Does it help to fast when praying for a certain person? If you can’t fast, what could you do?
Praying, fasting and other Christian practices like reading, reflection, meditation have been recognized as valuable spiritual formation exercises. Some will emphasize one more than others, while for many people the two (prayer and fasting) go hand in hand. Undoubtedly, both are helpful, yet, prayer is more common, since we may do it many times a day, everyday. As for the fasting, this is less common, often misunderstood or even avoided. To put it differently, whenever there is fasting you will see prayer also, not necessarily the other way around (we do pray for… food).
From your question it looks like you are praying for a person and want to speed up the outcome. So, probably this idea came up – why not fasting also? A boost? Some may have even quoted to you that text in Matthew 17:21, where Jesus taught the apostles about their little faith and the need of prayer and fasting in their lives in order to get more power over evil spirits (mind you that the text does not appear in all manuscripts, accordingly on some versions is mentioned in the footnotes).
I hope you fully believe in salvation by faith, and not by works – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). That is to clarify that we do not believe that praying, fasting are meritorious. Helpful, yes! Meritorious, no. To complement, we also know that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). (We have addressed here the subject of prayer (https://biblestudyclass.org/what-to-pray-for/)
Accordingly, we do not believe that prayer, or fasting, or donations or anything we do have the power to move the hand of a God who is angry, unwilling etc. Instead we see them as our stretched hands toward Him who is smiling, already ready to give us what we are asking for (as long as it is according to His will).
We see in the Bible many heroes of faith praying and fasting (Daniel, Esther, Paul). Most probably it helped them, since they found it worthy to be mentioned as such. Some fasted ahead of a mission or event, some others when searching to come closer to God, even soliciting a special answer to their prayers. In a way, we can say it “helped”. However, please do not take it as a formula: “prayer” works, but “prayer+fasting” is x2 times better! I think it is more of a setting, a context, a richer spiritual enterprise.
To view it from a different angle, the disciples of John the Baptist and those of the Pharisees fasted regularly, often (Matthew 9:14-15), even twice a week (Luke 18:12), while Jesus’ disciples have not been perceived as diligent – not fasting at all. Can you imagine? No fasting?!
Being challenged about this seemingly inconsistency in their spiritual life and example, Jesus’ answer in a rhetorical question gives a key: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:15)
See, as long as one has got the Bridgroom, Jesus, in his/her life, there is no need for mourning. There will come its proper time when one will desire to get closer to God, to get focused or clarified in his/her mind about things, to repent of wrongdoings, to refrain from the joys of this world for a time, in order to get answers or directions during trials. Let’s put the fasting at its right place. I would say that fasting is a discipline that helps you when you have to make/affirm your priorities straight. You refrain or avoid some things that might occupy your mind, mouth, time and instead use that space, resource, energy to come before God. This is not to twist His arm to act faster (some use the prayer with the same misunderstanding). Instead it is to unplug you from the connections of this world, for a while, and to wire you to the real Source of all things.
If you cannot fast, what could you do…
Let me ask you what type of fasting are you talking about. We should not put a burden on ourselves that we cannot carry. No one asks for a 40 days fasting. In fact, there is no command to fast, no details about how long, what to refrain from, when to do it (see some guidelines in Isaiah 58 for the true fasting compared to hypocritical one). We go more by following the positive examples of the heroes in the Bible. I will give you just one example, from the book of Daniel, as he fasted using different approaches.
In chapter 1 he decided to eat simple food (vegetarian), and to drink water only – that equals to fasting for a lot of people! If one does not believe it, why not trying for ten days in a row!
In chapter 9 he is found as a penitent, mediating for his people: “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.” (Daniel 9:3) This is not diet, this is spirituality, is sacrificing, is making himself one with the persons he was praying for.
While in chapter 10 is more like refraining from special food and drink: “In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.” (Daniel 10:2-3) Here we see priorities, going with the basics, focused on higher aims.
Can we then take such an example and refrain from some things or habits that harm (chapter 1), that might keep our mind and belly busy while our souls are hurting (chapter 9), that might tempt us with pleasure while we can go ahead with much simpler type of food (chapter 10)? To answer your question, I am sure it helps!
I’ll end with the experience of our Lord who, after a 40 days fasting, when going really hungry, was tempted to make food for himself, to sustain life. He refrained from doing so and replied the tempter, quoting Scripture: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Jesus wanted no distraction, no expedient solution, no shortcut to God’s plan.
Fasting should be one of the spiritual exercises of every Christian. Not going into details (as the “should” will make some raise an eyebrow), I will encourage you to check the Bible for yourself. There are about 60 instances of people fasting, for different reasons, with different approaches to fasting. To emphasize the only advice about the “when”, I’ll recommend fasting whenever you feel far from the Bridegroom. And when you do, please have in mind the counsel of our Lord:
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).
I hope you see it – fasting (like prayer) is in secret! Find the secrets, share them with discretion 🙂
Hunger – Satisfying the longing of your soul, by Jon L. Dybdahl, chapter 8 on Fasting (https://www.amazon.com/Hunger-Satisfying-Longing-Your-Soul-ebook/dp/B01LXVK58J/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=Hunger+dybdahl&qid=1551187071&s=digital-text&sr=1-1-fkmrnull)
Counsels on diet and food, by Ellen G. White, chapter 10 on Fasting (https://m.egwwritings.org/en/book/384.1487#1487)
Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough: A Practical Guide to Nine Biblical Fasts, by Elmer L. Towns (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0722LJ8WL?storeType=ebooks)
Fasting for a reason – https://www.adventistreview.org/141511-25
What is the purpose of religious fasting – https://www.adventistbiblicalresearch.org/materials/practical-christian-living/what-purpose-religious-fasting
Fasting with balance – https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1995/01/fasting-with-balance
Fasting is regaining popularity. What are the best methods and benefits for Adventists? – http://www.columbiaunionvisitor.com/node/600
Ellen White and intermittent fasting – https://spectrummagazine.org/news/2018/ellen-g-white-and-intermittent-fasting