19Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
20And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
21Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. (KJV)
While Peter, James and John were off with Jesus, beholding His awesome transfiguration, the rest of the disciples were struggling. A desperate man had come to them with his son, who was experiencing epileptic-type symptoms and great suffering. The disciples took on the task, confident of success since they had before joyfully experienced authority over diseases and demonic spirits (Luke 10:17). This time, however, nothing was happening. An important lesson in their training still needed to be learned.
Jesus, like an expert frustrated to action over a novice’s futile attempts, steps up and easily casts out the ailment, proving that nothing in the will of God was preventing the miracle. The disciples are embarrassed. “What went wrong?” they ask. “Why could we not cast it out?”
Jesus’ answer is direct and plain: “Because of your unbelief.” Obviously, the disciples had faith – the very act of praying itself must involve at least some miniscule measure of faith. But their faith had not received the measure of power necessary to accomplish a task at this level of difficulty. They hadn’t yet progressed to “that level” of faith, power and authority.
Andrew Murray, in his classic book With Christ in the School of Prayer, explains it this way:
“‘Because of your unbelief’ was, for all time, the Master’s explanation and reproof of impotence and failure in His church…Christ’s success was not a result of His having a special power to which the disciples had no access. He had so often taught them that there is one power – the power of faith – to which, in the kingdom of darkness as in the Kingdom of God, everything must bow. In the spiritual world failure has only one cause: lack of faith. Faith is the one condition on which all Divine power can enter man and work through him. It is the sensitivity of man’s will yielded to and molded by the will of God.”
In other words, Jesus rebukes the disciples because the power to accomplish the miracle was available to them, but they did not take hold of it. (Now, at this point I want to refute the notion that absolutely every failed healing is the result of “not having enough faith.” Certainly, there are instances where God chooses not to heal or revive for His sovereign purposes, though I believe they are much rarer than our culture believes, and this is a topic too copious in scope to examine in this short article). Jesus does not rebuke those who have acted without fault. He tells them that their faith is insufficient, and that fasting is the ONLY way to attain the necessary measure of faith.
Again, to quote Murray: “The faith that can overcome …is not possible except for men living in very close fellowship with God and in very special separation from the world – in prayer and fasting….Prayer is the one hand with which we grasp the invisible. Fasting, on the other hand, is the one with which we let go of the visible (emphasis mine)….Some Christians imagine that everything that isn’t positively forbidden and sinful is permissible to them. So they try to retain as much as possible of this world with its property, its literature, and its enjoyments. The truly consecrated soul, however, is like a soldier who carries only what He needs for battle.”
Indeed, a soldier carrying any unnecessary supplies and/or weight is bound to be hampered and ultimately destroyed in battle. The same with us in the spiritual realm. Godly fasting ascends us into a higher realm of prayer by 1). Increasing our intimacy with God, putting us “on the same page” with Him. 2.) Giving us intimate knowledge of His will that we can pray into reality with confidence, boldness, and authority, and 3). Connecting us with the spiritual realm in such a way as to allow our faith to skyrocket to new heights. The more faith we have (by His grace), the more power we can receive and wield through that faith. Like a soldier who can’t effectively fight while carrying a TV in one arm, we can’t effectively fight Satan while holding onto this world.
Fasting and prayer are a natural pair, often coinciding in the Scriptures. When one is devoted to prayer, satisfaction in the divine leads to fasting as an almost natural outflow, as one begins to desire more and more the food of heaven than the food of this world. We see this in Anna, the widowed prophetess, who “did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2:37). We see it over and over again in the Old Testament, where fasting was often commanded along with prayer during times of great urgency or importance. See also Ezra 8:21, Nehemiah 1:4, and Acts 14:23, just to name a few.
Fasting adds power to prayer by connecting us to God, thereby increasing our faith in His power. Do you want to go to the next level? Or are you satisfied with powerless prayer? Obviously, prayer can be powerful and miracle-working without the aid of fasting. Yet the testimony is Scripture is that fasting adds an entirely new power and dimension to prayer, one that we would be foolish to overlook, neglect, or underestimate.