When Thou Prayest and When Ye Fast
Prayer is communicating with God. It is an inseparable part of Christian experience. We get saved by calling on the Name of the Lord. That initial birth cry in New Birth begins the breathing operation between the soul and His God. Prayer then continues to be the breath of the soul as communications with God continue. When communication with God stops the same thing happens to the soul that happens to the body when breathing stops. Through prayer we acknowledge or utter dependence on God and through Christ our High Priest, make our needs known at the throne of grace.
The Bible gives many examples of how prayer moved the mind of God in behalf of His needy creatures. Lot was spared from destruction through the intercession of Abraham. Israel was spared from destruction by God through the prayer of Moses. Enemy armies were destroyed the prayers of Hezekiah, Mordecai, Esther, and others. Jesus prayed all night before He called and ordained the apostles. Pentecost was preceded by Jesus' disciples being in prayer. Peter and Paul and Silas had iron doors swing open as prayer was made. Anabaptism was born in a prayer meeting. Prayer with proper motives changes things. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask to consume it upon your lust.
Fasting is refraining for a time from physical nourishment. When Jesus had fasted forty days the record says that He was afterward an hungered which implies that in fasting He was refraining from food.
Before Jesus fed the multitude in Mark 8, He said that the people had been with Him for three days with nothing to eat and that if He sent them away fasting (without anything to eat), they will faint (for lack of physical nourishment) along the way.
Perhaps one of the basic reasons for fasting with prayer is to indicate our earnestness in prayer. We are to pray earnestly, fervently, and persistently. Ezra implied this purpose in fasting when, in a time of special need, he "proclaimed a fast that we might afflict ourselves before our God."
Fasting is sometimes associated with earnestness in obtaining salvation as in the case of Paul and Cornelius. Moses fasted in connection with the receiving of the Law. Jesus fasted in preparation for His severe encounter with the devil before He began His ministry. The early church fasted when they wanted to find and send forth missionaries. Paul's personal burdens impelled him to fast often.
Prayer is a strictly spiritual experience and exercise while eating food is a strictly physical need and enjoyment, which may be another reason why fasting adds enrichment and significance to prayer.
Jesus said "when thou prayest" and "when ye fast," not "if thou prayest" and "if ye fast," implying that both alike are an integral and essential part of Christian life and experience.
Our Lord's basic thrust in Matthew 6:118 was proper motivation in giving, praying, and fasting. God condemned Israel for fasting for "strife and debate." The Pharisees were condemned for wrong motives in giving, praying, and fasting.
Prayer, properly motivated, changes things. And prayer and fasting, properly motivated, change some things that might not be changed by prayer alone. In the healing of the lunatic in Matthew 17, Jesus declared that this kind of power and healing "goeth not out but by prayer and fasting."
Let us pray fervently with pure motivation and let us fast seriously with pure motivation. When thou prayest and when ye fast with proper motives — then prayer changes things.
Aaron M. Shank