Question: I have often heard you say that God does not bestow spiritual gifts through physical means but only through spiritual means. This is logical, but I have a question. Why then did Jesus tell His apostles in Mark:9:29, when they were unable to drive out a particularly stubborn unclean spirit, that “this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting”? This seems to contradict your position.
Response: Prayer is certainly not a “physical means.” Nor is prayer a magic technique that frightens demons away. Prayer is petitioning God to intervene, while at the same time submitting to His will rather than trying to impose one’s will upon Him. Nor could fasting be a “physical means” unless it were the direct or indirect cause of obtaining answers to prayer.
Fasting has no such powers and does not appease God or earn from Him an answer to prayer. In prayer man humbles himself before God. Fasting adds to that humility (Psalm:35:13). It also demonstrates one’s earnestness by setting aside the normal desire and need for food, and the time involved in eating, in order to more completely devote oneself to petitioning God.
The humility of submission to and dependence upon God for His mercy is further demonstrated by clothing oneself in “sackcloth and ashes,” as practiced at times in the past along with fasting (Esther:4:1, 3; Jeremiah:6:26; Daniel:9:3; Jonah:3:6; Matthew:11:21). Scripture says, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James:5:16). Fasting is a mark of fervency; it is not a physical means of obtaining a spiritual gift.