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The Symbiotic Relationship Between Prayer and Fasting

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Michael Eagle

MICHAEL EAGLE is Physician Assistant in Orthopedic Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical School and previously at Mayo Clinic. He has run eighteen marathons, completed two Ironman events, and has an interest in nutrition, exercise, and fasting. Michael is an elder at Harpeth Christian Church and a graduate of TCM’s Discipleship Program.

I really enjoy a good, robust cup of coffee in the morning. It’s a great way to get my day started. I love the smell, the aroma, and the warmth of the mug as well as the taste. It awakens my brain and gets the synapses firing. I begin to think and contemplate, and the creative process gets going. I get excited about my day. Music becomes more intense and on my morning walks I notice the birds, the flowers, the sky, and the sunrise.

Let’s say I want to add the spiritual discipline of solitude to my life. I plan a nice retreat to a cabin in the mountains for a couple of days. I pack my stuff: a hammock, a comfortable jacket, my Bible, a good book, my favorite mug, my favorite coffee pods, and finally, my portable Keurig machine to make that perfect cup when I get there. I drive to the cabin after a long day at work. I lay down to sleep and in the morning I wake up as the sun rises. Then I unpack my Keurig and my favorite bold roast Keurig pod, pour in my distilled water and then realize something is not right. There is no electrical outlet! The cabin is a bare bones cabin with no plugs, and I am left in the middle of nowhere without my coffee.

As tragic as this situation sounds, I am sure I could get by. I would not be quite as alert or in tune with nature and I may even feel a little bit apathetic. If you are a coffee or tea drinker, you probably understand where I’m coming from.

“Sometimes when we pray, we can feel a dullness.”

In a similar way, sometimes when we pray, we can feel a dullness. It can be like going through the motions, not quite alive. It can seem like we are just checking the boxes, like our prayers lack flavor or pizazz. I am sure I am not the only one who has experienced this. You may have guessed where I am headed. Billy Graham made an interesting observation that connects with this thought. He was quoted as saying:

“Science takes a Niagara River with its violent turbulence and transforms it into electrical energy to illuminate a million homes and to turn the productive wheels of industry. [God] does in the spiritual realm what science does in the physical realm.” (Graham)

We are wired like the Keurig coffee maker. We need a power source to reach our full potential. All the ingredients can be there for the perfect cup of Joe but without plugging the appliance in, you will not receive the product. When we plug into that source, the Holy Spirit, through fasting and prayer combined, a spark happens. Our prayer life reaches new levels. We fill our mug with delicious, full-bodied, bold roast!

“When we plug into that source, the Holy Spirit, through fasting and prayer combined, a spark happens.”

Behind my home is a series of back country trails that go for several miles. At one part of the trail, it ascends a fairly steep hill. When you get to the top, there is a spectacular overlook with a great view of the countryside. I love that spot, but it takes work to get there.

As I have aged and put on a few more pounds than I would have liked, I realized a simple physiological phenomenon in play. It’s one that I often educate my orthopedic patients on. Physics tells us that for every pound of body weight we carry, our knee joints take 4 times the force with each step on those inclines or declines. This means that if I am just 10 lbs. overweight, it is like carrying a 40 lb. backpack every time I walk up that hill.

It was a painful reality for me when I experienced this. So when I decided to work at shedding a few pounds, I began to notice a new freedom. I could get up that hill with a lot more ease and it became more enjoyable when I reached the summit.

“When I decided to work at shedding a few pounds, I began to notice a new freedom.”

Fasting is much like shedding those extra pounds, in a sense. When we shed the indulgences of life, we have more bandwidth to focus on the things of God because we have relinquished the added load of worldly wants and desires. It positions us to begin to climb in the realm of prayer with more power and purpose. Fasting is actually a symbiotic relationship with prayer. They are meant to go together. This is not always the case of course, but when they are combined, they work in unison beautifully. Jesus’ instructions on fasting were “when you fast.” Notice it was not an “if” statement but a “when”. This is an important distinction.

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt. 6:16-18 NIV)

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting.”

Of course, Jesus also tells us the heart behind fasting. We are fasting before the Father in obedience and taking all kinds of prayers and requests before the throne.

Just as Graham pointed out, that electrical force (generated by the ever-flowing, living water through the power of the Holy Spirit) brings prayer to life and illuminates our souls. Remember this as well: We are called to be light to a dark and sinful world and that light only gets its power directly from the source. We can use that light to shine into this dark world in many ways, especially fulfilling our mission to make disciples of Jesus.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14-16 MSG)

This was excerpted from Michael Eagle, Prayer and Fasting: Group Discussion Guide (, 2020).