Fasting as Prayer
by Josh Porter & Gavin Bennett
Begin with prayer (5 minutes)
Gather together as a Community in a comfortable setting (around a table, on the couch, the floor of a living room, etc.). Have somebody lead a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to lead and guide your time together.
Read this overview
Our prayer, following Jesus’s example, is for God’s will to be done here on earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6v10). But why does it seem to be so difficult to know God’s will in the specific sense? All throughout the Scriptures, a great myriad of characters—both admirable and decidedly less so—ask God for things, and God answers. Jesus himself pleaded with his disciples to understand God not as uncaring or aloof, but as a loving father eager to provide for his kids. Complicated though it may be, we can wrap our heads around the idea of asking God for things.
Fasting on the other hand, we understand a bit less. In one sense, fasting is a means by which the disciple of Jesus prays with their entire body. After all, you are not simply a spirit in a body; you are a spirit and a body. The discipline of fasting draws our attention to both our spiritual and our physical being. In fasting, the great hunger of the heart and mind for answered prayer permeates the body itself.
We believe that God is responsive—he actually acts differently than he would based on the actions and prayers of his people. Certainly, fasting is not a manipulative device by which the fasting person assumes he or she can pressure God into doing something he or she wants. Fasting is not a way we jump ahead in the journey of prayer, but the way we pray and how we do it matters. Fasting is one important method of engaging your entire person (not just your mind) in prayer. Fasting fosters an internal intimacy, a quiet space, in which God’s voice has more room. God is relational. Like any other intimate relationship, we hear one another better when we focus our entire person on the other. Fasting is not a hunger strike, but it is a way of expressing to God our hunger for him to move in our life.
Read over this coming week’s Practice as a Community (15 minutes)
Here’s the Practice for tonight and this coming week:
In the teaching, we talked through 5 types of prayer for which fasting is a naturally ally: to repent, to grieve, to cry out in crisis, to change God’s mind, and to know God’s heart. As you fast and pray this week, consider leaning into one of those five areas, following the prompts below.
- First, mark out a period of time this week to fast. Again, we recommend that your Community fasts together starting on the night you meet and goes through lunch the next day – somewhere between 12 and 24 hours – but it’s up to you.
- In which area do you want to hear God or be heard by God this week? Perhaps it’s one of the five categories:
- To repent: Is there something from which you need to repent? Is there a sin in your life in need of contemplation and forgiveness?
- To grieve: Is there something you need to grieve? Have you experienced a loss that you need to hold before the Lord in prayer and fasting, grieving with God’s Spirit? This can be something in your immediate life – such as a loved one, a job, a relationship, or a failed plan you once held close – or something outside of your own situation – such as a natural disaster, a school shooting, war, racism, global violence against women, or some other current event.
- To cry out in crisis: Are you in or on the brink of a crisis and need God’s intervention?
- To change God’s mind in a situation: Is there an area of your life in which you want to see reality change? Do you need to wrestle with God about something in your life?
- To know God’s mind in a decision: Is there an area of confusion in your life about which you’d like to hear God’s thoughts? Are you in the midst of making a big decision and desperately need to hear what God’s wants to happen?
- As you fast, allow the hunger you feel to prompt you towards prayer. Use the time you would normally eat in communion with God, engaging one of the above conversations with him.
- Sometimes God speaks to us in the midst of our fast. Make sure that, whether you were certain it was God or not, you write down what you hear. Spend time reflecting on these things:
- Is what I heard something I find in the Bible? Does it contradict something in the Bible? (Note: God will never say something to you that contradicts what he has already spoken in the Bible.)
- Invite someone(s) from your Community to pray with you about what you’ve heard and to help you discern its source.
- If I feel that God has or has not spoken, how will I respond? What are my next steps? Do I need to make fasting more of a habit in my life? Or is there another direction in which I’m being led to take action?
- Come together as a Community next week to talk about your experience and pray together. If someone in your Community heard God say something significant, spend time praying with them about what they’ve heard, thanking God for speaking and asking him what next next steps she/he/you all should take.
Work through these discussion questions (10-15 minutes)
- Has your view of fasting shifted since we began this series? How?
- What is an area of your life in which you would love to discern God’s will?
- Is it easy for you to hear God’s voice?
- Does anyone have any encouraging story about fasting and discernment from their own life?
Close in prayer
If you’re not eating this evening, you will have more time to pray. Take as long as you want. You might start by reading a Psalm together and then spend some time asking Jesus to turn your affections to him. The following are a few optional prompts that you can use to fill the prayer time. These can be prayed through as a large group or in smaller groups. But if you’d rather skip them and pray as a Community into other things, go ahead and do that.
- If there is anyone for whom God seems distant (whether his voice or his ear), spend time praying over them and asking God to allow his presence to be near and perceptible as they fast. Declare over them God’s delight in speaking to and hearing us, his children. Ask God to silence every voice that isn’t the Spirit and to amplify and clarify the Spirit’s own voice.
- Ask God to bring to each person’s mind an area in which he wants to speak into her/his life or be heard by them this week. Spend some time in silence, allowing the Spirit to speak.
- If people feel comfortable, share the areas that the Spirit is revealing and spend time praying over each person asking God to reveal his will in these areas this week.
For most of us, fasting is new and complicated. That’s okay! No one—least of all God—expects you to be an expert, already fluent in the art of fasting. Close in prayer by inviting Jesus to teach you, remembering the Father’s loving patience, and by thanking God in advance for the ways in which he will hear us and be heard by us this week.