Fasting and Prayer: 2 Stories
Fasting and prayer are often combined in Scripture. Both Old Testament followers of God (Ezra 8:23; Nehemiah 1:4; Psalm 35:13; Daniel 9:3) and the New Testament church (Luke 2:37; Acts 13:3; Acts 14:23) combined prayer and fasting when fervently bringing a request to God. This article brings together two stories, one ancient and one contemporary, to illustrate the importance of prayer and fasting. The following is an excerpt from Tina Wilson’s forthcoming book Step into Scripture: A Daily Journey to Understanding Your Bible.
Jehoshaphat was one of the kings of the ancient Israel’s southern kingdom who really tried to follow God’s ways. In 2 Chronicles 19-20, we read an amazing account of Jehoshaphat’s reforms and victories in Judah. He set up judges who were accountable to the chief priest and gave them these instructions:
“In every case that comes before you from your people who live in the cities—whether bloodshed or other concerns of the law, commands, decrees or regulations—you are to warn them not to sin against the Lord; otherwise his wrath will come on you and your people. Do this, and you will not sin.” (2 Chronicles 19:10)
A Biblical Story of Fasting and Prayer
When Jehoshaphat got serious about moving the people closer to God, attacks ensued. This pattern is still true for us today. When we make intentional efforts to pursue godliness, we’re often met with spiritual opposition. Judah’s opposition came in the form of attacks from the Moabites and Ammonites. Some people came and told Jehoshaphat,
“A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Dead Sea. It is already in Hazezon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi).” (2 Chronicles 20:2)
Jehoshaphat led the nation in a response that also instructs us in how we ought to respond to spiritual warfare.
“Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.” (2 Chronicles 20:3–4)
Fasting and Prayer: “Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord.”
Fasting is a spiritual discipline of abstaining from food or drink (or perhaps some other means of personal gratification) to fully, sacrificially, and humbly dedicate ourselves to seeking the Lord in a particular matter. It is an appeal to heaven that our voice would be heard on high.
When we fast in the way that is acceptable to God—which is fasting coupled with repentance and pursuit of righteousness, like we see here with Jehoshaphat and Judah—“then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’ For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:14)
In other words, the account of Jehoshaphat is a truth for all people. Biblical fasting leads to victory. Of course, our request in fasting must align with God’s plan and God’s Word. In their fasting and prayer, the people of Judah claimed the promises God had made in his covenant with Solomon at the dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 8.
“If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.” (2 Chronicles 20:9)
They aligned their fast with God’s indisputable Word.
Fasting and Prayer: “We will . . . will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.”
A Personal Story of Fasting and Prayer
I’d like to share a quick testimony here about a miraculous fasting experience in my life. A couple of years ago, our church, Ekklesia, had the opportunity to purchase a large building that could’ve given us more seating and space that we needed (and still need). Our purpose was God-honoring. We wanted to make space for the church to grow.
However, the opportunity carried a great risk because of the condition of the building; and it was also shrouded in some confusion because of conflicting information regarding the sale of the property. A Christian extension fund entered into a provisional contract to purchase the building from a mainline denomination; and if they purchased it, they would’ve given Ekklesia the option to purchase it from them.
I was appointed to oversee due diligence inspections on behalf of the buyer because their offices are 1,800 miles away. This was a daunting task because of the scope of problem with the facility and also because of the inconsistencies in the stories of those involved in the sale. Once inspections were completed and I submitted all reports to the buyer, I determined to fast for clarity and for God to move in this situation. My commitment to God was that I would eat no food and drink only water until contract contingencies were released (moving the deal to close) or until the contract was terminated.
“I determined to fast for clarity and for God to move in this situation.”
Every single day of this fast, I went to the location of the building and cried out to God for the clarity that was lacking through this whole three-month inspection process. I will testify to you that fasting caused me to hear more clearly from God than I ever have before. I don’t claim to have any kind of supernatural or apostolic gifts and I’m actually incredibly leery of anyone who does make such claims. But on day ten of this fast—day ten with no food at all, only water—I knew that I was going to receive an answer that day.
I can’t say how I knew other than God gave me clarity, but I absolutely knew before it happened. Later that day, I received a phone call from the CEO of the organization that was buying the building. He told me that he and the seller had mutually agreed to terminate the contract because of the misrepresentation of the condition of the building in the initial purchase agreement. There was my answer.
Before I broke the fast, I went back to the place where I had spent so many hours in prayer and I praised God for answering. Our fasting should be accompanied by worship—especially when God hears and answers. Let’s consider the response of the nation of Judah:
“After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.’ As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.” (2 Chronicles 20:21–22)
“After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness.”
Look at their actions:
- They turned to God.
- They prayed, claiming his promises.
- They fasted.
- They worshipped.
- It was in their worshipping him that he brought the victory.
My fasting brought an answer from God, which is what I was seeking. It wasn’t what seemed to be a favorable answer at the time though. It was no, not yes. But let me tell you where the victory was:
- God saved our church from buying a huge building just two months before all churches would be forced to stop meeting for a time because of Covid. (That would’ve been a terrible time to have a second mortgage on a building we couldn’t even use.)
- The process of just looking at that building directly led to the offer Ekklesia received just 8 months later to purchase the two buildings next door to us—a much more favorable location and much better suited spaces for our ministries.
The discipline of fasting is difficult, but the product of fasting is very powerful. In his book Tony Evans Speaks Out on Fasting, Dr. Evans writes: “The question in fasting is, how badly do you want an answer?”
Fasting and Prayer: “The question in fasting is, how badly do you want an answer?”
Know this, church: If we want to experience powerful moves of God, we will model our spiritual lives after the example we read Jehoshaphat and Judah:
Repentance + Prayer + Fasting + Worship = VICTORY