A Guide to Prayer and Fasting: Bible Examples and Meaning

Prayer is great and fasting is fantastic, but the discipline of using them together can help us make life in a sinful world more bearable by connecting us to God and drawing on His power instead of our own.

Christianity.com Contributing Writer
Updated Oct 10, 2023
A Guide to Prayer and Fasting: Bible Examples and Meaning

When I googled “Why prayer is important to fasting” to research this article, I found a lot of articles on the health and spiritual benefits of fasting. I also found a few on the benefits of prayer and fasting together. I didn’t find anything about why prayer is supposed to be part of the fasting process. 

First, let's look at what fasting is. Many Christians picture fasting as a difficult undertaking. However, fasting can be a simple and powerful act that all can practice. Both short, occasional fasts and extended fasting can have powerful results.

What is Fasting?

Fasting is Biblical. Throughout the Old and New Testament eras and during the last 2,000 years, fasting has been a primary means of humbling ourselves before God. Fasting is a common practice that can be found in Scripture. It is voluntary and total abstinence from food for a specific amount of time or days, and it aims to devote oneself to prayer and seeking God. Jesus’ fasting can be read in one major occasion in Matthew 4:1-11. The ancient practice of fasting is a natural way to express your faith with your whole being – body and spirit together – whenever you experience a sacred moment that compels you to respond. Your spirit's hunger for God can find fulfillment when you fast with your body.

Fasting and Prayer

In the Bible, prayer and fasting are often linked together as spiritual disciplines and are frequently mentioned in conjunction with one another. While the specific practices and purposes of prayer and fasting can vary, there are some common themes and relationships between the two. Fasting is a way for us to reconnect and be with the Lord. So, below are a few reasons why prayer and fasting go together — as it should be:

1. Fasting and Prayer are Mentioned Together in Scripture

Both the Old and New Testaments feature multiple instances of believers practicing fasting and prayer together. Here are a handful of the examples I found:

The Israelites fasted and lifted prayers of praise and confession after sinning against God (Nehemiah 9).

Esther fasts with Israel and prays for the strength to ask her husband to spare Israel from Haman’s plot of genocide (Esther 4:16).

David mentions praying and fasting for his enemies (Psalm 35:12-14).

Daniel fasts and prays to lament Israel’s disobedience while exiled in Babylon and asks God to have mercy on His chosen people (Daniel 9).

The prophet Anna fasted and prayed regularly for Israel, then prophesied to Mary and Joseph about Jesus (Luke 2:36-38).

Paul and Barnabas pray and fast to ask for guidance in appointing elders over the first-century church (Acts 14:23).

2. Fasting Prayers Serve Multiple Purposes

We live in a fallen world, so we need a lot of help, sometimes even just to make it through the day. God offers us that help by asking us to pray and fast. The verses I mentioned above showcase the variety of what prayer and fasting make possible for Christians:

  1. Praising God (Nehemiah 9); Granting courage (Esther 4:16)
  2. Loving your enemies (Psalm 35:12-14); Reconciling yourself or your country to God (Daniel 9; Nehemiah 9)
  3. Remembering God’s promises (Luke 2:36-38); Granting wisdom (Acts 14:23)

Prayer is great, and fasting is powerful, but the discipline of using them together can help us make life in a sinful world more bearable by connecting us to God and drawing on His power instead of our own.

3. Prayer and Fasting Actually Works

From a practical standpoint, combining prayer and fasting can lead to staggering results. Let’s break down the examples given above to see how God worked through each of those instances:

God welcomed Israel back into His arms (Nehemiah 9).

King Xerxes spared Esther when he had every right to kill her for approaching the throne uninvited and listened to her and helped her rescue Israel from Haman (Esther 4:16).

David doesn’t materially gain from praying and fasting for his enemies — quite the opposite, actually — but he reveals to the world that he truly is a man after God’s own heart (Psalm 35:12-14).

God hears Daniel’s pleas and sends an angel to prophesy to him (Daniel 9).

Anna gets to meet her Savior in person (Luke 2:36-38).

Paul and Barnabas found the men God wanted them to appoint as elders (Acts 14:23).

We should be praying and fasting whether or not we get the results we want; the hardships David faced in his life weren’t enough to stop him, so why are our hardships enough to stop us?

