It seems like every family has a detangler: the person whose holiday season begins with their hands tied up in a string of Christmas lights. Their job is to remain seated on the couch, sorting out old strands, until they’re able to either find the end from the beginning, identify the one single bulb that’s gone out, or admit defeat and buy a new box.
You may be the person others come to for help in disentangling all kinds of problems. During the holiday season, they come to you for help sorting out issues with their in-laws, their dating lives, or their children. But not all of their problems are easy to straighten out.
Where do you go for help when it’s clear you don’t have the answers or the ability to solve their problems on your own? Some of the situations your loved ones are experiencing this season are not tangled strands you’re able to carry or unwind—they’re chains wrapped around their feet:
- Chains of addiction
- Chains of bitterness
- Chains of depression
- Chains of anxiety
- Chains of fear
- Chains of sin . . .
That’s a list Erin Davis provides in her latest book, Fasting & Feasting. Erin says that when it comes to solving problems, our default option is to go to God only when we’ve exhausted every other option. We don’t think of prayer and fasting as our first step when facing situations beyond our grasp. “But Jesus will always be able to drive out what we cannot,” Erin says. “We fast and pray to let go of our strength and tap into His.”1
Chains Shall He Break
If you’re facing problems beyond your control this Christmas season, God may be calling you to seek Him through fasting. Here’s why, Erin explained,
There is a Liberator. The fast He has chosen for us breaks the chains of wickedness, sets the oppressed free, and tears off every yoke. When we fast, we participate with God in our liberation then stand back in awe as the chains hit the floor.2
You may be longing to see God move in a powerful way, but if you are new to the idea of fasting, it can feel overwhelming. In this interview, Erin Davis breaks down what the Bible says about fasting, and why there’s no better time than this Advent season to begin.
K: In our culture, we tend to talk about fasting more as a diet trend than a spiritual discipline. Will you help us understand what biblical fasting is?
E: You’ve probably noticed that the diet and health industries have been talking about the benefits of intermittent fasting a lot in recent years. I can’t help but giggle when I see those messages come through my social media feed (and maybe roll my eyes a little) because the concept and benefits of fasting are not a new discovery. God has been calling His people to fast for thousands of years. But there is a big difference between fasting with strictly health benefits in mind and the kind of fasting God invites His children into through His Word. That difference comes down to two words: motivation and prayer.
The kind of fasting we see in the Bible is the result of a desire to see God move in some specific way. Some of the reasons Scripture gives us to fast are:
- Before making an important decision (Acts 13:2; 14:23)
- To overcome addiction (Isa. 58:3–7)
- For God’s intervention (2 Sam. 12:15–17)
- To show humility (Psalm 35:13)
- In response to grief or mourning (Psalm 35:14; Est. 4:3)
- To request God’s protection (Est. 4:15–16; Ezra 8:21–23)
- To set apart leaders for Christian service (Acts 13:2–3)
- As a show of repentance (Joel 2:12–15)
Every one of these examples represent a time in life when you are keenly aware of your need for God and desire to see Him do something you cannot. The kind of fast the Bible elevates is not motivated by losing weight, but by crying out to God in a fresh and desperate way. Because of this, biblical fasting always involves prayer. Fasting without prayer is a diet. Fasting with prayer is a posture of humble submission to the ways and will of God.
We see fasting all over the pages of our Bibles. Though fasting is never mandated for New Testament believers. Our salvation is through Christ alone, not through any behavior, including fasting.
K: In Fasting & Feasting, you wrote, “God ultimately breaks every chain, but fasting is one way we participate in the process.” What did you mean by that?
E: There’s a beautiful little story in Mark 9. A desperate dad brought His demon-possessed son to the disciples for healing but they were unable to cast the demon out (v. 19). Later, Jesus was able to do what the disciples could not.
And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. (vv. 25–27 NIV)
You can imagine what the discussion was about at the dinner table that night! The disciples wanted to know why they couldn’t heal the boy. In response, Jesus said, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (v. 29 NIV).
We all have “this kinds.” Things we’ve tried to drive out in our own strength without success. That’s why this little story from Scripture is so powerful! Jesus didn’t need anyone’s prayers or fasting to drive out the demon. He is God. He speaks and all of creation obeys. But through prayer and fasting, we increase our own awareness of our neediness. Fasting requires humility. We deny ourselves food, which we are always craving, and trust God to sustain us in the absence of calories.
Fasting never twists God’s arm. He’s far too powerful for that! But it is an outward expression of our inward need and our faith that God hears our prayers and responds. God could certainly zap away every need from His throne in heaven without us ever asking Him for a thing. Instead, He calls us to cry out to Him, and through fasting He gives us a heightened awareness of His responsiveness to us.
K: Advent and fasting seem to go hand in hand. How do they relate to each other?
E: Advent is a season of anticipation! It’s true that as we mark the days we are moving toward Christmas morning but on a much grander scale, we are waiting for Christ’s return. Every day moves us one day closer to the moment when He comes back for His Bride. What a beautiful reality to celebrate!
Fasting is a waiting rhythm. We set aside food for a season and wait to see what God will do. In a practical way, the longer we have to wait, the more we look forward to the coming feast! The parallel to Advent is clear. Proactive waiting gets sweeter and sweeter with each day that passes because we know we are moving toward something really special. That’s true as we wait for Christmas morning. It’s even more true as we wait for the return of Christ, our King.
K: This time of year, it can feel like we’re too busy to fast. What are some reasons that you would encourage a woman to fast during this time of year?
E: There’s never a good time to take food off the table. We all need to eat every day and so many of our daily rhythms revolve around food. So, if you’re waiting for the moment when fasting makes sense from a human perspective, you will be waiting a long time.
Still, I’m fond of saying that fasting is feasting. It’s a gift, given to us by a loving God as a means to turn down the appetites of our flesh and turn up our cravings for Him. If you’ve let many days go by without opening the gift, even if you’ve waited a lifetime, there is no time like now to trust God that fasting is part of His good plan for your life.
K: Will you paint us a picture of what would happen if the women of God (including the women reading this post!) began to fast and pray?
E: One thing Scripture makes abundantly clear is that when God’s people fast and pray, things change. God does an inward and outward work through this discipline. Somehow, through the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit, when we deny our physical hunger, our spiritual hunger for God grows. We see what a blessing this is when we consider Jesus’ words:
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. (Matt. 5:6 NIV).
When we hunger for God, He fills us in a unique way. So one byproduct of women fasting and praying is God’s blessings. But the Bible also shows us that prayer and fasting can significantly shift what is going on in our world. When Moses fasted for forty days and forty nights, he came back to his people with the Ten Commandments (Ex. 34:28). When the Israelites fasted and prayed under Esther’s leadership, a horrific genocide was avoided (Est. 4:16). When Jesus fasted, Satan backed down (Matt. 4:2, 11).
There is so much we need to see shifted in our world. Wickedness needs to be checked. Hearts need to be turned. Churches need to be filled. The saints need to be encouraged. For me, the question isn’t what could God do if His people began to fast and pray, but rather, what couldn’t He do. I’d sure love to find out!
1 Erin Davis, Fasting & Feasting: 40 Devotions to Satisfy the Hungry Heart (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2022), 6.
2 Davis, 125.
Republished with permission from Blogs.crossmap.com, featuring inspiring Bible verses about Untangling Life’s Troubles with Fasting and Prayer.