jesus cast out the demon: “Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast him out?’” (Matt. 17:19, MEV). The Lord said it was because of their unbelief, and then He told them of the essential nature of prayer and fasting in difficult situations.
When we mix our believing trust in the Lord with fasting and prayer, we intensify our spiritual lives. Desperate times require desperate action. Throughout Scripture, when individuals faced difficult times, they turned to God in prayer while they fasted. I think there is something about including fasting that cries—as Peter did when he feared drowning in the sea—“Lord, save me!” (Matt. 14:30, MEV).
We live in a culture that tells us that we are completely in charge of our lives, and everything we become is what we make of ourselves. While there is a place for taking some responsibility for our lives, you and I know from experience that sometimes desperate moments strike. Sometimes life is out of our control, whether that means a child is diagnosed with cancer, a woman who eats right and exercises faithfully still comes down with cancer, a pastor who serves faithfully for years still sees a child renounce the faith, or an upstanding professional has a child who takes illicit drugs. Instead of growing complacent, times such as these that call for fasting and prayer.
I realize we live in a world that mocks the spiritual and makes caricatures of the idea of pagan worship and evil spirits as if they didn’t exist. Yet in your heart you know that evil exists. You may have known close friends whose lives have intersected with evil. In times such as these we must fast and pray to break the influence of evil off their lives. Although not everything that happens to us necessarily has a spiritual root, we know that most things can be dealt with spiritually. If nothing else, praying during fasting helps us to experience God’s peace from within: “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life” (Phil. 4:6–7).
King David found himself in one of those desperate moments during his reign as king of Israel. A series of bad choices caught up with him. First, he committed adultery with the wife of one of his faithful soldiers. Then, when Bathsheba told him that she was pregnant, he tried to cover up his affair by arranging for the soldier to be brought home, hoping husband and wife would sleep together, as a way of covering up his infidelity. When that didn’t work out, he arranged to position Uriah in battle so he would be killed—a diabolical plot that succeeded.
For a while David’s conscience must have pricked him. Perhaps he silenced it by promising himself to be a good husband to Bathsheba and a good father to their child. He was determined to do the right thing from then on. It is possible to imagine that David calmed his conscience by telling himself that keeping quiet served a “greater good” by maintaining his integrity and ability to rule in peace. After all, bigger things were at stake. There were new battles to fight and enemies to conquer. Why ruin it all because of a “little” mistake? David might have convinced himself, “In the grand scheme of things, isn’t the end more important than the means?” So, David took Bathsheba as his wife, and she gave birth to a son. David may have moved on, but God loved him too much to let him off without confronting his sin.
To accomplish the task, God sent the prophet Nathan. After the prophet’s rebuke, David genuinely repented. Still, the child grew quite ill. Now, a part of David was irrevocably tied to this baby, who symbolized his resolve to make things right. Naturally he prayed earnestly that the infant would live. The word from Nathan: the baby would eventually die. David prayed otherwise; after all, he had sinned, not this poor child. We don’t always have answers to life’s complicated twists and turns, but an innocent child suffering intensely is too hard for any parent to bear—especially when the parent suspects the child’s suffering is due to the parent’s past mistakes. David prayed, but the child got sicker. As a result, “David prayed desperately to God for the little boy. He fasted, wouldn’t go out, and slept on the floor” (2 Sam. 12:16).
In this desperate moment David not only prayed, but he also fasted. It was his way of saying: “God, this means a lot to me. I am really desperate. Help this child, please!” Notice that as part of the fast, he slept on the floor. The act of sleeping on the floor (instead of his royal bed) as well as putting ashes on his head and renting his clothing were all signs of humility and desperation before God. By these actions, people of old indicated their utter humility and brokenness. In addition, David did not go out. In other words, he gave God the seed of time—time to pray through his pain, time to repent of his sins, time to listen to God, and time to allow God to heal his brokenness. Fasting provides such an opportunity.
