It is possible to have correct theology in not viewing fasting as meritorious insofar as your salvation, yet still enter the dangerous territory of trying to use fasting to twist God’s arm and get Him to do something for you.
We can correctly understand that fasting does not earn forgiveness of sin or merit with God, but at the same time believe our fasting achieves something from Him. What we believe it “achieves” may simply be the accomplishment of our will and desires—the solution we feel best solves our problem—but it’s still dangerous territory to enter.
Fasting is Not Twisting God’s Arm
Our natural (carnal) man’s inclination is to:
- Get relief from its problems as quickly as possible, and
- Use whatever means necessary to do so, including any means necessary to control God and produce the outcome it desires from Him.
In light of this, it’s easy to see why the flesh (our carnal man) can so easily pervert fasting. When this happens, we view fasting as a means to control God and produce the outcome we desire from Him.
We cannot manipulate God. Any attempt to do so is wasted striving. Not only that, it’s idolatry—an attempt to usurp God’s authority and become our own god.
When we try to twist God’s arm through fasting, we’re attempting to control Him and become the ruler of our lives. We’re elevating self above God. This is pride. And it’s the hideous sin of idolatry.
Fasting is a Way to Prepare Your Heart
It is imperative that we realize fasting changes us, not God. We don’t fast to twist God’s arm! Through fasting and prayer, we are the ones who are changed.
Fasting is a way to prepare ourselves, like a farmer prepares the soil for A new crop, plowing up the ground to get ready for a new season. Fasting is not making God do something He doesn’t want to do. It is positioning yourself and preparing your heart for what God wants to do in you.
Elmer Towns responded to this topic in an interview. He said:
I talk to people who think, “I’m going to go without food so God will give me such and such.” That’s like saying, “I’m going to go to church so I can get a raise.” Or, “I’m going to get baptized so I can get a brand new car.” Anytime you think you do something to gain merit before God, it’s called good works.
What you have to do, you have to come with a broken and humble spirit—hunger and thirst after righteousness. Sometimes when you get into a fast, God will tell you, “No, I’m not going to answer that. I’m going to do the exact opposite.” And if you’re yielded before God, you learn to do His will, not what you want.
When we fast, it’s vitally important that we remember God is sovereign—even over the matters we bring before him in prayer during our fast. He reigns supreme. He alone has ultimate control over the details of our lives. The results of our prayer and seeking are in His hands.
How God chooses to answer our prayers is up to Him. He may choose to answer them the way we want. … Or He may not.
So our attitude in prayer during the fast must be the same as it is outside of the fast. We must seek to have no will of our own in the matter. We express our desires to God, yes. But ultimately, we must pray from a position of surrender to God’s will and way.
Fasting is a Way to Become Attentive to God
In Fasting for a Spiritual Breakthrough, Elmer Towns writes:
Even if we wanted to, we could not manipulate God. We fast and pray for results, but the results are in God’s hands. One of the greatest spiritual benefits of fasting is becoming more attentive to God—becoming more aware of our own inadequacies and His adequacy, our own contingencies and His self-sufficiency—and listening to what He wants us to be and do.
Christian fasting, therefore, is totally antithetical to, say, Hindu fasting. Both seek results; however, Hindu fasting focuses on the self and tries to get something for a perceived sacrifice. Christian fasting focuses on God. The results are spiritual results that glorify God—both in the person who fasts and others for whom we fast and pray.
We fast so that we will be changed. We fast so that we will become more sensitive and attentive to God. For this to occur, our focus has to be Him—not ourselves and not our problems.
Fasting With the Wrong Focus Defeats the Purpose
Focusing on God and becoming more attentive to Him are reasons why we deny physical gratifications during a fast. These two things result when we subject our bodies and appetites to the authority of the Spirit.
In Shaping History Through Fasting and Prayer, Derek Prince writes:
“Our bodies, with their physical organs and appetites, make wonderful servants but terrible masters. Thus, it is necessary to keep them always in subjection…. Fasting deals with the two great barriers to the Holy Spirit that are erected by man’s carnal nature. These are the stubborn self-will of the soul and the insistent, self-gratifying appetites of the body…. Rightly practiced, fasting brings both soul and body into subjection to the Holy Spirit.”
When we fast with our will and our way as the focus, the purpose of our fast is defeated. One of the barriers to the Holy Spirit erected by our carnal nature is still calling the shots—the stubborn self-will of the soul.
If we’re attempting to twist God’s arm by fasting, it’s proof we haven’t allowed our flesh and its appetites to be brought into subjection to the Holy Spirit. We haven’t truly humbled ourselves before God with fasting.
It’s when our flesh is brought into subjection to the Spirit that we become more attentive to God and sensitive to Him—and the purpose of the fast is accomplished.
With this in mind, prayerfully conduct a check using the following questions—and listen to the Spirit’s conviction.
- Am I secretly trying to twist God’s arm through my fasting?
- Am I 100% submitted to God? Am I leaving the results of my fast in His hands? Will I be okay with whatever timing and means He uses to answer my prayers? Will I be angry at Him if He chooses to answer by doing the complete opposite of what I’m asking?
- Am I allowing God to rule supremely? Or am I fasting with the secret motive of twisting His arm—attempting to usurp His control and govern my life myself?
- Am I fasting so that I am the one who will be changed? So that I will become more attentive to God?
- Is God my focus during the fast? Or is my will … or my problem … or my solution … or my fasting effort … or my fasting sacrifice the focus?
Question: How did you do on the questions and prayerful examination? If you failed, it’s not too late to adjust your motives and cease trying to twist God’s arm. You’ve got time to make God your focus during the fast. You can still let Him prepare your heart for what He wants to do in you! It will be worth it!!
FROM THE ARCHIVES
- More Quotes About Fasting
- Fasting Day 16: Fasting Is… (Part 3)
- Fasting Day 16: Require and Rejoice
- Fasting Day 16: Targeting Decisions, The St. Paul Fast
- Fasting Day 16: Three Truths for Stormy Seasons