Fasting Strengthens The Intensity Of Prayer
It is a fact that cannot be denied by those who have studied church history carefully, that every great leader who has moved his age for God, was a man who believed in or practiced fasting.
The first gleam of real spiritual reformation that appeared after the night of the dark ages had set in, occurred in the twelfth century when Francis of Assisi, a young spendthrift, after much prayer and fasting was graciously converted.
Eating only such things as were freely given him, and dressing in such garments as were donated, he went joyfully preaching, singing and testifying, with bare feet and with his head uncovered, up and down Italy.
Thousands of people professed conversion. It has been stated that he frequently and constantly fasted.
Another remarkable awakening took place in the fourteenth century under Savonarola, in Florence, Italy. In response to his flaming preaching, almost all Florence for a time professed faith in Christ. This great preacher was a man of inveterate fasting habits. Historians tell us that he often could only keep his place in the pulpit with difficulty, so weak was he from abstaining from food.
Then we come to the great Reformation in Germany under Martin Luther. Luther fasted for days while translating the Bible, and herein undoubtedly lies the secret of his unrivalled translation. It was also responsible for bringing in the great Reformation which changed the destiny of Europe.
It is said of Martin Luther that he fasted so continuously, his friends feared for his health. We do not endorse the practice of fasting to such an extent that the body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, is damaged.
But consider the mighty spiritual forces that were released through the fasting-prayers of Martin Luther – prayers that precipitated the spiritual awakening in Europe known throughout history as the Great Reformation. Literally, his prayers, with fasting, brought down God on the dark night of Europe.
John Calvin and John Knox
John Calvin also, the noted expositor of the Scriptures, was a man who fasted regularly, and lived to see his prayers answered in the conversion of almost a whole city. Calvin says, "Therefore, let us say something of fasting; because many, for want of knowing its usefulness, undervalue its necessity, and some reject it as almost superfluous, while, on the other hand, where the use of it is not well understood, it easily degenerates into superstition.
"Holy and legitimate fasting is directed to these ends; we practice it either as a restraint on the flesh (to preserve it from licentiousness), or as a preparation for prayers." (Inst., IV. 12, 14, 15.)
John Knox in Scotland fasted and waited upon God until intervening Providence drove Mary Queen of Scots into exile. The leaders of the Reformation in England practiced fasting as faithfully as they offered their prayers. Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer, all martyred for their convictions, were among this number.
The Church "Fathers" and Great Evangelists of the Past Believed in Fasting
Tertullian wrote a treatise on the subject in A. D. 210. In it, he defended fasting as a better aid to religion than feasting. Polycarp in A. D. 110, urged fasting upon the saints as a powerful aid against temptation and fleshly lusts.
When we come to great evangelists, such as Finney, Jonathan Edwards, Wesley, Spurgeon, and many others, we find that fasting played a part in the ministry of all these mighty men of God.
Charles G. Finney, in speaking of the beginning of his revival work, says, "I had been in the habit of rising early in the morning, and spending a season of prayer alone in the Meeting House. I used to spend a great deal of time in prayer; sometimes I thought, literally praying without ceasing. I also found it very profitable, and felt very much inclined to hold frequent days of private fasting.
"On these days I would seek to be entirely alone with God, and would generally wander off into the woods, or get into the Meeting House, or somewhere away entirely by myself."
He declares that when he detected a lessening of the Spirit’s wonderful presence in him and through him, he would fast for three days and three nights, and after doing so, he testified that he would invariably be again filled with the Holy Spirit’s marvelous power.
Jonathan Edwards, the man who preached a famous sermon where strong men clung to the pillars of the church, thinking they were falling into hell, is likewise among those who believed in fasting. He is said to have fasted and prayed till he was too weak to stand in the pulpit, but how wonderfully God honoured him and his ministry!
When we come to that great stalwart John Wesley, we find him also among those who staunchly believed in and practiced fasting. He required all his ministers to fast, and he strictly upheld this teaching, although he was not against warning them about going to extremes, knowing that by so doing fanatics could do much harm to the movement.
Early Methodist customs observed Fridays as days of abstinence. The primitive Methodists of Wesley’s day followed the custom of the early church, and fasted twice a week, on Wednesdays as well as Fridays.
