The title is not a typo. Maybe it’s a hopeful longing. Prayer and feasting sounds somehow more appealing than prayer and fasting. Many, if honest, find prayer not only mysterious, but very difficult. How do I pray? What do I say? Why does my mind wander? How do I carry on a conversation with God when there is no audible voice on the other end? And why of all things would someone fast and pray?
For those who grew up in the “Dixie Cup” generation, who played telephone as little Alexander Graham Bell’s by stringing two paper Dixie cups together, prayer is kind of like that.
I speak on one end, God is somehow on the other, and we are never quite sure if the strings that stretch from this world actually reach the non-temporal, non-spatial spiritual realm. Often it feels like a one-sided conversation. At best, there is static on the line.
Our minds wonder, and sooner or later are lulled to sleep. Maybe that is because we primarily taught our children how to pray just before going to bed. Maybe inadvertently we created a conditioned response. (And lest parents stop praying with their children before going to sleep, for the record, I am speaking tongue-in-cheek.)
As difficult as prayer is, fasting can be even more so— particularly for Americans who are used to three square meals a day, not including the incessant snacking that drives us four times a week to the gym.
It’s hard enough to pray, but do I really have to fast?
Will God hear me if I don’t fast?
If I didn’t get the answers I needed, was it because I didn’t fast?
There is only a single letter difference between prayer and “fasting,” and prayer and “feasting”. And how much difference that little letter would make to encourage a prayer life! How different would our lives be if the Lord commanded us when praying to have a fistful of chocolate reverently in hand.
Jesus addressed these very issues of fasting and feasting while at a dinner party thrown by His newly appointed disciple, Levi (aka Matthew). In chapter 5 of Luke’s Gospel, Luke’s rabble rousing, tax collecting friends, wanted to know why Jesus’ disciples, in contrast to the disciples of the Pharisees, feasted (“yours eat and drink”) rather than fasted.
Comparing Himself to a bridegroom, Jesus argues rightly that no one expects guests to fast at a wedding.
That is the time to feast!
Only when the bridegroom disappeared would it turn the guests’ hearts to mourning, accompanied by fasting.
Anyone who has suffered the painful loss of a loved one can readily understand a fleeting appetite that accompanies mourning.
The key point, is that for His followers, great emotional and spiritual longing would occur between His First and Second Comings.
Fasting is the body’s response to the soul and spirit’s longing for Jesus.
Think about that for a second. If you plan to pray and fast, do you do so because you want something—no matter how well intentioned? As if blood glucose manipulation has some sort of hidden spiritual power? Do you want healing? Do you want an answer about something from God? Is your fast focused on what you want? Or is it focused on a deep longing for the Lord?
The body follows after the heart, which for believers, should long for Jesus and long for our eternal home.
Because our bodies, souls, and spirits are interconnected, our willful choice to lay aside food for a period of time is one of the fastest ways (pun intended) to bring our narcissistic emotions, sin-bent thoughts, and willfully stubborn hearts into submission and obedience to the Lord.
It’s not a form of self-torture, but an expression of humility, forcing our souls to turn Godward.
Prayer, like fasting, is a conscious and often difficult way of humbling ourselves before God to come to that place of rest and surrender to his loving care and sovereign grace.
It leaves us for now with one final question: what are our motives for prayer and fasting?
In a time of overwhelming distress, we don’t stop to consider and decide whether or not to weep. We just weep.
So, if we truly understood the times— if we truly understood the sickness in our hearts and in the Lord’s church at this period of history— then wouldn’t we be more prone to pray and fast?
Wouldn’t we pray and fast in response to a deep longing for Him, and longing for His kingdom to come, rather than for the benefits such discipline might bring to us?
Where there is repentance, where there is longing for Jesus, there is prayer and fasting within His church.
On the other hand, where there is prayer and feasting, one must wonder if the heart has a true understanding of its condition and of the times.
Authored by Dr. David F. Ingrassia, Stewarding Pastor of Charlotte Awake