If you are looking to be more successful in your prayer life, two practices I strongly recommend are to pray with others, and to combine your prayers with some form of penance such as fasting. Fasting may be an alien concept to many Catholics, something we do with great difficultly on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday during Lent.
In this column I want to focus on fasting, and how it can relate to forgiveness and miracles, two key themes in my apostolate, Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry (www.spiritfilledevents.com). In my experience, I believe that for us to be successful with fasting, it is only through the grace of God and what I would call a miracle. If you are like me, you would call any success with fasting a miracle. However, in order to take our spirituality seriously, it has to happen.
Indeed, the discipline of fasting releases favor from the Lord and blessings in our life. Our ministries are set on fire when we fast.
Acts 13: 2-3 “While they 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.’ Then completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off.”
What is fasting? While there are many types of fasting, primarily, for our purposes, fasting is giving up food for a spiritual purpose. When we fast, we get closer to God and develop greater intimacy with Him. It is fasting that opens the door to many miracles. It is fasting that gives us strength to endure trials. It is fasting that will lead to the miracle of forgiveness.
Prayer and fasting are important keys to spiritual breakthrough. Much of this is protection against evil spirits who attack us, which includes a spirit of not being able to forgive. We see this in the story of the healing of a boy with a demon.
Matthew 17: 14-20 “When they came to the crowd a man approached, knelt down before him, and said, ‘Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic and suffers severely; often he falls into fire, and often into water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him. Jesus said in reply, ‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him here to me.’ Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him, and from that hour the boy was cured. Then the disciples approached him in private and said, ‘Why could we not drive it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’”
Ever notice that when you are under attack, you either want to eat more or do something against the commandments? It takes a great of discipline to be holy. We are under assault by the enemy who wants to defeat us. This often happens when someone does something of which we disapprove. Our ability to get angry or not forgive goes up dramatically.
When we look at Scripture, we see different lengths of fasting. Joshua had a 40-day fast, Daniel 21 days, Paul had up to 14 days, Peter three days and, of course, Jesus had a fast for 40 days in the desert. This, some believe, implies an absolute fast, normal fast and the partial fast.
An absolute fast is extreme and should only be done with supreme caution and prayer. We need to be sure that the Lord is calling us to this type of fast. However, when we consider the degree of animosity and lack of forgiveness we have in some relationships, this type of fast may be necessary. Consult your physician before doing this.
The absolute fast is severe and usually means no food or water for a short period of time. Again, medical consultation and supervision is required. In this case, as with all fasts, there should be ongoing and persistent prayer. I would call this the beginning of fervent prayer, which is intense prayer from the heart that leads us into a much closer relationship with God. If there is a demonic spirit attacking us and giving us feelings of hatred or a lack of forgiveness, this type of fast can be effective.
A normal fast is what people can do to improve personal spirituality. This is going without food for a certain period of time or number of days. Drinking water is necessary and many times clear liquids, such as broth or fruit juices, accompany this fast. Again, consult your physician to make sure this is something that fits with your current health status.
A partial fast is what many of us are familiar with because of what we do during Lent. This is giving up particular foods or certain liquids for period of time. It is important that through prayer, we determine what types of food or drink we fast from and what length of time. During our prayer, we need to focus on what area we need to be healed in respect to our challenges with forgiveness.
When we are under attack and experience spiritual warfare, this type of fast is important. We see this in the Book of Daniel when he and his companions did not eat meats and sweets from the king’s table but only had vegetables and water. This was for 10 days followed by another fast that included no sweets, meat or wine for three weeks. This entire time Daniel focused on prayer. This led to God’s miracles and his prayer being answered by an angel.
Often challenges with forgiveness are generational and rooted deep in our unconscious. We need drastic changes in our prayer and the type of fasting that will lead to miracles. We see this in the Book of Jonah and the story of Nineveh. You may remember that Jonah was not thrilled about going to Nineveh to tell them of their wickedness. All too often the Lord tells us to do something and we say, “No way.”
Jonah wanted to go to a city called Tarshish, not exactly in God’s plan. It is God’s plan that we do what we are led and told to do for His glory. Unfortunately, we are often rebellious, stubborn and sinful. Despite knowing that he was doing the wrong thing, Jonah decided to get on a ship headed to Tarshish. You may remember the story. A storm occurred because Jonah was fleeing from the Lord.
Finally the men on the ship had taken enough of Jonah’s disobedience and threw him into the sea where a great fish swallowed Jonah for three days and nights. God was not done with Jonah and once again told him to go to Nineveh.
How many times has the Lord told you to forgive someone and you have refused? Some people I know have held grudges for so many years it doesn’t seem possible. Brother against brother, cousin against cousin, daughters against fathers and mothers, sons the same. Friends that drink the poison of not forgiving longtime friends due to behavior that they felt inappropriate.
Have we learned our lesson yet? The story of Jonah was to show us that in spite of our rebellious and sinful behavior we can repent and turn back to the Lord. This can lead to great miracles and dramatic changes in our lives.
Jonah 3: 1-10 “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and announce to it the message that I will tell you. So Jonah set out for Nineveh, in accord with the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an awesomely great city; it took three days to walk through it. Jonah began his journey through the city, and when he had gone only a single day’s walk announcing, ‘Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown,’ the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.
“When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh: ‘By decree of the king and his nobles, no man or beast, no cattle or sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water. Man and beast alike must be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God; they all must turn from their evil way and from the violence of their hands. Who knows? God may again repent and turn from his blazing wrath, so that we will not perish.’ When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.”
This powerful story is a critical one for us. It teaches that we can run away from the Lord but we can’t hide. How long will we hold onto our bitterness? If we do, we will not follow what the Lord is asking us to do. Forgive without reservation. Forgive in the same way that God has forgiven us. When we finally forgive, miracles and blessings will flow into our lives. It is a guarantee. God is a good God who wants to bless us and give us incredible blessings.
One of the major areas polluting our spirits and our lives is sexual sin. This includes the epidemic of pornography. There are many people who have caught their spouses or those close to them in pornography or sexual sin. They feel they can’t forgive them. Or perhaps you can’t forgive yourself of your inability to get past sexual sin.
In the Book of Judges, it was a time of great sexual sin. In the land of Gibeah, which belonged to the Benjamites, people were engaging in lewd homosexual acts. These men surrounded the house of a Levite to sexually abuse him. They ended up brutally raping and murdering a concubine. All the tribes of Israel rose up to punish the land of Benjamin. At first they were being defeated. God sent the prophet Phinehas with a message to both fast and pray. All the men fasted for 24 hours and broke the power of the sin and defeated their enemies.
There are evil spirits behind sexual sin and pornography. There are evil spirits behind adultery, which is often due to sins of lack of forgiveness. All of these can and will be broken through prayer and fasting. It is critical that strongholds are broken. Prayer is critical but often fasting is also needed to break through sexual additions such as pornography, homosexuality, adultery and fornication.
When we have challenges and feel we don’t know what to do, we can look at the Book of Joel, fast and expect miracles.
Joel 1:14 “Proclaim a holy fast! Call an assembly! Gather the elders, all who dwell in the land, to the house of the Lord, your God, and cry out to the Lord!”
In 3:1 we learn what God can do when we fast: “It shall come to pass I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.”
When we add fasting to our pursuit of holiness we add a huge spiritual weapon. Why did Jesus fast before he faced the devil in the desert? Fasting gives us strength against the enemy and guides us. The Holy Spirit comes upon us when we fast. When we fast we act in the way the Lord has taught us. It is this level of holiness that will transform us into people of forgiveness and peace. We truly become warriors for the Lord and live out our Baptism and Confirmation!