They thus became powerful in prayer and preaching, and great revivals followed. Wesley himself is said to have followed this practice. He is understood to have said that he would as soon think of cursing and swearing as to omit the weekly custom of fasting.
It would appear that in the early days of Methodism, at first nearly all Methodists followed the early church custom of fasting twice a week, but some of them carried it to excess in their zeal for God, with the result that their health was affected. This caused a certain amount of consternation in the Movement and many stopped fasting altogether.
Wesley feared that the practice would die out altogether, and wrote a famous sermon on fasting. He tells them that he wonders if some of them fasted at all, even one day in a year. Also, he made the drastic statement that according to the Bible a man who never fasts is no more on the way to heaven than a man who never prays!
Wesley greatly lamented the fact that he could see creeping into Methodism in his day, a lack of self-denial. He deplored the fact that a few extremists had brought the vital truth of fasting into disrepute.
In Book No. 2 of Wesley’s Sermons, entitled, "The Causes of Inefficacy of Christianity," preached in Dublin, July 2nd, 1789, we read, "It would be easy to show in how many respects the Methodists, in general, are deplorably wanting in the practice of Christian self-denial: from which, indeed, they have been frightened by the outcries of the Antinomians.
"To instance only in one: While we were at Oxford, the rule of every Methodist was (unless in case of sickness) to fast every Wednesday and Friday in the year, in imitation of the primitive church. Now this practice of the primitive church was universally allowed.
"‘Who does not know,’ says Epiphanius, an ancient writer, ‘that the fast of the fourth and sixth days of the week (Wednesday and Friday), are observed by the Christians throughout the world?’
"So they were by the Methodists for several years, by them all, without exception. But afterwards some in London carried this to excess, and fasted so as to impair their health. It was not long before others made this a pretence for not fasting at all.
"And I fear there are now thousands of Methodists, so called, both in England and Ireland, who, following the same bad example, have entirely left off fasting; who are so far from fasting twice in the week that they do not fast twice in the month.
"Yes, are there not some of you who do not fast one day from the beginning of the year to the end? But what excuse can there be for this? I do not say for those that call themselves members of the Church of England, but for any who profess to believe the Scripture to be the Word of God."
Since, according to this, the man that never fasts is no more in the way to heaven than the man who never prays, when we think of the tremendous influence of this one man’s life, can his words be lightly set aside?
Spurgeon and Fasting
Some readers may be surprised to find questions concerning fasting, from such a notable preacher as Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Yet, in one of his sermons, the writer came across the following words: "Our Saviour added, ‘Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting’ (Matt. 17:14-21). What did He mean by that?
"I believe He meant that – in these very special cases – the ordinary preaching of the Word of God will not avail, and ordinary prayer will not suffice. There must be an unusual faith, and to get this – there must be an unusual degree of prayer; and fasting as well."
He continues, "And what is fasting for? That seems the difficult point. It is evidently an accessory to the peculiar continuance in prayer, practiced often times by our Lord, and advised by Him to His disciples. Not a kind of religious observance, in itself meritorious, but a habit, when associated with the exercise of prayer, unquestionably helpful."
Please notice Mr. Spurgeon’s next words very carefully: "I am not sure whether we have not lost a very great blessing in the Christian church by giving up fasting. It is said that there is superstition in it; but, as an old divine says, we had better have a spoonful of superstition than a porringer full of gluttony.
"Martin Luther used to fast frequently. He says his flesh was wont to grumble dreadfully at abstinence, but fast he would, for he found that when he was fasting, it quickened his praying.
"There is a treatise by an old Puritan called, ‘The soul-fattening institution of fasting,’ and he gives us his own experience that, during a fast he felt more intense eagerness of soul than he had ever done at any other time."
In the same sermon, Spurgeon says, "I think I may fairly ask you who are lovers of souls, who have eyes which do weep, and hearts which can feel, to try my Master’s prescription (viz. fasting) – and see if the most unmanageable devil which ever took possession of a human heart, be not driven out as the result of prayer and fasting, in the exercise of your faith!
