Before Esther risked her life by entering the King’s royal chambers, she called upon her friends to fast. “Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my female servants will also fast in the same way. After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law. If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16–17). The Queen’s impassioned plea was for her friends to fast. We assume that she also asked them to pray. These two spiritual disciplines go together.
Generations before Esther, King David had practiced fasting and praying. “The Lord struck the baby that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became deathly ill. David pleaded with God for the boy. He fasted, went home, and spent the night lying on the ground” (2 Samuel 12:15–16).
When word came to Nehemiah concerning the desperate conditions in Jerusalem, the royal cupbearer “mourned for a number of days, fasting and praying before the God of the heavens” (Nehemiah 1:4).
When God warned of the judgment that was coming to Judah, God commanded the prophet Joel to “announce a sacred fast; proclaim a solemn assembly! Gather the elders and all the residents of the land at the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord” (Joel 1:14).
When the temple was dedicated in Jerusalem, God gave King Solomon instructions for times of trouble. “If I shut the sky so there is no rain, or if I command the grasshopper to consume the land, or if I send pestilence on my people, and my people, who bear my name, humble themselves, pray and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13–14). The command to be “humble” likely included fasting.
After his horrifying experience in the belly of the fish, Jonah finally arrived in Nineveh to preach God’s message. His Assyrian audience listened, repented, and sought God’s grace and mercy. “The people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and dressed in sackcloth—from the greatest of them to the least… God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways—so God relented from the disaster he had threatened them with. And he did not do it” (Jonah 3:5, 10).
The Old Testament has many examples of men and women who sought the Lord by fasting and praying. In the New Testament, Jesus assumed that His disciples fasted. “When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting isn’t obvious to others but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:17–18).
At the missionary-sending church in Antioch, “as 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 after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off” (Acts 13:2–3).
Queen Esther was ready to sacrifice her life to save the Hebrew people. “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:17). But before she did, she invited everyone she knew to fast and pray for God’s mercy and grace.
Fasting may seem a bit super-spiritual, even fanatical. But is it? When’s the last time you sought God… really sought Him? Skip a meal or two. Devote some quality time to reading God’s word, praying and seeking the Lord’s guidance and grace. Try it! See what happens.