The Purpose of Fasting
“Why have we fasted,” they say, “and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?”—Isaiah 58:3
When I was in college, I had the privilege of meeting an evangelist who had participated powerfully in the healing revival of the 1950s that made Oral Roberts and many others famous. My friend had seen hundreds of people healed until, about 1962, the healing revival across the nation just stopped. He said it was as if God had flipped a light switch off. Shortly after the miracles stopped, a friend of his received a terminal cancer diagnosis with just a few more months of life expectancy. The evangelist began to pray with the same faith he had always exercised, but his friend only got sicker. Finally, he committed himself to fast and pray until the friend was healed.
After 81 days of fasting, taking only water, the friend died and the evangelist himself was admitted to the hospital with serious internal organ damage. Twenty years later when I met him, he still suffered compromised health from his willful attempt to force God to heal his friend.
Early in my spiritual journey, my friend taught me the important lesson that fasting is not a religious hunger strike aimed at manipulating God to do as we desire. Fasting serves, not as an attempt to get God to say yes to our petitions, but rather as a discipline that helps us draw near to God and discern the divine, sovereign Will. We should never fast to pressure God into doing our will, but rather to ensure that we are doing God’s will.
There’s nothing wrong with taking our petitions to God. God urges us to do so and receives our requests with patience and compassion (Phil. 4:6). But God loves us too much to surrender God’s will to ours. Fasting helps us draw near to God, surrender ourselves to God, hear God’s direction, and steel ourselves with determination to do God’s will. That’s the best outcome we could ever hope for, and it offers real reward for a few days of sacrifice.