I know that we are living in a hectic age where spending time in even a few minutes of prayer is becoming more difficult. To suggest spending extended periods in prayer and fasting seems tenuous at best (even impractical). Yet if we are going to see the God of angel armies intervene in human affairs, we have to offer to God this sacrifice. The act of fasting tells God that we value His intervention strongly enough to commit adequate time to it. Fasting not only intensifies our prayer, but it also clarifies the needs in our lives. But it doesn’t force the hand of God. Despite David’s fasting, the child didn’t live. Still, fasting gives God an opportunity to encounter us, change us, and mold us into His glorious image.
Saying yes to God
When David heard that the boy had died, he got up from his fast, washed up, and dined. He had stayed long enough on his knees to surrender to the almighty God. In fasting he had offered his heart deep enough in the streams of grace to know that if the child died anyway, it must be how the divine heart had willed it. All the ways of God are just; all His works are perfect. He is a God who knows. David knew that he did not just acquiesce to problems and let the devil torment him. He prayed, fasted, and invited God’s miracle-working power into his situation. So, bowing his heart in worship, he said yes to God, to His ways, and to His works.
Likewise, when we yield ourselves to God thoroughly—and intensely—in fasting and prayer, we accept His forgiveness and shed our guilt. We know He hears us, that we are beloved to Him, and that His providence protects and provides for us. We can trust His wisdom and power. Sure enough, in the verses that follow, we see a glimpse of God’s loving heart toward David. David’s fasting, coupled with prayer and repentance, had not been in vain. God was moved by David’s posture of repentance and had compassion on him. He promised to give David another son, an heir to his throne, through the same Bathsheba.
Oh, the love and kindness of God. Who can measure the depth of His loving heart? In God’s divine economy time spent in fasting and prayer is never wasted. If you look at fasting and prayer as an inefficient use of precious time, you don’t understand its value. God wants to spend that time with us so He can heal, save, love, and shape us. Answering our desperate plea for help is part of the equation, but there is more to that plea in God’s ears than meets the eye. Sometimes He provides us the physical rescue we cry out for, such as rescuing Israel from the nations that ganged up against her in 2 Chronicles 20.
Sometimes a physical manifestation doesn’t appear. A spouse still walked out, or the child still died from that disease. Yet in every case each moment spent in fasting and prayer results in God-moments and in life-renewing, God-shaping opportunities. As the Bible promises, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much” (James 5:16, MEV). Given these words, we should make engaging the God of glory in intense, belief-filled, petition-making prayers a way of life.
Hezekiah is an outstanding example of someone suffering from a fatal illness and successfully praying for its reversal. The story appears in 2 Kings 20:1–11, when word came to him to prepare his household since he would not recover. The message of his imminent death was more devastating because it came from a prophet, Isaiah. In Israel people consulted the prophet because he heard from God, and God heard his prayers and petitions. However, what Hezekiah expected would be a source of hope instead became bad news. In the same vein when a knowledgeable and dedicated doctor brings us bad news, it does seem that all hope is lost.
But in this case, rather than give in to despair, Hezekiah turned to God in prayer. He poured out his soul. He cried, pleaded, and worshipped. No meaningless, vain repetition of empty words here. Hezekiah spoke to God straight from the heart. He didn’t use King James English or pious phrases. His life was at stake; only God could help him. In this case the answer came immediately. Before the prophet had gone far, God spoke to him again. Now, He delivers good news: go and tell Hezekiah he will live another fifteen years. And sure enough, the king recovered and lived.
We won’t always experience such quick, dramatic reversals in our situations. Still, I think the story of Hezekiah encourages us to try—to engage God wholeheartedly and make specific petitions to Him in times of life’s crises. He will always answer. These answers may manifest themselves in different forms, but they certainly will manifest. Take the opportunity fasting offers to pray fervent, heartfelt, deep-from-the-soul intercession to God. You may be surprised at what you hear and learn.
Dealing with ordinary life
There are different kinds of troubles or hardships that confront us periodically in life’s journey. They don’t have to be death-dealing hardships like Hezekiah encountered. Instead, they can be problems related to ordinary, everyday life. Situations such as child-care problems (which may not sound too stressful unless you’re the parent trying to resolve them), being misunderstood and misrepresented at work, or being betrayed by a close friend. Whatever it is, James delivers one prescription: pray.
