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The Role of Fasting & Prayer in the Life of the Disciple

A reflection for the People of New Creation Church (Anglican). Posted January 12, 2022 by Fr. Justin Clemente

And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”

Luke 5:33-35

As we start the new year, I’m inviting the entire congregation (and our Ministry Partners) into a time of fasting & prayer for mission & building up of the Lord’s work at NCC. I believe this is a time to rebuild – and the rebuilding must be founded on God’s power and work. One way we do this is by coupling our prayers with fasting.

What Is the Purpose of Fasting?

Let’s start with this question: what is fasting all about? To feed my own thinking here, I’ve been reading the Homily “Of good Works: first on Fasting.” This is one of the Reformation-era sermons put out in the Church of England so as to bolster biblically-rooted, Gospel-centered teaching in the church. Turns out they are quite good! Let me summarize what I learned from this teaching:

First, fasting is not a way that we impress God or get him to like us more. As with any other good work in the Christian life, fasting flows from our free justification by faith alone in Christ alone. As St. Augustine says, “Good works then bring not forth grace: but are brought forth by grace.” This is important. You’ll see contemporary teaching on fasting that claims it as a way to “breakthrough” and, basically get whatever you want from God. Not good.

The Homily goes on to state three ends or “right uses” of fasting:

The discipline of our body. Through fasting, our appetites are brought under control, giving us time to focus on prayer and increased dependency on God. As St. Paul says:

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:27

Second, the increase of earnest and fervent prayer. While fasting isn’t a “magic button” to get what we want from God, it does help us to enter in more fully into God’s will and desire for our prayer life. Scripture points to many positive things that were accomplished by the Lord through the prayer and fasting of people. Here are some:

  • Israel was rightly prepared for the Day of Atonement through a solemn fast (Leviticus 16:29-30, Leviticus 23: 27-32)
  • The people of Nineveh expressed their repentance through fasting, and God relented from sending disaster upon them (Jonah 3:6-10).
  • Daniel prayed and fasted on behalf of his people, receiving insight and understanding from no less than the angel Gabriel (Daniel 9)
  • Our Lord fasted for 40 days and overcame the temptations of the Evil One (Matthew 4:1-11)
  • The Lord gave direction and clarity to the missionary enterprise of the church through a time of fasting:

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

Acts 13:2

Third, fasting is an outward testimony & witness of our inward sincerity and submission before God. Jesus points to the need for a right inward attitude in his words on fasting in Matthew 6. Notice also that our Lord assumes that his followers will fast:

“And 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. 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 6:16-18

So, How Do I Practice Fasting?

For some of us, we’ve just never been taught how to practically go about integrating fasting into our devotional and prayer life. So, here goes!

As far as I can tell, fasting is always described in the Bible as a strict fast from all food for a set period of time. However, throughout the history of the church, Christians have engaged the practice of fasting in different ways. Perhaps you might fast from solids, while still drinking liquids (this is usually what I do). Perhaps you might get rid of snacks and sweets for the day, using that time to pray instead. For some, it might be giving up one meal, for others, it might be a whole day. Devotional fasting like this is to be directed by the Lord. So, I encourage you to take this to prayer, and to ask the Lord to show you how he wants you to be engaged in fasting and prayer this year.

Two final suggestions: first, don’t bite off too much. If you’ve never fasted a whole day, don’t start there. Start with a meal and work your way up. If you don’t, you’ll be hangry and cranky. Also, for those with medical concerns, you might consider a media or phone fast, using the time you would ordinarily spend on your phone or other device to pray on Wednesdays.

What Are We Doing?

So, each Wednesday, I invite you into a time of fasting and prayer centered around our Midday Prayer service. If you can’t attend the liturgy virtually or in-person, I recommend you grab the liturgy for the day from our YouTube channel. It’s always in the description for each video. Our fasting & prayer will be centered around five topics, found below. I invite you to add your own prayers as we move through the year:

For our families

Suggested prayers:

  • For mothers & fathers.
  • For the discipleship of our children.
  • For grandparents.

For our church

Suggested prayers:

  • For a deepening and growing love of Christ & his Gospel.
  • For greater compassion for those who do not yet know Christ.
  • For those being discipled and prepared for baptism.
  • For additional co-laborers and leaders across the Body.
  • For our Vestry.
  • For financial independence & funds to facilitate mission/ministry.

For our communities: Hagerstown & Walnut Towers, Chambersburg, & Frederick

Suggested prayers:

  • For those leading mission in these places.
  • For additional co-laborers.
  • To trust God to be at work in these places.
  • For the Lord to create an insatiable need for the Gospel of Christ.
  • For a desire for discipleship in our Anglican heritage.
  • For discernment in how to be involved in ministry & mission in each place.

Additional personal intercessions

Personal praise & thanksgiving

Focused, deliberate fasting like this is a chance to really see the Lord at work, both in us personally and our church corporately. Fasting is a stripping down, an empty place that God can most certainly fill. The thing that gets me most excited about this idea is that it’s an opportunity for each of us to see that the Lord is ever more ready to hear and answer our prayers than we are even to pray them. I look forward to getting at it next Wednesday!