And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord.” Lev 23:26-27
To ‘afflict your souls’ refers to fasting. The Day of Atonement (or Yom Kippur) was apparently a special day that was set aside by the Jewish people to fast, refrain from work, and to offer sacrifice.
Fasting has got to be one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever done. The human desire for food is very strong, and to go even one day without food is tough, let alone going multiple days without food. That’s why the bible refers to fasting here as to ‘afflict your souls.’ The definition of the word ‘afflict’ is to cause pain or suffering to. So to fast would be to cause pain or suffering to yourself by going a period of time without food. And it sure is true!
Fasting is something that Jesus said we would do after he was taken from this earth:
But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. Mark 2:20
And the bible talks about how the Apostles and other early christians fasted:
And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid [their] hands on them, they sent [them] away. Acts 13:3
In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 2 Co 11:27
Paul said here in 2 Co 11:27 that he fasted often. How often? I don’t suppose we could ever know. I guess as often as he needed to. You see, fasting is for a purpose and it is especially helpful in prayer. I believe fasting is particularly important when you are desperate for an answer and are ready to get serious about getting an answer. And it’s not because God favors you more when you are fasting, but because fasting puts you in a more spiritually aware position that enables you to hear more clearly what God has been trying to communicate to you.
Fasting can also re-ignite your spiritual power which may wane after time. The greatest example of this is what I have read about the ministry of Charles Finney. Charles Finney had a tremendous ministry to the lost. Everywhere he went many people came to the Lord. He talked about a heavy conviction that came upon the lost whenever he shared with them the gospel. He would go about ministering and every so often this heavy conviction wouldn’t work like it normally did. Each time that anointing waned he would separate himself with prayer and fasting and the anointing to bring that conviction would come back and he would go on ministering again. This would happen many times throughout his ministry as I understand it.
The problem today is that most christians are too lazy to spend time ‘afflicting their souls’ for the Kingdom of God. “Don’t eat!? Are you crazy?!” would be the response from most of them, even from ministers.
Now, don’t take me wrong, fasting just for fasting’s sake will get you nowhere. We must fast and pray with purpose. And I believe that as we get serious with God through fasting and prayer that we will begin to see results that we’ve been lacking.