Seeing that those results are possible should be more than enough to encourage us to make prayer and fasting part of our lives the same way the heroes of the Bible did.

Power Through Prayer

The truth about prayer and fasting may make us want to practice these disciplines as often as possible without harming our bodies, but here’s the catch: They only work if you’re acting in service of God and not your ego or pride.

Jesus spoke against those who pray and fast for selfish reasons in the Sermon on the Mount:

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:5)

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

It’s great that you want to pray and fast, but ask God to check your motives before you do. If you want to pray and fast to feel like a better Christian, stop right there and ask God to purify your intentions. But if you’re approaching these practices with love and respect for God, then you are free to approach the altar and do so.

The Challenge

You know that the Bible encourages you to pray and fast. You know what the two disciplines can do when used together. You know what God can achieve through you when you incorporate these practices into your life. And you know not to approach them for selfish reasons. There’s still one question left unanswered: What comes next?

What comes next is a challenge. I challenge you to ask God whether your heart is in the right place to practice prayer and fasting. And if God says yes, I challenge you to do it. If you choose to take this path, you’ll be amazed at what the Lord can accomplish in your heart and life.

5 Fasting Prayers to Guide Your Heart

Here, we have collected five fasting prayers to assist you in fasting and to focus your heart, mind, and soul upon God during this spiritual discipline. May these fasting prayers help you to seek God and rely on Him for strength and patience to endure your fast.

Prayer for Healthy, Holy Fasting

Father, your Word is full of wisdom and knowledge. I pray that we, as children of God, trust you Lord and humble ourselves before you... seeking you God like never before. I pray for everyone fasting and beginning to fast. 

I pray that they are led by you, Father, and not the world. I pray the distractions and temptations will not overcome them during this time. Thank you, Father, for loving us enough to send your Son to die for us. We will be forever grateful. In Jesus’ name, Amen (Rebecca Gordon)

Prayer for Fasting and Petition

Lord, please forgive us for craving food more than you. Forgive us for craving anything more than you. Lord redirect our hunger. Be our God. Open our eyes to the benefits of fasting. Open our hearts to you like never before. Give us the desire to turn to you with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our strength. May we no longer live by bread alone but by every word that comes from your mouth Oh LORD. Teach us to fast so that we might hold fast to you. In Jesus Name, Amen. (Alyssa Woollard)

Prayer To Align with God's Heart

Lord, I want to get Your Word so deep into my heart that it becomes MY word! I want to see things the way You see them, hear things the way You hear them, and feel things the way You feel them. I want to get so aligned with You that our hearts beat in syncopation together. I thank You that once Your Word gets that deeply rooted in my heart, my spoken words will release rivers of power and authority against the works of the devil that he has designed for my destruction! I thank You that just as Your words created the universe, my spoken words of faith create a change in my atmosphere! I pray this in Jesus' name! (Rick Renner)

Connecting with the Father

Father, purify my heart, that I would be focused on You and You alone as I surrender to You in me. If I rely on anyone’s approval but Yours, make it obvious so I can turn that part of my life to You again. As I start my “secret” life with You, cultivate our relationship and make it something incredible! Amen. (Pete Briscoe)

Prayer for Strength and Guidance

Lord God Almighty, shaper and ruler of all creatures, we pray for your great mercy, that you guide us towards you, for we cannot find our way. And guide us to your will, to the need of our soul, for we cannot do it ourselves. And make our mind steadfast in your will and aware of our soul’s need.

Strengthen us against the temptations of the devil, and remove from us all lust and every unrighteousness, and shield us against our foes, seen and unseen. Teach us to do your will, that we may inwardly love you before all things with a pure mind. For you are our maker and our redeemer, our help, our comfort, our trust, our hope; praise and glory be to you now and forever. Amen (Alfred the Great, 9th century)

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Sonya Downing is a novelist, freelance writer, and content editor with a bachelor’s degree in professional writing. Her freelance work has been published in Focus on the Family’s teen girl magazine Brio, The Evangelical Church Library Association, and The Secret Place quarterly magazine. She has also blogged for IlluminateYA Publishing and edited for Mountain Brook Ink. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

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