God condemned the Israelites for fasting “for strife and debate and to strike with the fist of wickedness” while continuing with “the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness”—using the fast as a political weapon against each other and pressuring Him to act on their predetermined desire (Isaiah 58:4, 9).

Theirs was a “magic” fast. In scholarly circles it’s called sympathetic magic, and they recognize it’s been around for thousands of years. The evil and false premise is that the worshiper can take certain actions in the human realm—like repeating magic words, impaling voodoo dolls, offering a special (often child) sacrifice, or afflicting his soul in fasting—which then forces the “gods” in the divine realm to act specifically on the person’s behalf.

~ UCG, Fasting, Prayer and the Will of God, p. 3, still available at

While the atmosphere is certainly charged, there is a valid point hidden beneath the layers of the “fasting paper”.  We do not “make” God do anything by prayer and fasting.  However, I can honestly say I know of no one personally who believes that they can, and so the purpose of the paper was questionable, and the paper was certainly inflammatory.

Rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater, though, it seems a good time to consider what fasting is really about.  We say we fast for this reason or that reason, but do we really?  I mean, it is a figure of speech, isn’t it?  The danger in a figure of speech, though, is when you start to believe in the literalness of the figure.

No, we do not, or should not, fast for anything other than to draw near to God.  The petitioning is called prayer.  They are used in conjunction, but I think we sometimes get them confused.  One of the areas that the “fasting paper” seemed to go off track was because they really had confused fasting with petitioning God in prayer.

So, is it wrong to petition God?  Of course not.  It is wrong to petition Him for evil, but in a generic sense it is not wrong to petition God for our desires (why else would the Psalmist say “he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” in Ps 37:4?).  A single person may petition God for a spouse.  A poor person may petition God for a job.  A homeless person may petition God for shelter.  These things are not wrong, are they?

Having said that, it is important to think about what you are petitioning God for.  It may be the wrong or an unwise thing.  That’s where meditation and Bible study really come in handy.  Examining our innermost beings and stacking it up against the Scriptures is the best way I can think of to determine whether or not we really are petitioning for the right things.

For example, you might pray for more money when what you really need is less debt.  You may pray for a house but not be able to afford the mortgage.  You may pray for a spouse, but are you praying for a man or woman of God to be at your side?

One of the saddest things I’ve ever read was about a man struggling with the doctrinal changes in WCG.  He just could not understand the changes, but he had always believed that God works through one church organization.  This was a quandary for him.  So, he prayed that God would help him to understand the doctrinal changes.  And so, he eventually did.  He began to understand the new doctrines and believe in them rather than the truth.  His petition was granted, however.

Perhaps too many of us petitioned God to move to Denton.  Perhaps too many of us petitioned God to stay put in Cincinnati.  Maybe too few of us prayed for unity, peace and wise dealings.  I don’t know.  I can only know what I prayed for.

Fasting is a way to draw nearer to God.  It is not needed because He cannot hear us, but we need to draw near so we can hear Him.  When we fast, we realize we are weak and mortal and need Him for everything.  Then we can bow our knee in submission to Him.  Then, the Holy Spirit can guide us in our prayers and can react while we are praying.

 26Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (Romans 8:26, King James Version)

This can only be when we are submissive to God, however.  His will must take precedence over our own.

Just some thoughts about what to petition God for:

  • His Kingdom to come to the earth.
  • His will be done on earth.
  • That we seek His righteousness first.
  • That we endure to the end.  That we overcome.
  • That we do not become deceived or deceive others.
  • That we discern not just good and evil but truth and falsehood, and then that we react in a Godly manner.
  • Healing – physical, spiritual and emotional.
  • Unity based upon truth and love.  False unity won’t last, and so we need to be mindful of the type of unity we are asking for.

There are many more things that could be added.  However, I hope that it is generic enough that, whatever your situation, you find the list helpful.


  1. Fasting and petitioning have a for certain common goal. To draw closer to God. Not in a selfish manner, but an honest seeking Him and His ways out. Our desire goes astray when we do these things for gain. For all to often our motivations are for our own desires and our actions becomes a form of "you owe me" 'because I'm doing this.' This posting was an excellent topic and the list a good reference in these difficult times.

  2. An excellent post on fasting and its true meaning.
    I would just like to add to your post if I'm allowed. Isaiah 58 v 3-11 is my favorite when it comes to fasting and prayer.
    Than you for that inspirational post.

  3. John D Carmack

    Thank you, and please do add! This is a blog, and I encourage interaction so that iron sharpens iron.

  4. I am a member of one of the churches of God and I like to study the bible daily. I live in Trinidad and Tobago. I do not know that fasting is solely to draw closer to God. When we fast we inevitably draw closer to God because fasting and supplication go hand in hand.Daniel fasted in order to get the Eternal to give the wisdom to interpret the dream. So too as Esther story shows.

    Casting demons could only be done through prayer and fasting as Jesus once said.

    As a biblical principle thereof it is in my view accurate that fasting is solely to draw closer to God
    Isaiah 58 given its true interpretation shows what one should fast about

  5. John D Carmack

    Hello firejam, and thank you for your comment. Please forgive me upfront if I'm misunderstanding you, but it sounds like you doubt that fasting only draws us closer to God.

    In your examples, you mention "fasting and supplication" and that casting out demons (of a certain type) "could only be done through prayer and fasting". Remember, Daniel was praying when he fasted and was given a vision. While we're not told that Esther prayed as well as fasted, I have little doubt that she did so.

    It truly seems to me that fasting is not a tool that is to be used alone. Even to fast for no other reason than to draw near to God really requires either meditation and/or Bible study to be truly effective, I would think. However, it reminds us of our mortality and so makes us think about our relationship to God in a different way.

