BY ELMER TOWNS
Dave had just graduated from college and interviewed for a job in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Shelly, his wife, described this position as “an opportunity of a lifetime.” Dave really wanted the position. So they agreed to do something they had never tried. After the interview, they fasted for the weekend, spending much time in prayer. (Biblically, fasting is not effective until you begin praying.)
The Monday before they broke their fast, the phone call came from Harrisburg, offering Dave the position.
I do not guarantee that you can “fix” every life circumstance by fasting. I do insist that modern Christians need to take another look at this classic spiritual discipline.
Isaiah 58:6-8 lists nine results we can expect from genuine fasting. To better illustrate these nine, I have given nine kinds of fasts the names of biblical characters, each of whose life personified the results of each fast. I do not suggest that these nine fasts represent the only types available to believers. Nor do I want to suggest that only one type of fast exists for a particular problem. These nine fasts provide models to use and apply to your particular needs and desires as you seek to grow closer to God.
1. The Disciples’ Fast
Purpose: To free ourselves and others from addictions to sin.
Key Verse: “. . . This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21, KJV).
Background: Jesus cast out a demon from a boy whom the disciples had failed to help. Apparently they had not taken seriously enough the way Satan had his claws set in the youth. Jesus implied that his
disciples could have performed this exorcism had they been willing to undergo the discipline of fasting.
“I have a sexual addiction,” a person told me at the church altar. He had gone to several counselors, come to the altar several times, and tried everything suggested to him.
“Have you tried fasting?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
I took him through the steps described* in the Disciples’ Fast as a means of breaking his bondage. He wanted me to pray and fast for him, but I refused. I know some in addiction depend on others’ faith, rather than developing their own faith to break addiction. I told him that after he began fasting I would later join him. Twice this person fasted–with no breakthrough. Then I joined in the Disciples’ Fast, not
to substitute for his responsibility, but to support him in his struggle to be free in Christ.
A “besetting sin” (Heb. 12:1) does not describe your average sin of neglect or momentary lapse. This is not the sin of rebellion, where God says, “Thou shalt not,” and you say, “I will,” in his face. A besetting sin means habitual sinful behavior that victimizes you. It makes you a slave and takes away your will.
Thanks to the Disciples’ Fast, God broke this man’s addiction and he entered freedom in Christ.
2. The Ezra Fast
Purpose: To invite the Holy Spirit’s aid to solve problems and overcome barriers that keep us from walking joyfully with the Lord.
Key Verse: “So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and he answered our prayer” (Ezra 8:23, NKJV).
Background: Ezra the priest was charged with leading the children of Israel from Babylon back to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Despite the king’s permission, Israel’s enemies opposed them. Burdened with embarrassment about having to ask the Persian king for an army to protect them, Ezra fasted and prayed for an answer to his problem.
My wife and I once found ourselves owning two houses. We had moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, because God led me to help begin Liberty University. We bought a house in Lynchburg and put the sale of our
previous house near Chicago in God’s hands. It didn’t sell for two years. One day when getting ready to make a payment on the unsold house, I asked my wife to fast and pray with me for one day. We agreed
together (Matt. 18:19) and fasted, but the house didn’t sell that month. We fasted for one day each month when the payment came due. After six months, God sold the house.
The Ezra Fast applies to those difficult problems that won’t go away. It’s for the problems that we’ve tried to fix by prayer, but prayer was not enough.
3. The Samuel Fast
Purpose: To revive God’s people and help them in evangelism outreach.
Key Verse: “So they gathered together at Mizpah, drew water, and poured it out before the LORD. And they fasted that day, and said there, ‘We have sinned against the LORD”‘ (I Sam. 7:6a, NKJV).
Background: Samuel led God’s people in a fast because they were oppressed by the Philistines. As a result of their fast, God sent revival to Israel and helped them overcome their captors.
The Samuel Fast for evangelism and revival has been applied throughout church history. In the early 1700s New England pastor Jonathan Edwards preached his famous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry
God” sermon, which most believe began the First Great Awakening that shook America and England. Before preaching that sermon, Edwards spent twenty-four hours in an absolute fast.
