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  • Writer's picturekeithburwell

Why We Fast

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

The question of why we fast typically comes up when a corporate time of prayer and fasting is scheduled. There are some great studies on the topic including Jentezen Franklin’s. The reasons are straightforward- to gain a deeper relationship with God, answer a specific prayer, guidance and wisdom, etc. Regular fasters will tell you that there is something “extra” that occurs when prayer and fasting are done together. There is a synergistic effect that is unmistakable when done in the proper mindset and with the right heart.

But the question that God put on my heart at the beginning of 2023 as we entered into a 21 day fast with our church was this- “Why do we fast and NOT some other ritual and physically demanding exercise?” It was as if God said stop looking forward FROM the fast to what it “brings” and look backwards to the “reason”. I can tell you that the answers He then showed me as I researched were life-changing and I will never fast the same again. It was that impacting to me and I hope you see how powerful it truly is.


In order to properly see the entire picture, we need to look back at the priests of the Temple in Jerusalem. We need to understand their service and how it functioned. First, each priest lived throughout Israel but 2 one week time periods of the year they were scheduled to come to Jerusalem and serve in the Temple and conduct the activities necessary for the ongoing management of Temple functions.

One of the main tasks of the priests was to offer the burnt offering sacrifice on the brazen altar outside the enclosed Holy Place. They would burn the animal in its entirety except the skin and blood. The majority of the blood would be poured out in front of the altar.


There was another altar as well. This was the Altar of sweet smelling incense which stood directly in front of the Holy of Holies. It was necessary that this would be continuously burning throughout the day and night, as a regular offering to the Lord. (Exodus 30:7-8)

A strange law but important, nonetheless, was that the altar of incense must be fired by the fire from the brazen altar outside the Holy Place (Leviticus 16:12). Once a year, the High Priest would take blood from the sacrifice and wipe it on the four horns of the Altar of Incense on the Day of Atonement. This would purify the Altar for the upcoming year.

God gave Aaron the recipe for the incense (Myrrh, Onycha, Frankincense, and Galbanum) and stipulated that no other incense should ever be burned on the altar (Exodus 30:34-38). It was instructed that anyone who made this mixture of incense for their own burning would be cut off from the people, signifying this was a sacred and individual scent for the Lord only.


In Scripture, incense is often associated with prayer. This was the understanding of the people that prayers for Israel were constantly going up while the cloud of the incense was active. David prayed, “May my prayer be set before you like incense” (Psalm 141:2) In his vision of heaven, John saw that the elders around the throne “were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people” (Revelation 5:8). As Zechariah the priest was offering incense in the temple in Luke 1:10, “all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.” The altar of incense, then, can be seen as a symbol of the prayers of God’s people. The altar of incense is seen as a picture of the intercession of Christ and I take nothing away from that representation, however, I believe there is a deeper understanding that we can gain here.


The question now comes to the fact that we live in a New Covenant world. The Temple is no more and we now have salvation and forgiveness through Jesus the Messiah, therefore, what relevance does any of this have on how we live today?

According to Peter, we as Believers are a royal priesthood, just as God intended the nation of Israel be to the nations. [1Pe 2:9 ESV] 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

According to Paul in his letter to Rome, we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice- [Rom 12:1 ESV] 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Paul, again, to the Church at Corinth, tells them that we are a temple! [1Co 6:19-20 ESV] 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

These are most likely verses that most of the Church has heard before in some form or fashion, but I doubt the next connection has been made by most. In fact, this was the moment when the concept of fasting completely changed for me.


Rav Sheshet, a 4th Century rabbi, made this statement- “I prayed that my fat and blood which is diminished through fasting be as if I sacrificed them on the altar before you, and you favored me with forgiveness.”

Do you see it? That statement is like finding the puzzle piece that fills in the picture to where you can now see it clearly. WHILE I COMPLETELY DISAGREE WITH HIS CLAIM THAT IT BRINGS FORGIVENESS (as we know that Jesus' death was sufficient to be be a substitution ONCE for ALL), I still believe there is validity in the type and shadow of the physical embodiment of the temple services. Watch what God did-

When fasting, We, as holy priests (1 Peter) under the new covenant, but also being the temple of the Holy Spirit (Paul to the Corinthians), literally bring our sacrifice to the altar (Paul to the Romans) and burn the fat and blood of our own bodies (which we know scientifically occurs through the denial of food). But what does it do to our Prayers (the sweet smelling altar of incense)? Remember according to the Law, the fire from the burnt offering on the brazen altar must be used to light the fire at the altar of incense. Think about what happens to a fire underneath a burning animal- the ashes literally are infused with the fat coming off the sacrifice. Therefore, the ashes which have the actual remains of the sacrificial animal are combined with the incense when placed on the altar, which then go up before God as our prayers.

This is why when we fast, our prayers seem to be on a “fast track” to being answered! As God “smells” our prayers through the incense they are supercharged with the smell of our sacrifice through fasting and He knows we have brought these prayers to Him with urgency and sincerity to the point of physical pain through sacrificially fasting and He honors that sacrifice!