  6. The UCG paper's author seemed to "talk out of both sides of his mouth," to borrow a phrase.

    There should have been churchwide fasting about the Texas move — but then, fasting doesn't automatically help us see God's will?

    By the way, can't help noticing CGWA called for a day of fasting before next week's big conference in Louisville. Does that mean the point of UCG's paper was right?!

  7. "This was a quandary for him. So, he prayed that God would help him to understand the doctrinal changes. And so, he eventually did. He began to understand the new doctrines and believe in them rather than the truth. His petition was granted, however."

    Um… come again? To understand something that is false would mean to recognise it as false. Our God is not like the fictitious Greek Gods who would condemn a man to suffer because he didn't quite specify a request in the right terms. Our God understands the intent behind our requests, no matter how poorly we might phrase them. If I petitioned God to lead me into deceit would he grant that request? I think not. He may, however, allow me to fall into deceit all on my own if I have not sought Him.

  8. John D Carmack

    Shortfriction wrote: "If I petitioned God to lead me into deceit would he grant that request? I think not. He may, however, allow me to fall into deceit all on my own if I have not sought Him."

    The best answer I can give to that is when King Ahab was urged to seek out a prophet of God by King Jehoshaphat. Since Ahab's heart was not right, petitioning a real prophet of God was no good for him. However, notice what the prophet said:

    " 19And he said, Hear thou therefore the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.

    " 20And the LORD said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner.

    " 21And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him.

    " 22And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so.

    " 23Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee."

  9. Had God literally put a lying spirit in the mouth of the prophets, it would be entirely inconsistent with what the whole of scripture says about God – that he is perfect, cannot lie, does not tempt us, etc. The part of the quote you have highlighted is a manner of speech – clearly, because the context shows what actually happened: God allowed an evil spirit to deceive the false prophets.

  10. John D Carmack

    @shortfriction: What can I say? I simply quoted you the Scripture. Obviously, God determined that Ahab should be punished for his wickedness, and he was. God is sovereign over everything that occurs, although the how is something He sometimes leaves up to others.

    If someone is determined to be deceived, is God going to stop it? I think not. People pray all the time who have wrong ideas and wrong attitudes, yet it seems that they sometimes get what they ask for. God allows that as well.

    It's like the old saying goes, "Be careful what you ask for. You might just get it."

  11. I'm not disagreeing that God would allow a person to get what they ask for when the intent of their request is misguided. But the saying, "Be careful what you ask for…" is misapplied to a situation like the person who prayed to understand the changes. My point was that if a person is seeking to know the truth in order to follow God, as it sounds like the man was, God is not going to answer that prayer by leading him into deception. Even though he may have asked for the wrong thing, I am confident that God would grant him what he actually needed. Now, if his motivation was wrong – like perhaps he really wanted to justify staying with WCG so he could stay with family and friends, and had no interest at all in being obedient to God – then perhaps God would allow him to go his own way. But I still don't believe scripture in any way supports the view that God would lead him to deception in answer to his petition.

  12. John D Carmack

    shortfriction wrote: "My point was that if a person is seeking to know the truth in order to follow God, as it sounds like the man was, God is not going to answer that prayer by leading him into deception."

    That was not what he asked for, though. He wanted to "understand" the new doctrines. If he were really seeking the truth, then he would have asked for the truth.

    "Now, if his motivation was wrong – like perhaps he really wanted to justify staying with WCG so he could stay with family and friends, and had no interest at all in being obedient to God…"

    Well, I don't know what else you could make from the story. I don't know the motivation behind his decision, but I can come to no other conclusion than his request wasn't totally sincere.

    If you think I was referring to some type of magic where the correct words make all the difference in the world, then let me flat out state that's not what I meant. God looks at the heart, and if it sounded like I was saying otherwise, then I apologize for the misunderstanding.

    The point, rather, is that we need to examine why we are asking for certain things and be sure that's what we really need rather than assume that A fixes B and that's the end of the story.

    The man in the example seemed to assume that his understanding was faulty and had been up until the "new truth" had been given. In reality, what he was telling God was that he didn't trust that God had led him into the truth to begin with. Furthermore, it appears that he wasn't asking to be corrected if he was wrong. Rather, it appears that he, for whatever reason, decided it was more important to put on blinders and to follow men.

    Was God working with him up until then? Perhaps so. Did God withdraw Himself once the man wavered? I think we have to look no further than King Saul for that answer.

    That's the problem with idolatry. Once something becomes more important than God, then it becomes easier to justify our feelings, then our words and then our actions about things. In the beginning stages, we can, like King Saul, claim to have obeyed God while the cattle are mooing and the sheep are bleating in the background. Over time, something other than God's pure word "makes sense" to us, and we start on a hard tumble downward.

  13. There were two issues I had with the section of your post I originally quoted. Firstly, the idea that one might "get what you ask for" instead of what you need, when there is not an attitude problem. Your last reply indicates that wasn't your meaning.

    Secondly, the idea that God would directly lead a person into deceit. There is a critical difference between God actively intervening to cause a person to be deceived and allowing it to happen. In the scripture you quoted in reply, God asked how an outcome could be achieved. An evil spirit proposed a method and God allowed it. But God didn't DO it. Also, the final outcome was punishment, not an enduring state of deceit. In the case of the man praying to understand the changes, God allowed him to accept the changes, perhaps because his attitude and motives were wrong. But God did not grant his request. My assertion is based on what scripture says of God, but backed up by the fact that logically, as I said before, to understand something false would mean to see it as false.