The Great Prayer Revival of 1859 grew out of a spiritual discipline similar to that described in First Samuel. Throughout the Northeastern United States, working people gave up their lunch hour to
go to the nearest church building and pray. They went without food to give themselves to prayer. God visited the United States with a sweeping revival.
4. The Elijah Fast
Purpose: To conquer habits and other emotional problems that control our lives.
Key Verse: “He himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness . . . He arose and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights” (1 Kings 19:4, 8, NKJV).
Background: Elijah struggled with negative emotions. He fled when Queen Jezebel threatened to kill him, and he went without food for forty days in his search for answers from God. After this self-imposed
deprivation, an angel of God ministered to Elijah in the wilderness and sent him back into service.
The Elijah Fast is designed to break fear and bad emotional habits. A young man at the church altar told me he couldn’t stop cursing and that this bad habit was rooted in his subconscious.
“Do you want to stop cursing?” I asked.
“Yup,” he said, but his answer didn’t reflect a deep desire to stop.
I explained the Elijah Fast to him, telling him that when he took control of his body by denying it food, he also could take control of his immaterial life. “Your self-denial of food will tell God you are seriously determined to control your mouth,” I told him.
I felt neither sure he was serious nor that he could break the cursing habit. Later he told me that he did something that he had never done before: he fasted. Only a few times since then had he slipped and
let out a curse word.
Two years later when he graduated from the university, he told me God had completely delivered him from a filthy mouth.
5. The Widow’s Fast
Purpose: To care for the basic needs of others.
Key Verse: “The jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:16, NIV).
Background: God sent the prophet Elijah to a poor, starving widow. Ironically the widow went without to provide food to Elijah. Today, we do without food so we can give the money we save by not eating to humanitarian purposes.
A Mexican pastor in Chiapas, Mexico, ran out of Bibles when distributing them door to door. When people received a Bible they would immediately sit down and read it. They were hungry for God’s message.
The pastor spent his salary to provide more Bibles and did without food. Three days later, some of the people realized that he had not come to the market to buy food. While this pastor did not enter a
formal fast in the traditional sense, he followed the prescription for the Widow’s Fast. It was a forced fast of doing without food so he could give to others. Scripture tells about several widows who did without food so God’s work would prosper. Today, when individuals or families give up food or a meal to provide for the physical needs of others, they practice the Widow’s Fast.
6. The St. Paul Fast
Purpose: To gain clearer perspective and insight as we make crucial decisions.
Key Verse: “And he [Saul] was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9, NKJV).
Background: Saul of Tarsus, later known as Paul after his conversion to Christ, was struck blind by the Lord while persecuting Christians. He not only was without literal sight, but he had no clue about what direction his life should take. After going without food and praying three days, Paul gained both physical sight and spiritual insight for the future.
A ministerial student once fasted before accepting a position as associate pastor in a large, prominent church. Like Saul after the Damascus road experience, the student needed guidance from God about
what he should do. During the fast, God shut the door to the potential position in the student’s mind. The student then declined the church’s invitation.
A month later the church’s senior pastor resigned, and the board asked for the resignation of all staff members. If the student had accepted the invitation, he would have lost that job within a month.
If we follow the St. Paul Fast, we focus on God’s will instead of our own when we face major decisions. God then brings us clearer perspective and the insight we need.
7. The Daniel Fast
Purpose: For physical health and healing.
Key Verse: “. . . Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank” (Dan. 1:8a, KJV).
Background: Daniel and his three fellow Hebrew captives ate only vegetables for ten days, keeping themselves from pagan foods. They became more healthy than others in the king’s court.
In April 1985, Liberty University Dean of Students Vernon Brewer was diagnosed with cancer. The doctors gave him a short time to live. Dean Brewer, well-liked and fair in handling discipline problems,
magnified the Lord Jesus Christ. The word of his cancer hit the entire student body hard.
