When I was a youth group kid, we did the World Vision 40 Hour Famine. I thought I was going to die. I was so hungry! It was a challenging experiment to go without food to raise money for the poor. But it taught me some lessons. It taught me to toughen up, and that it’s ok to go without food. It taught me to consider others and that God can help me when I commit to a fast.
I remember at Bible college, the Principal told the graduating students there were four things we should focus on as we followed Christ: prayer, the Bible, church and fasting. I was surprised he’d included fasting in this list, but now I agree it’s meant to be a part of the normal Christian life. Fast forward a few years. I was asked to pastor a church at the age of 30. And I thought, this is a pretty big decision, if ever I had to set aside time to pray and fast, it was then! So I did a one week fast. No food, just fluids. It was a powerful time of seeking the Lord and I felt the Lord give me the answers I was seeking. I accepted the role as pastor.
“Fasting can be a wonderful spiritual experience. Believers who never practice fasting and prayer are missing a spiritual discipline that has blessed many…”
I remember at that time I had been reading some of Billy Graham’s comments on fasting. He said:
Fasting can be a wonderful spiritual experience. Believers who never practice fasting and prayer are missing a spiritual discipline that has blessed many throughout the ages. A person in good health may choose not to eat occasional meals in order to focus on devotion to God. Not only are there spiritual benefits, but some doctors believe that there are also health benefits. The early church found prayer and fasting valuable when seeking the guidance of God for making important decisions such as choosing spiritual leaders; see Acts 13:2-3 and 14:23. God will honor and bless anyone who fasts and prays in the right spirit.
At that time, I would do the occasional fast, sometimes three days, other times seven. I’d heard of great men and women of God doing 21 days and 40 days. I’d read about Jesus doing his 40 day fast, but I thought it was too much of a challenge for me.
Then in 2008, I went on a trip to the USA. I attended an event called, “The Call”. There were 15,000 people gathered in a stadium to pray and fast for America for 12 hours. I was so inspired. These crazy Christians were praying to end abortion, for biblical marriage to be upheld, and for an end to sex-trafficking around the world. I am passionate about these issues, and I think there is an appropriate way to speak out about them. But I believe if we pray and fast God will hear our prayers, and we have a much better chance of success than if we try to change things by our own efforts.
I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to do a 40 day fast while I was at the conference. The first few days are always the worst; then it gets easier as your body adjusts and your heart becomes fixed on doing what the Lord has prompted you to do.
When I returned to Australia, I went to Canberra for a meeting of prayer leaders and pastors from around the nation. We felt the need to call a National Day of Prayer and Fasting for the marriage debate. We also felt that praying and fasting was the best thing we could do. Someone in the room suggested I should lead it, because we needed to raise up a new generation of prayer leaders. I think I was chosen because I was the youngest person in the room. But I felt that the Lord had prepared me for this role during my 40 day fast, so I hesitantly accepted the role as Chairman of the National Day of Prayer.
At the start of each year we also call a 40 day fast. It’s a great way to start the year, and to seek the Lord for the year to come. We have a day of prayer and fasting in the great Hall of Parliament in Canberra (on March 2 this year). People from all over Australia join in. We have worship, prayer and short words of encouragement from many politicians, pastors and leaders.
I’ve done different types of fasting over the years. Fasting food, and just having liquids. I’ve done a Daniel Fast, which is no meats or sweets. I’ve tried fasting from the washing up and mowing the lawn, but my wife wasn’t happy with that one. I’ve done Facebook fasts, TV fasts, and I’ve even been doing overnight fasts from food for a while. I start at bedtime, and finish when I wake up.
The heart behind a fast is to make a sacrifice to the Lord, not out of legalism, but from your heart. Where you say to the Lord, I’m going to lay down (something) for a season, to seek you. I find that when I do this, I’m training myself to die to myself and live for Christ.
In the book of Ezra there’s an example of God’s people fasting. It says, “I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.” (Ezra 8:21, 23) I believe it’s great to have a day of prayer and fasting, just like this verse, but we should also live a fasted lifestyle. A life committed to fasting regularly; privately and corporately.
When we pray and fast, we are saying, “Lord, let your kingdom come. Not my will but yours be done!”
We need to be a people who pray and fast regularly. A people who connect with God all day long. Not just praying at church, or at home group, or at bedtime, but praying all day long. Someone once said that we can make history when we pray. I believe now is the time for us to pray for a shift in our nation to come back to God. Will you answer the call?
Pastor Matt Prater is the Chairman of the National Day of Prayer. He is also Senior Pastor at New Hope Brisbane, and host of the Breakfast show on the Vision Radio Network.