What “Fasting and Prayer” are not…
- A hunger strike
When we fast, we must focus on prayer and meditation on the Word of God: we must be willing to listen to God’s voice and obey His will. Fasting is not a hunger strike to force God to act, nor is it an act of suffering or deprivation. It is an act of faith in God, who can spiritually strengthen us and bring us closer to Him.
Indeed, we should not imagine that God will bless us simply because we have deprived ourselves of food. We cannot force or manipulate God through carnal efforts; it is not God who changes when we fast, but our inner disposition.
In a parable (Luke 18: 9-14), two men go up to the temple: the first one says he fasts twice a week, tithes all his income, and does not commit adultery. The second, on the other hand, may have a full stomach but, standing at a distance, beats his chest and begs the Lord to forgive his sins. It is this one who comes out of his prayer time justified. It is not abstaining from food that will touch the heart of God, but the inner disposition of our hearts because:
“everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
The apostle Paul emphasized the importance of not putting our trust in the flesh, saying, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do” (1 Corinthians 8:8). Thus, the power is not in the food itself or in our deprivation but in our act of faith towards Christ. No,
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
The Bible shows us that strength is not only found in abstaining from food because “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking” (Romans 14:17), but primarily in the act of contrition of the heart, this disposition of the heart to humble itself before God. What I call transformative humility is a way of living on our knees before God, born out of the understanding that we cannot live on bread alone but absolutely need God and are nothing without Him. No, fasting is not a hunger strike; it is a personal decision to draw near to God.
We need His presence, we need His grace, we need Him for everything and in everything. Jesus, faced with a hungry crowd, was moved with compassion for them because they had been with Him for three days and had nothing to eat (Mark 8:2). He decided to multiply the loaves and fishes to meet their needs because their deprivation was not the result of a personal choice but of a circumstance they endured. Jesus prefers listeners who have full stomachs and are fully attentive over hungry listeners, distracted by hunger and involuntary deprivation.
Also, as we will see, fasting or praying alone is not enough. We can fast and pray for a long time, but we must be willing to put our prayers into practice.
• A means of self-glorification.
“But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:17-18).
Fasting should not be a means of showing others how spiritual we are. Let’s not think that we are the most spiritual person in the house simply because we fast, for sometimes, on the contrary, it is because we are not spiritual enough that we will need to fast!
Some churches organize extended fasts at the beginning or end of the year. If we decide to fast, whether the program is initiated by others or by us, let’s make sure to do it with the right disposition. There is no point in telling everyone about our fasts unless it is to glorify ourselves. For God, the motivations of our hearts are essential. Therefore, we must fast sincerely and purely and remain as discreet as possible, so as not to lose the reward of fasting.
- Fasting will not earn us a diploma.
The Pharisees were known for their frequent fasting, yet Jesus regularly rebuked them for fasting to be noticed and to show their piety to others. Jesus said about them:
“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:16).
If we fast with the right intentions, our heavenly Father will reward us in return. It is not only Christians who fast; many do it for reasons of physical well-being or religious beliefs.
In some Eastern religions, some people abuse fasting and open themselves to unclean spirits. As Christians, we should not believe that abstaining from food impresses God to the point that, touched by our deprivation, He would be more inclined to answer us.
“The Lord of hosts said to me: ‘Ask all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves ?‘” (Zechariah 7:4-6).
In this passage, the Lord speaks to the prophet Zechariah and asks him to question the people and the priests about their practice of fasting. He asks them if they fast for God or for their own satisfaction. Thus, this passage emphasizes that fasting must always be centered on God. “Lord, what I desire is you. You are worth more than anything you could give me.”
In Christian fasting, our focus should not be on our empty stomach or our efforts but on God. Only love and good intentions can lead us to a fast approved by God. Yes, whatever reasons we decide to fast for, they must always be based on love.
We invite you to read the following article “The Proclamation Fast.”