All 5,000 students were asked to join in prayer and fasting for Dean Brewer’s healing. The students had several days to prepare themselves for the fast and to learn what fasting would do. Then the students began a twenty-four-hour prayer vigil on April 25, 1985, in the school chapel. The chapel only seated 200 people, and the students signed up for assigned one-hour segments during the night and day. The chapel always overflowed, and the windows stayed open so students could sit on the grass outside to enter into the time of prayer.
The numbers of those praying during the darkest hours of the night were greater than during the day when they had classes. The university food services closed, except for serving about fifty diabetic students who had to eat and could not physically join in the fast. Even then, those whose condition required them to eat prayed just as intently as those who fasted.
Doctors performed three medical procedures. First, they removed a five-pound cancerous mass from Dean Brewer’s chest. Next, he had both radiation and chemotherapy. Fourteen years later, Vernon Brewer is alive and as healthy as before we fasted and prayed. He directs World Help, a missionary and humanitarian organization.
8. The John the Baptist Fast
Purpose: For your testimony and influence.
Key Verse: “For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink” (Luke l:l5a, KJV).
Background: John the Baptist took the “Nazarite” vow that required him to “fast” from wine and strong drink. His special diet, as part of John’s purposefully chosen lifestyle, set him apart as a special testimony for the cause of Christ.
A woman in a certain church spread lies about its pastoral ministry and church integrity. The church’s board did not capitulate to her demands but fasted once a week for the testimony of the church and
pastor. The woman threatened to sue the church over alleged damages and to publicize her charges in the local newspaper. The board members thought their worst fears came true and that God hadn’t honored their fast.
Then the board received letters from two other churches saying that the woman had “pulled the same stunt” in their churches. Unfortunately, the other churches had given in to her demands and paid
her off. The newspapers printed the letters, and the lawyer who had threatened to sue the church changed his mind and refused to represent the woman. He suggested that the church had a legal complaint against her, but he couldn’t get involved. The church board did not sue her. The members entered into another fast for the woman’s spiritual health.
9. The Esther Fast
Purpose: That “the glory of the Lord” will protect us from the Evil One.
Key Verses: “… Fast for me…. My maids and I will fast . . . and so I will go to the king . . . [and] she found favor in his sight” (Esther 4:16, 5:2, NKJV).
Background: Queen Esther, a Jewess in a pagan court, risked her life to save her people from threatened destruction. Prior to appearing before the king to petition him to save the Jews, Esther, her attendants, and her uncle Mordecai fasted to appeal to God for his protection.
During the meteoric growth of the Moral Majority he headed, Jerry Falwell received several death threats, as those opposed to his platform vented their hatred. I was with Jerry in 1982 when he visited
Australia. More than 1,000 Moral Majority opponents rushed the National Legislative Building in Canberra, Australia’s capital. The evening news described their actions as a “national disgrace.” Never before had the Parliament been threatened.
The following Sunday afternoon, a mob showed up at the Sydney Civic Center to protest Falwell’s presence. The few uniformed patrolmen attempted to keep the mob behind police barricades. As I watched, a thousand people plunged through the barricades and broke down the front door of the Civic Auditorium. I did not know if we would survive, but God protected us.
Since that experience I have attempted to raise the preventive wall of the Esther Fast for the protection of Jerry Falwell and other men of God. Of course, outsiders can’t tell whether God protects those for whom I fast or whether they get “lucky breaks.” But we who have wrestled with the Evil One know. The Esther Fast is effective.
If every Christian fasted, the results could shake our society like a windstorm bending a sapling. By fasting, Christians would demonstrate that they live differently, that their faith is imperative, that the Almighty works in their daily lives.
If all our churches fasted, they would move forward in evangelism, reaching out in feeding and helping others, and God would pour his presence on his people.
“Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough (book and study guide), Ventura, California: Regal Books, 1996. To order phone Regal: 800/235-3415 or 805/644-9721.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY NET RESULTS, NARCH 1999, PAGES 28-30. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.