For years, I considered fasting as little more than something I had read about in the Bible but that belonged in the ascetic world of some obscure monastic order. Although I was familiar with biblical references to the practice, I never imagined it was something I would ever do. After all, things like fasting and putting on sackcloth and ashes were very extreme expressions of desperation and devotion. I was content to just pray and make my requests known to God apart from anything extreme like fasting.
My attitude about fasting changed during one of the darkest periods of my life — difficult days in which I found myself unable to deal with a son who had become a prodigal. My world turned upside down. Nothing I tried to do made any difference. I prayed, I talked to my son until I was blue in the face, I argued and struggled with him, but I could not get through. I watched my son slip farther away from me one day at a time. I lived with the fear that I would lose him — that his dangerous lifestyle would result in his death.
Those terrifying days pushed me to the lowest point in my life. I felt completely helpless and desperate. Only then did I hear God clearly say to me, “Your son needs a champion. He’s battling some giants and needs you to fight for him.” I cried out to God with tears in my eyes and asked him what He wanted me to do. I felt deeply convicted that I not only needed to continue praying for my son, but that I needed to fast as well. So, I called a friend who had fasted for forty days and asked him to teach me about fasting. He did.
I spent the next two days praying and fasting about how long I should pray and fast for my son. At the end of the second day, I determined to pray and fast for forty days for my son’s welfare. I did not know if the answer would come in those forty days, but I was convinced that those forty days would set the answer in motion. And indeed they did. Without getting into more detail, God rescued and restored my son. I have always loved Jonathan, but my love for him intensified as a result of those days of praying and fasting for him.
The toughest part of those forty very personal days with God was ending the fast. I had experienced God in such meaningful ways through that period that I did not want for my fast to end. Fasting enabled me to seek God but also to take the battle to the enemy. More than once I cried out and told the Devil that he was not going to get my son, that I would stand in the gap for him. I felt as though every prayer during that period was like a lasso that God tied around my son to keep him tethered to life. I knew that our story might not end well, but I am forever grateful to God that it did.
Fasting is often prompted by desperation. When Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, faced an enemy that was far stronger than his own, he became fearful but did the right thing — “he turned his attention to seek the Lord; and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (2 Chron. 19:3). Jehoshaphat then prayed, “For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on Thee” (2 Chron. 19:12). The king and his people were willing to abstain from food for the greater purpose of seeking God and trusting Him to do what they could never accomplish apart from Him.
Like Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah, I believe in seeking God through prayer and fasting, especially in desperate times. I know what I can do and what a mess I can make of things. Praying and fasting has taught me what God can do and how He “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). I believe that there are times when we must either personally or corporately seek God through more than just prayer, but through prayer and fasting.