Modern culture often caricatures prayer as a form of weakness. Those of us who live in more advanced economies often can find alternatives. Even Christians are guilty of consistently explaining away the need for engaging, expectant prayer. We know the doctor will take care of our ailments, the insurance company will compensate us against unexpected loss, or the courts will administer justice on our behalf. So although we claim to believe in prayer, if many of us are honest, we will admit that our prayers are often perfunctory, glib, and non-expectant. Even when heartfelt, they are only one of many options.
Yet, for the brother of Jesus, there is only one thing we must do when facing trouble or difficulty. Yes, we may need to do other things to follow up, but James is insistent on the need to pray. He knows the power of prayer. In the fifth chapter of his book he recommends prayer for anyone who is suffering or sick, since the prayer of faith will save the sick, raise him up, and bring forgiveness of sins. Earnest prayer from a believing, trusting Christian produces wonderful results. Your prayer “has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16, NLT). Do you believe that? If so, you will take the time to pray regarding that hardship, disappointment, or problem at work. Incorporate earnest, believing prayer into your fasting periods and trust God to produce wonderful results, in His own way and His own time.
Prayers of praise
Prayers during fasting don’t have to only concern desperate situations. Life is not just about troubles. It is often filled with such blessings as a new baby, a new job, a joyous family vacation, and friendships. Life is good. James asks the question (and answers it): “Are any of you happy? You should sing praises” (James 5:13, NLT).
Most days will be pleasant. So, when we are feeling blessed, cheerful, and joyful, we should let God know about it by singing praises, hymns, and psalms, and thanking Him for His provision. Indeed, fasting tends to be even more rewarding when we incorporate a component of awe and wonder in God’s presence. When we stay long enough and committed enough in His presence while fasting and praying, we are much more likely to catch a glimpse of His glory and a ray of His ineffable light. Dazzled by His person, we exclaim with joy—as did the psalmist—such phrases as:
• “How excellent is Your name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8:1, MEV).
• “The earth is full of the goodness of the LORD” (Ps. 33:5, NKJV).
• “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive” (Ps. 124:2–3, NKJV).
• “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You attend to him?” (Ps. 8:4, MEV).
The psalmist offers us a good example to follow by giving voice to gratitude. Fasting is an excellent time to delve deep into the divine heart by adoring God and admiring Him. When we take the time to extricate ourselves from worldly distractions, we allow ourselves to become present to God. We look into His face and observe His loveliness, His grandeur, and the wonders of His grace. We may open our mouths to tell Him what He means to us, and find that words fail us. In such times we can compensate by singing hymns and making melody in our hearts. We hum under our breath as we marvel how He loves us so.
I invite you to sing this song (psalm) below with David. Read it aloud, or meditate on the words. But either way, let David’s effusive praise and wonder reach your own soul as you sing along with him:
I lift you high in praise, my God, O my King!
and I’ll bless your name into eternity.
I’ll bless you every day,
and keep it up from now to eternity.
GOD is magnificent; he can never be praised enough.
There are no boundaries to his greatness.
Generation after generation stands in awe of your work;
each one tells stories of your mighty acts.
Your beauty and splendor have everyone talking;
I compose songs on your wonders.
Your marvelous doings are headline news;
I could write a book full of the details of your greatness.
The fame of your goodness spreads across the country;
your righteousness is on everyone’s lips.
GOD is all mercy and grace—
not quick to anger, is rich in love.
GOD is good to one and all;
everything he does is suffused with grace.
Creation and creatures applaud you, GOD;
your holy people bless you.
They talk about the glories of your rule,
they exclaim over your splendor,
Letting the world know of your power for good,
the lavish splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is a kingdom eternal;
you never get voted out of office.
GOD always does what he says,
and is gracious in everything he does.
GOD gives a hand to those down on their luck,
gives a fresh start to those ready to quit.
All eyes are on you, expectant;
you give them their meals on time.
Generous to a fault,
you lavish your favor on all creatures.
Everything GOD does is right—
the trademark on all his works is love.
GOD’S there, listening for all who pray,
for all who pray and mean it.
He does what’s best for those who fear him—
hears them call out, and saves them.
GOD sticks by all who love him,
but it’s all over for those who don’t.
My mouth is filled with GOD’S praise.
Let everything living bless him,
bless his holy name from now to eternity.