Prayer and Fasting

 

(The following lesson was developed from the writings of Steve Bray- “The Faith that Prays.”)

 

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out.” So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed…nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matt. 17:19-21)

When the disciples observed how Jesus received power to cast the evil spirit out of the epileptic whom “they could not cure,” they asked their Master why they had failed. They had previously received “power and authority over all devils, and to cure all diseases.” They had already exercised this divine power through the Spirit. But at this point, when Jesus was away from them on the Mount, they had utterly failed.

The Son proved there was nothing in the will of God or in the nature of the case to prevent the miracle from occurring. And from their question, Why could we not?, they had apparently tried hard to cast the spirit out. But everything they did was in vain.

Christ’s answer was direct and plain: “Because of your unbelief.” Christ’s success was not the result of having access to a power not available to His disciples. Everything He did had its source in the Father and was worked out through dependent faith. He had already been teaching them about this spiritual law, or this principle of faith. But something was missing in their application.

The one great power to which everything must bow is the divine power of the Holy Spirit being put to work through faith. Once man’s will is fully yielded to and has become molded by God’s will, his faith in God can begin unlocking the infinite power of the Spirit. And nothing is impossible with God.

The power received by the disciples to cast out evil spirits did not belong to them as a permanent gift or possession. The power always remains with the Spirit of God. Faith begins by permitting the Spirit to have full possession of us. The Spirit can only work powerfully through our lives when He is in full control of everything we are doing. This relationship with God, which is an intricate part of living by faith, needs to be understood. God will only work through our prayers as we are walking in and by His Spirit.

Even though faith is a simple exercise in the spiritual life, it is also the highest. Our spirit must yield itself in perfect receptivity to God’s Spirit and become strengthened for this activity. If there is a separation from Him in any matter, our faith will be weakened.

Here is the secret to having power with God. His power works through those who are actually living in fellowship with Him. They receive their spiritual life directly from Him. This brings us to the real meaning of prayer and fasting. The power of God’s Spirit can freely work through these souls because they have stopped looking to the world and its things for their spiritual sustenance. Having separated from the self-seeking and self-exalting ways of the world, God is able to “dwell in” and “walk in” them. (2 Cor. 6:16-17)

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world {tries to find their spiritual life from the world}, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides {in His eternal life} forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. (Gal. 5:16)

Fasting involves a withdrawal from everything that tends to give strength to the flesh and prevents us from being moved by every leading of the Spirit. There are temporal things that tend to give strength to the old flesh-life. In prayer and fasting the Spirit is given an opportunity to regain complete control over everything we do. And as the Spirit gains control over our every action, we gain access to His spiritual power.

Fasting is not limited to separating ourselves from food. God expects us to stop feeding ourselves spiritually on the temporal things of this world. “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” (1 John 2:15) God requires us to sustain ourselves spiritually on the food that comes down from heaven. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst… This is the bread which came down from heaven… He who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:35, 58) Those who still find themselves hungering and thirsting for temporal things, and looking to these things to sustain themselves spiritually, can know they are not yet eating of the heavenly food that comes down from above. As Jesus has clearly stated, we “never” hunger for the things of this world when we are truly sharing with Him in the fullness of His life. (See also John 4:14)

Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live {in the everlasting life} (Isa. 55:2-3)

Prayer is “the hand” by which we grasp the invisible. Fasting, on the other hand, is the means we use to separate from the temporal food of this world. Those who will separate their hearts from this world have access to every spiritual blessing residing in Christ’s life within the heavenly realms. (Eph. 1:3) That is where our heart needs to be. We are to begin living with Him and walking with Him. (2 Cor. 6:17) This is the inheritance that our heavenly Father is now ready to begin sharing with His obedient children so we may be partakers with the Son in the power of His throne.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col. 3:1-3)

Our enjoyment of food holds us to the visible world as much as anything else. The first thought suggested by Jesus’ words in regard to fasting and prayer is that only in a life of self-denial will there be sufficient heart and strength to pray as God requires. Those who are still being led by the desires of the flesh will lack persevering faith. They will keep running off to please their latest fleshly desire.

Everything we do must be under the control and power of the Holy Spirit. This is the one means for entering into a prayer-life that is clearly connected with the power of God.

There will be times when it is strongly felt that the appetites of the body are keeping the flesh-life strong and active. We will sense that these lusts of the flesh are hindering the growth of our spiritual life. We sense the necessity of keeping even our natural desires subdued. The Spirit is telling us to enter into a period of fasting. This form of fasting will often entail separating ourselves for a time, or even permanently, from things that are perfectly innocent.

Christians generally assume that if God has not forbidden something as sinful, it is permissible for them. So they try to retain as much of this world as possible. They find their enjoyments in their possessions and their activities. The consecrated soul, however, is like a soldier. After joining the Lord’s army he carries only what is necessary in serving the kingdom of God. This was Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.” (2 Tim. 2:3-4)

Because the real child of faith has freed himself from all unnecessary weight, he is able to combat all the temptations of the flesh. He recognizes how the cares of this world can sap his spiritual strength. He therefore chooses to live a consecrated life that has been specifically set apart for the Lord and His service.

But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with…cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. (Luke 21:34)

Without this voluntary separation—a fasting from the world—even from what is lawful, it is not possible to have consistent power in prayer. Such power comes only through fasting. It requires a very special faith and separation to God. And so, even though Christ’s disciples were previously given access to power in prayer, they were not fully separated from the world and its ways. Yes, they had come out to follow Jesus. But some of the ways of this world were still clinging to their hearts. And it was not until they had entered into a real spiritual fast and had their hearts purified that they could truly be clothed with power from on high.

Thus, after the first disciples experienced their Pentecostal baptism with the Holy Spirit, they began to put God’s power to work mightily through their prayers. “For assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed…nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”

Jesus assures us, “If you have faith, nothing will be impossible to you.” Let this promise encourage you to turn from the world and its ways. Those who will come out from the world through spiritual fasting and enter into this heavenly communion with God will find themselves being lifted spiritually into the Son’s Kingdom-life. And it is here, sharing with Him in the power of His throne, that prayer truly becomes effectual. “For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.” (1 Cor. 4:20)