"I can advise brethren to try fasting; it will be good for their health, and it certainly will not harm them.
"If we only ate about half what is ordinarily eaten, we should probably all of us be in better health, and if, occasionally, we put ourselves on short fasts, not because there is any virtue in that, but in order to get our brains more clear, and to help our hearts to rest more fully upon the Saviour, we should find that prayer and fasting have great power."
Fasting in the Life of David Brainerd, the Great Missionary to the American Indian
We give here some extracts on fasting from his diary. "Monday. I set apart this day for fasting and prayer to God for His grace, especially to prepare me for the work of the ministry.
"My soul longed for God, for the living God. Oh, how delightful it is, to pray under such sweet influences! I had at this time no disposition to eat (though late in the morning), for earthly food appeared wholly tasteless. O how much better is this – than one’s necessary food" (Job 23:12).
Fasting as Seen in the Powerful Ministry of William Bramwell, Revivalist
Before Mr. Bramwell knew the Lord, he practiced austerities and sought to mortify the flesh by fasting and other means, but not knowing the Lord, he did some foolish things until better instructed in the way of God.
When he became a minister, we read that "he gave himself to fasting and prayer, and diligently sought renewed baptisms of the Holy Ghost." On January 6th, 1806, he writes: "The flame of love and salvation is now breaking out on every side in Hull. I know we cannot fast and pray in vain."
Some friends of his, where a room was put aside for him to go and pray, speak of his seasons of prayer and fasting as follows: "He was wont to resort to it frequently (the room they had put aside for him) and spend two, three, four, five, and sometimes six hours in prayer and reflection.
"He often entered the room at nine o’clock in the morning, and did not leave it until three in the afternoon. The days on which his longest visits were, I conjecture, his appointed fasts; on these occasions he refused any kind of refreshments, and used to say when he came out, ‘Now, take no notice of me.’"
After William Bramwell’s appointment to Sunderland, he wrote: "We have too good a house, and the friends are too kind. I have had to watch and fast, or I should have been ruined with good things."
With regard to his own denomination of Methodism he said, "The reason why the Methodists in general do not live in this salvation is, there is too much sleep, too much meat and drink, too little fasting and self-denial, too much conversation in the world, too much preaching and hearing, and too little self-examination and prayer."
Fasting As Seen in the Lives of Other Great Men of God
Sadhu Sundar Singh, who has been called the "St. Paul of India and Tibet," fasted forty days, and obtained such a revelation of the presence and nearness of God, that it became a powerful factor in his success as an evangelist.
Rees Howells, the well-known founder of the Swansea Bible College, in Wales, was also an advocate of fasting. His life story, written by Norman Grubb, and entitled, Rees Howells – Intercessor, is a remarkable document on the power of prayer and fasting.
Mr. Howells became a famous prayer warrior. He was working in a colliery as a young man when he first saw the need for fasting. He was taught by the Holy Spirit to have only two meals a day, consisting of a plate of soup with bread and cheese. Later, when he went into the ministry, he partook of only one meal every two days, and finally he was led of God to undertake a fifteen day fast.
During World War II, Mr. Howells would often call the whole Bible college of which he was the principal, to a day of prayer and fasting, and his diary makes remarkable reading of how he, with others, held back the powers of darkness from destroying the nations which cherish the Gospel (Eph. 6:10-18).
After reading this book, it makes one wonder whether the war was won by guns and ships and tanks, or by prayer and fasting!
Pastor Blumhardt, of Germany, was a minister who gave himself to the healing of the sick. Speaking of him, Andrew Murray records this piece of information regarding his discovery of fasting: "At the time when Blumhardt was passing through his terrible conflict with the evil spirits in those who were possessed of them, and seeking to cast them out by prayer, he often wondered what it was that hindered the answer.
"One day a friend with whom he had spoken of his trouble, directed his attention to our Lord’s words about fasting (Matt. 9:14-15; Mark 9:14-29). Blumhardt resolved to give himself to fasting, sometimes for more than thirty hours. From reflection and experience, he gained the conviction that it is of more importance than is generally thought.
