Also while in exile, Nehemiah, deeply grieved about the condition of Israel and especially of Jerusalem, began to fast and pray. God gave him favor with the king and answered with a commission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city’s walls (Neh. 1:1–2:8).
Times of national emergency or disaster were reasons for the whole nation to seek God’s help through fasting and prayer. Esther called all the Jews to fast to prevent their impending destruction (Esth. 4:16). God graciously answered.
When King Jehoshaphat was told that a vast army was marching toward Judah to attack, he “set his face to seek the Lord and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (2 Chron. 20:3). God answered with an extraordinary deliverance.
God even answered the fasting, prayer, and repentance of Nineveh, the cruelest, most vicious and bloodthirsty nation of the ancient Near East (Jonah 3).
In the New Testament, fasting continues to have a significant place in the life of the church and of individual believers. We see prophetic words given to Jesus’s parents by the prophetess Anna, who “did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2:37).
Jesus Himself fasted for forty days in preparation for His public ministry and for the ability to overcome the devil’s temptations to derail it (Matt. 4:1–11).
Jesus clearly expected that His followers would fast (Matt. 9:14–15) and said that if they did so with proper motives, God would see and reward them (Matt. 6:16–18), just as He rewards those who pray with proper motives (Matt. 6:5–6).
The apostolic church took Jesus’s teaching on fasting seriously. After being blinded at the sight of Jesus on the road to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus fasted for three days. At the end of this period, Jesus sent Ananias to pray for him to recover his sight, be baptized, and filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:1–19).
Fasting was a prominent factor in one of the most significant events in mission history—the launching of the first missionary journey in the history of the church. While Saul and Barnabas and three other friends in the church at Antioch “were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:1–2). The church, after a time of fasting and prayer, sent them off on a mission of evangelism and church planting. On their journey, Saul and Barnabas established churches “and appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting” (Acts 14:23).
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