But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 4:4 (ESV)
It’s fascinating that in repelling Satan’s temptations, Jesus quotes this verse from Deuteronomy 8:3. When I read it in Deuteronomy I didn’t see any connection with fasting. The idea of humbling is a clue but I didn’t see it. But Jesus making or illuminating or creating this connection is tremendously helpful. It helps me to recognize that one of the good reasons to fast - to abstain from what comforts me and from what I think I need more than anything (so of course this applies in a great sense to food and in a lesser, but still important sense, to dozens of other things that we fill our lives with) - is to focus on what really sustains me - every word the comes from the mouth of God.
So in a very practical sense what I’ve learned is that while fasting I should seeking to spend significant time reading the Bible and praying that God would “open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things from [his] Law” (Ps 119:18). As God does this I see him, I see the world, and I see myself in the light of truth. I start to see what’s really good and what really should be celebrated. I start to see what’s really evil and what’s really a problem. I start to see what really should be chased and what really should be shunned.
And I’ve bought into the importance of allowing the Word of God to shape my prayer life. I don’t remember being taught to approach it that way when I was younger - maybe it was said but it certainly didn’t stick for me if it was. As a result I grew up with a notion of prayer being a separate and distinct thing from spending time reading or studying the Bible and I had no sense of the connection between the two. Since I’ve been taught to approach things this way I’ve seen how my petitions can be shaped more and more by God’s priorities rather than mostly by my felt needs. Unfortunately but quite naturally, the things I am most concerned about, even when it comes to things related to the kingdom of God are different from the things God is most concerned about - until I am changed and shaped by the revelation in the Bible. How many of us would pray “Hallowed be your name” if Jesus hadn’t taught us to?
So that’s how I’m learning to put the three together. I think if we fast and pray without a focus on the word of God there’s a danger of getting trapped in ourselves and our personal needs and the needs of our community, and it can be quite myopic. I know I’ve done it. And the implication, if we fast and pray without prioritizing time in the Bible, is that we think we already know what God wants us to seek him for, how he wants us to do it, and how the time should be shaped. The word of God constantly brings us into God’s perspective - which is timeless, global and personal - and can save us from that particular pitfall.