Scripture tells us what our Savior did to acquire spiritual strength, in connection with the devil's attack on Him: "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted [or tried] by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry" (Matthew 4:1–2). Notice—He fasted!
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His disciples to give generously from the heart, and to pray to God continually. Notice that He said, "Moreover, when you fast…" (Matthew 6:16). He did not say "if" you fast; He took it for granted that His disciples would fast. Christ said, "when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward" (ibid.). In other words, the hypocrites' reward is whatever praise they receive from other people for showing off their fasting.
We Christians are not to punish ourselves, thinking that this will force God to hear our prayers. God is not interested in penance. That is just as if you or I would take whips and beat each other's backs, saying, "Look at our suffering, God, so hear us." The idea behind our fasting is quite different from that. We seek the invisible God. We fast to humble ourselves—to make ourselves realize how weak we are, and that we are little children, saying, in effect: "Father, we are up against a great army, and there are great forces around us. We don't always know what we should do, and we need your help. We need guidance. And we need deliverance. Please help us draw near to You."
Prayer and fasting go together. There was a time when the prophet Daniel really, desperately wanted to know what would happen in the future: "Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes" (Daniel 9:3). Prayer always goes along with fasting.
Daniel went on: "And I prayed to the Lord my God, and made confession, and said, 'O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned…'" (vv. 4–5). Notice he did not say, "Oh, we've been good, and we've done no wrong, and You don't have any right to punish us."
Rather, he told God he was sorry, and that "we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments…. Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face" (vv. 5, 7).
Notice the result of Daniel's prayerful fast. An archangel came to him and told him: "At the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved" (v. 23). Why was Daniel so greatly loved? Because he humbled himself sincerely before God.
Prayer and fasting are at the center of a true Christian's life! To learn more about that life, read our article, "What Is True Christianity?" or our free booklet, Your Ultimate Destiny! As you draw closer to God through prayer and fasting, you will come to know Him far more than you ever imagined possible!
Yet, as we fast, we need to remember James' caution, "do you think that the Scripture says in vain, 'The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously'? But He gives more grace [grace greater than the lust of the human spirit]. Therefore He says: 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble'" (James 4:5–6). This is a vital point. Then: "Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up" (vv. 9–10). Brethren, that is God's promise to us! We must humble ourselves, and must not let down in the matter of prayer and fasting!