"He says, ‘Inasmuch as the fasting is, before God, a practical proof that the thing we ask for is to us a matter of true and pressing interest, and inasmuch as, in a high degree, it strengthens the intensity and power of the prayer, and becomes the unceasing practical expression of a prayer without words, I could believe that it would not be without efficacy, especially as the Master’s words had reference to a case like the present.
"‘I tried it, without telling anyone, and in truth the later conflict was extraordinarily lightened by it. I could speak to the devil-possessed with much greater restfulness and decision. I did not require to be so long present with the afflicted one; and I felt that I could influence without being present.’"
Revivals Come through Prayers and Fasting
In the early church, we learn that the worldwide missionary movement was born at a time when the leaders of the church at Antioch "ministered to the Lord, and fasted" (Acts 13). All through church history it has proved the same. Great spiritual movements and revivals owe their birth to prayer and fasting.
The fasting prayer is the most successful revival method known – to obtain more of the Spirit of God!
On one occasion, about the time of the Welsh Revival, Dr. R. A. Torrey went to Cardiff for a campaign. A year before he went, it was announced that he was coming, and prayer went up from thousands of devoted Christians – that there would not only be a revival in Cardiff, but also throughout Wales.
Dr. Torrey says, "When we reached Cardiff, we found that early morning prayer meetings had been held at Penarth for months. Yet at first the work went very slowly. There were great crowds, most enthusiastic singing, but little manifestation of real convicting and regenerating power.
"A day of fasting and prayer was appointed. This was observed not only in Cardiff but in different parts of Wales. There came an immediate turn of the tide; the power of God fell!"
In 1872, Mr. Moody’s church in Chicago was burned to the ground. While it was being rebuilt, he went to England for a rest. He promised himself that he would not preach at all in London. He went to a church and the pastor asked him to preach. Contrary to his determination, he not only did so, but agreed to preach again at night.
Before he had got fairly started in the message that morning, he was really sorry that he had promised to preach again that night. The congregation seemed to be so cold and unresponsive that it seemed a waste of time to preach to them.
But after the sermon, a lady from the congregation hurried home to her invalid sister and told her: "Amelia, you will never guess who preached for us this morning!" "Who was it?" "Mr. Moody of Chicago." Instantly the invalid woman was deeply moved. "Oh, if only I could have known it!" she said. "I have been praying to God for two years to send Mr. Moody to our pulpit!"
Her sister then told her that Mr. Moody was to preach again that night. The invalid woman then pleaded with her sister to leave the room at once and lock the door behind her. She said: "Do not let anyone disturb me, and do not bring me any food or drink. I must spend the time until the close of the night service in fasting and prayer – that God will mightily revive His work in our midst!"
That night, Mr. Moody, because of his promise, preached again, although quite unwillingly. As he began to unfold his theme, a change came over the congregation. They appeared to be getting "alive" and listening intently. At the close of his sermon, Moody felt he ought to give an altar call. He said: "Those who are ready to make a full surrender of their lives to Christ tonight please stand."
Five hundred people rose promptly to their feet! Moody was confused and perplexed. He thought they did not understand what he had said. He then asked them to be seated, and put to them the way of salvation more distinctly, and again asked those to arise who wanted to be saved – and again five hundred stood! Surely it was not possible for five hundred seekers to be in one congregation, especially in view of how cold they seemed to be in the morning service.
Moody did not know of that faithful invalid, fasting and praying for deliverance! For the second time, he asked them all to be seated, and again went into the matter of salvation with even greater care, and told them explicitly what it entailed. Then he gave the invitation the third time, and five hundred people rose again, and were marshaled into a prayer room!
Thus began a mighty revival that swept through many of the London churches – and it began through the prayer and fasting of a lone intercessor!
The call now to prayer and fasting – is the Holy Spirit’s loudest call. "The Gospel," says E. M. Bounds, "moves with slow and timid pace when the saints are not at their prayers early and late and long."
Will you not now help to bring about world revival – by giving up days and nights to prayer and fasting?
If so, here are the divine instructions: "Sanctify a fast...and...say, Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine heritage to reproach...Then will the Lord...answer and say...Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things" (Joel 2:12-32).
Taken from Revival Now Through Prayer And Fasting.