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 http://members.ucg.org/files/Fasting%20Prayer%20Will%20of%20God.pdf
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.