But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men 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 6:17–18 (NIV)
The reward is the solution we seek, the answer we are hoping to gain, the provision, the deliverance, the comfort. I have not found a single fast in the Bible that didn’t have a specific goal it was trying to achieve.
Is it okay to fast simply to draw close to God? Yes, but it’s also healthy to fast with the expectation of receiving a specific answer. This does two things for us:
- It causes us to focus on the reward we seek not our hunger.
- It allows us to see God’s faithfulness when the answer comes.
A terrible way to fast is to have no reward ahead of you but the food you will eat when the fast is finished. Every morsel of food you see will look like a sirloin steak, and your appetite screams so loud that you can’t hear your own prayers.
When you fast for a reward, even the most succulent prime rib will look like cardboard compared to what you are expecting from God.
I know a man who fasted for his unsaved wife. One day she came to the church shaking like a leaf, ran to the altar and accepted Christ. Over the years I have witnessed dozens of similar stories.
Determine The Reward
Write down what you need during a time of fasting. List your requests, and say, “Lord, these are the rewards that I want.” Determine your reward before you enter the fast, and it will make fasting a joy.
The Bible’s Rewards: Isaiah 58
The Bible is specific about some of the rewards we can expect when we fast. Isaiah 58 spells out twelve of them.
1. To loose the bands of wickedness.
Bands are things that hold you back. It’s what the writer of Hebrews meant when he wrote:
…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.…
—Hebrews 12:1b (NIV)
Have you ever known Christians who are held back? Nothing works for them. They plant seeds of faith, but the seeds don’t grow. Perhaps they are bound by bands of wickedness of their own doing. Only prayer and fasting can loose those bands so they can advance in the things of God.
2. To undo heavy burdens.
The word “undo” means to violently shake off. Fasting doesn’t just get rid of burdens that God never intended for us to carry; it violently shakes them off.
3. To let the oppressed go free.
The discouraged, bruised, and wounded go free when we fast. The Hebrew word picture here is a vase that is cracking up. Have you ever felt like you were cracking up? That’s a type of oppression. When you fast, you start a process of mending, becoming that beautiful vase God intended.
4. To break every yoke.
A yoke is a bondage or a bad habit. When you fast, bad habits will be broken.
I used to have a bad coffee habit and was addicted to caffeine. I would drink three pots of coffee every day. Whenever I fasted, I had terrible headaches. I thank God that I was delivered from caffeine in a matter of days by fasting. Now I can take it or leave it.
The same will happen to your bad habits. When the time of fasting ends, you can choose not to return to them.
5. Then your light will break forth as the morning.
You will have revelation from God. Things will dawn on you. When I fast, the Bible comes alive to me, and I see things I never saw before. It’s almost like revelations are spilling out faster than I can catch them.
Martin Luther translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek to German, and he prayed and fasted over every word that he translated. That Bible is still being used by the German people today because Luther was guided by revelation.
6. Your health will spring forth speedily.
We talked about health already, but here is another example. I knew a seventy-year-old man who had struggled with medical problems most of his life. He had been hospitalized many times, five times for asthma alone, and could find no relief until one doctor suggested that he go on an extended, supervised fast.
It was difficult at first. He seemed to be worse as he struggled to breathe, but he focused on the reward of good health. After six days, his enlarged prostate had shrunk to the size of a young man’s. Then his sinuses cleared up. His breathing became normal, and on the thirty-sixth day, a miracle occurred when he regained permanent hearing in his deaf ear. A few days later he found that his sex drive had returned, and he was no longer impotent.
Talk about a bundle of rewards!
7. Your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
We all know the feeling of adversity, but this promise is that there will be no frontal attacks, and God Himself will protect us from the things that come up behind us—the ones we don’t see or expect.
8. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer.
Having quick answers to prayer is wonderful. During and after a fast, you will find that prayers are answered at lightning speed. You will pray, “Oh Lord, please…,” and the answer will zap you before you finish!
One time I was flying to Holland, and the Dutch stewardess seemed to know only one English phrase: “There you are.” She helped me get my suitcase under the seat and said, “There you are.” She walked by and filled my coffee cup and said, “There you are.” No less than twenty-five times she said that to me.
Not only did I get a good laugh out of that, but I also got a picture of what God will do for us. We’ll ask for his assistance, and immediately, with the provision delivered, he will say, “There you are.”
9. Then your light will rise in obscurity, and the darkness be as the noonday.
The darkness that you have walked through is going to be broken, and your success will shine forth.
10. The Lord will guide you continually.
Guidance can come in all sorts of ways. Once I was on vacation, and I heard about a certain up-and-coming company. As I was praying, God said, “Buy it!” So I called the church from the hotel and said, “Buy shares in this company.” In less than a year, that stock had more than doubled, and we sold it for a nice profit.
I would like to be guided like that all the time!
11. The Lord will satisfy your soul in drought and make fat your bones.
Once your health springs forth, God keeps you healthy through fasting. Not only that, but you will have a divine supply no matter what. You may get a pink slip on Monday, but you will know that God will provide. Fasting helps us to live not paycheck to paycheck but promise to promise. It helps us to see the reality of God’s system that will never let the righteous go hungry.
12. Your children will build up the broken down places. You will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.
God is going to use you to turn wastelands into fruitful orchards. Relationships that have gone sour can be restored with fasting. You will come into overflowing abundance.
Don’t these sound like wonderful rewards? I know you have rewards you’re seeking. Why not write them down, and plan a fast? You have nothing to lose (except a few pounds), and God will certainly show Himself faithful.