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Fasting. The New Testament makes clear that some spiritual victories can only be experienced when we know how to abstain as well as pray.

On one occasion Jesus said to His disciples, who were having some difficulty in casting out a demon from a possessed boy, 'But this kind of demon won't leave unless you have prayed and gone without food.' (Matthew 17.21)

Abstinence is the practice of deliberately abstaining from food in order to add greater power to one's prayers. No study of prayer could ever be complete without a careful look at the importance of abstinence in relationship to prayer.

Let's bring a few facts into focus concerning this important spiritual exercise.

(a) Fasting puts the body in its place. God has designed us with three powerful drives - the spiritual (spirit), the psychological (soul) and the physical (body).

Effective Christian living flows from a right relationship of these three drives. If the spiritual part of our being is strongest then it will keep the psychological and physical drives in their proper place.

In the Old Testament (Leviticus 16.29) God instructed the children of Israel to set aside a special day annually for the purpose of afflicting their souls'.

It was called the Day of Atonement. The word 'afflict' seems to suggest that the abstinence that was required on the Day of Atonement was the means by which man's spirit took authority over his body.

This was achieved by abstaining from food. Abstinence causes pain to the body because it has become accustomed to the regular intake of food. Paul, in the New Testament, takes up a similar point when he says, 'But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest by any means, when I have preached to others I myself should be a castaway' (l Corinthians 9.27).

When a Christian practices the art of abstinence his spirit says to his body: 'You will not dictate the terms of my life, I'm the boss - and don't forget it.'

We can only conquer the enemy (Satan) after we have conquered ourselves.

(b) Abstinence gives victory over temptation. There can be no doubt that Christ's victory over Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4.1) was due, in no small measure, to His forty days' fast.

No one is exempt from temptation. Because of this we need all the available power we can get to resist and withstand Satan's wiles. Abstinence reinforces the human spirit, enabling it to deal more efficiently and effectively with the Devil's strategies.

Professor Halleshy, writing on the theme of abstinence in relation to victory over temptation, says, 'To make use of a rather mechanical, but nevertheless vivid, illustration, we might compare abstinence with the transmission of electrical power.

The greater the volume of power to be transmitted the stronger must be the connection with the power house. Abstinence helps to give us that inner sense of spiritual penetration by means of which we can discern clearly that for which the Spirit of prayer would have us pray in exceptionally difficult circumstances.'

(c) Abstinence sharpens our spiritual understanding enabling us to make right decisions. Is it not significant that Jesus spent a night in prayer before choosing His disciples?

I have found in my own life that to precede the making of an important decision with a 24-hour fast enables me to come to the moment of decision with clarity and conviction.

Speaking in purely biological terms a Christian doctor says: 'When we eat, then a good deal of blood is directed to the stomach by the brain to aid the processes of digestion. When we abstain from food there is a great blood flow to the brain enabling it to function at its very best.'

Whatever way we look at it, physically or spiritually, abstinence helps to clear the mind of the distractions that might hinder the making of wise decisions.

Church history shows that many of the men who figured greatly in the growth and development of the Christian Church practiced the art of abstinence.

John Wesley so believed in the importance of abstinence that he refused to ordain young men to the ministry who would not fast two days each week.

Martin Luther fasted regularly, and so did John Knox. Charles Finney said, 'When empty of power I would set apart a day for private abstinence and prayer . . . after this, the power would return in all its freshness.'

I am convinced myself that if Christians were to abstain as well as pray we would see a move of the Holy Spirit throughout the world, such as we have not seen since the days of the Early Church.

If you have never fasted before and you want to learn the art, then begin in a small way by entering into a 12 or 24 hour fast. Believe me, abstinence is not easy.

The first time I tried to fast I could go no longer than six hours! But I persisted and within a year I was able to fast for a week without any difficulty at all.

No one should enter on a long fast before checking with a doctor. And if you have serious medical problems (such as diabetes) then abstinence is not for you.

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