To add to this, remember how we said the incense on the altar was so important as to the ingredients? It was so important that when two of Aaron’s sons burned the wrong incense on the altar, they died! God considers our prayers so important that He alone is allowed to receive them. Therefore, this is a literal representation that we should have “No other gods before Him.” The prayers of His people MUST “smell” a certain way and no other idol or god is allowed to accept those prayers without actual retribution for doing so. This is HIS sacred scent tied to His people’s prayers alone.

Two weeks ago, I asked the question to Him- “Why was it so important that Daniel be told by Gabriel during two separate times that his prayer was heard immediately (Dan 9:23 and Dan 10:12)? The answer He showed me is that both times, Daniel indicates that he was fasting while praying. God made sure that Daniel knew that his sacrifice of fasting was accepted and that because of it, his prayers were heard and an answer was given that day! Gabriel makes the point to say I was withstood for 21 days by the Prince of Persia, but I did have an answer to give you.


Doesn’t this make it so much more understandable why an angel would give Daniel what amounts to an excuse of why he was late? Think about it, there is no reason a messenger of the Lord should have to come up with an excuse why they weren’t on time. But this is the importance of the sacrifice of fasting that we can now understand- it was as if the angel Gabriel said to Daniel, “Daniel- your prayer, given in sacrificial fasting was answered immediately, but my delay was caused by something else. Therefore, don’t give up on fasting when praying! Don’t confuse my delay with God not honoring or accepting your sacrifice!”


Here was another revelation that reinforced the picture above from a scientific perspective. Many people are familiar with the Keto Diet, or another called the Atkins diet. Essentially, this is about getting your body to a place called Ketosis, a metabolic state where the body is burning fat instead of glucose (sugar). What is the #1 side effect of this, or when do you know your body is burning fat? It is a stage where you get “Keto breath”, or more clearly, a “sweet smelling” breath. Did you catch that? When your body is in the middle of burning fat (the sacrifice), your breath (where do you pray from? Your mouth) becomes a sweet-smelling odor? As you fast and offer your own body as a sacrifice, your prayers are literally prayed through a sweet smelling fragrance coming from the altar (your mouth) from which God hears you and answers your prayer!

What an incredible picture of how the temple services are conducted by us, in us, and through us as the sacrifice, the priests, and the temple. He has placed them all in us through Christ!

Even further, Paul clearly states that we (the church) are the body of Christ as He is the Head of the Church. [1Co 12:27 ESV] 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

[Col 1:15-18 ESV] 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

If a person were laid out superimposed over the Temple, one could say that the Head (Christ), would be over the Holy of Holies (where God resided), and all of the sacrificial offerings were done in the “body” portion of the Temple (the Church). And where is our sweet smelling prayer / incense placed? Right under the nose of Jesus, so to speak. But even that gets WAY more interesting.

According to Lamentations, the Messiah is the spirit (breath) of our nostrils. [Lam 4:20 ESV] 20 The breath of our nostrils, the LORD's anointed, was captured in their pits, of whom we said, "Under his shadow we shall live among the nations."

Even more intriguing is Isaiah 48:9. [Isa 48:9 ESV] 9 "For my name's sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off.

The Hebrew word used for “my anger” is actually translated as nostril/nose! The word used for “restrain” is the Hebrew word ḥāṭam which comes from the idea of muzzling the nose. God is basically saying that He is restraining the nose, which essentially is saying He is holding back the Messiah or the “judger” in order to not cut off the people. It paints a picture that the Messiah is the one that takes in the sweet smell of the prayers of the people, processes them and makes judgment over them.


An interesting side note to those people who cannot fast. Any time there is a corporate fast, it is usually communicated that those people who cannot for physical or health reasons should spend time reading the Word or in prayer and allow the rest of the people to handle the fasting. A relevant correlation is that the priests who would come to Jerusalem for the week of “reasonable service” would sometimes not have a lot to do if there were an abundance of priests and it not be a festival time or a time of great activity. Therefore, the priests not directly involved in the services of the Temple sacrifices would spend their time reading the Torah. God has even made a type and shadow for those priests in the Temple who aren’t focused on the sacrifices!

How awesome is this picture of the Temple and how it represents our relationship to God the Father through Jesus the Messiah and how He has placed within us such an incredible gift of responsibility and honor that He allows us to bring a sacrifice upon the holy altar and in doing so we can know with confidence our prayers are being answered with urgency and sincerity, the same way in which we offer them to God.


I know that fasting for me will never be the same, and the sanctity of the act has completely shifted. I can no longer take it lightly or simply as something that we “might” think about doing when we have a big decision or problem. We have been given the privilege and honor to stand in the capacity of priest, temple, and sacrifice so that our prayers may be as a sweet aroma to our Lord. I pray that the truth of this may help you in seeing the importance and privilege we have in this present age.

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