Just A Closer Walk With Thee
Part 2: Prayer and Fasting
If you learned $3 million dollars in gold lay buried somewhere in your backyard, would you try to dig it up? Of course, you would! And you’d probably be willing to destroy your entire yard to find it!
Knowing God intimately and pursing Him daily are rewards worth far more than gold, but few people dig for them. One way to begin is to practice regular spiritual habits, like biblical meditation, prayer, and fasting.
Prayer: A Lifelong Discipline
Martin Luther famously claimed, “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” Many well-known Christians have similar feelings.
The great 19th-century missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, admonished Christians to start every day in prayer; and he compared our days to a symphony: “Do not have your concert first and then tune your instrument afterwards. Begin the day with the Word of God and prayer, and get first of all into harmony with Him.”
For many of us, our prayer lives leave something to be desired. Either we feel too busy or ineffective, or we simply don’t know what to say. Most of us can’t imagine having a prayer life like the famous Christians about whom we read. But those men and women arrived at that point after years of learning how to pray.
An encouraging Scripture on prayer comes immediately before Jesus taught on the subject. After listening to Jesus pray, one of His disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk. 11:1). Notice who was asking: Jesus’ Jewish disciples. They had prayed many times every day throughout their lives. Yet they admitted their need for remedial prayer classes. And Jesus welcomed them. He always welcomes those who acknowledge their need to grow spiritually and want a closer walk with Him.
Learning how to pray is a lifelong discipline and requires an awareness of our need to seek God and depend on Him. Although we’ll certainly never pray as Jesus did, here are a few truths to motivate us to develop the habit of regular prayer.
Prayer changes things. God is sovereign over everything. No matter what we pray for, God’s will is accomplished; and it is a divine mystery as to how this fact relates to our prayers.
Nevertheless, God desires and commands that we bring Him our requests. Jesus told us, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Mt. 7:7). He wants us to ask, seek, and knock on heaven’s door. When we do, we’ll receive, find, and have doors opened to us.
Jesus compared our praying to a child who asks his father for bread or fish. No earthly father would give his child a stone or snake instead: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (v. 11).
Our prayers are not wasted simply because God is sovereign. On the contrary, God is as eager to give us good gifts as we are to help our own children. Our prayers change things.
Prayer transforms us. James told his readers their prayers went unanswered because they asked “amiss,” praying to fulfill their earthly passions (Jas. 4:3). When we pray rightly, we pray for what God wants. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray for what we want. Rather, it means God can use our prayers to transform our passions. When we submit our hearts’ desires to Him, He wipes away the petty and empowers the proper. He’ll change us to desire what He desires.
Regular prayer also transforms our understanding of our daily relationship with God. The Bible frequently reminds us that prayer deepens our awareness that we must depend on Him (Ps. 16; Col. 4:2–6; 1 Pet. 5:7). God asks us to come to Him weak, weary, and broken and to cast all our cares on Him.
In fact, Jesus told us we can do nothing without Him: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).
Do we truly believe that? If we do, we should pray constantly about absolutely everything! Through prayer, God makes available to us a steady flow of communication with Him. In prayer, we are fully known and loved as we bear our souls’ needs to Him all day, every day. One three-hour morning session of “popcorn prayer” barely breaks the surface of what our Father makes available to us in constant prayer.
God loves chutzpah. The meaning of this popular Yiddish word varies; but it generally means cheekiness, boldness, or nerve. Many have noted that Abraham, Moses, and even King David had this quality of persistence in praying to God. Some scholars have even argued that sometimes the concept of chutzpah seems to characterize what New Testament writers call “faith.”1
For example, when Jesus talked about praying and not losing heart, He told a parable about a widow who badgered a judge until she got what she wanted (Lk. 18:1–8). Sometimes God answers prayer because of our audacity and persistence. Our chutzpah demonstrates our faith.
Biblical fasting is another way to grow closer to God. The Bible describes two major ways fasting connects us to Him:
1. It helps us focus on spiritual realities. When we go without the food that sustains us, we declare that our spiritual dependence is on God more than food. Fasting trains us to know in our bones that we are entirely dependent on Him for life and breath, as well as for all our other needs.
Every time I reach for that breakroom brownie, I’m reminded of the spiritual reality that I need God more than food. This dependency throughout a fast creates a special intimacy and constant-prayer connection to God.
Fasting also brings clarity to our prayers. There are times when we face a need so significant we’re willing to stop eating to pray. When we do so, we often find fasting is actually feasting on God.
2. It connects us to God’s priorities. Isaiah 58 reminds us that fasting, or any form of worship offered merely as a ritual, is meaningless. Isaiah told God’s people that fasting without obeying God’s laws and providing justice and compassion is worthless.
Biblical fasting should reveal to us the sin in our hearts and the areas we need to submit to God to become more like Christ. If that aspect is not part of our fast, we might as well eat. A true fast is not merely concerned with getting something from God; it involves letting God’s heart consume us.
If you’ve never tried a fast, I recommend starting small. Fast for one meal or one day, and pray and seek God for whatever need He has laid on your heart.
Some people like to abstain from things other than food. While that method can be valuable, especially for people who have medical concerns, the Bible has no concept of fasting from anything but food (and sometimes water).
Biblical fasting requires us to replace something that sustains us physically with the One who sustains us physically and spiritually. Please seek professional medical advice if you have a medical condition. But for the rest of us, biblical fasting can be a useful tool to strengthen and deepen our walks with God.
- Robert L. Lindsey and E. C. Dos Santos, A Comparative Greek Concordance of the Synoptic Gospels (Jerusalem: Baptist House, 1989).