This is in part because we don't know how to pray. As "low-church" Christians, we have tended towards informal prayers that communicate to God. Our prayers are almost always one-sided, us to God, and usually in the form of requests for resources or issues in relationships.
So how do we grow in prayer? One of the first things to note is the first time Jesus mentioned prayer in Matthew: it was in the context of praying for your enemies and for those who persecute you. Prayer, in the beginning, was outward-focused, helping us to focus on others, on their concerns, on their needs, and on their welfare, even if those ones are out to get us.
But this teaches us a greater truth: Prayer is not simply about communication to God; it is about spiritual formation. Prayer begins shaping and forming us to be like God (i.e., to become godly, or, as Peter writes, "to become participants of the divine nature" [2 Peter 1:4, NRSV]). How better to grow godliness than to love and pray for and serve our enemies, because this is exactly what God, through Jesus, did for us (see Romans 5).
Jesus goes on to teach about prayer as a spiritual practice. (For the sake of brevity, I am leaving out Jesus' teaching about fasting.) In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tackles prayer again and teaches us that prayer should be simple and in secret. We don't pray to be seen by or congratulated by others. This does not mean we cannot pray publicly. But the purpose of prayer is to commune with God and to practice this as a discipline that helps us become more aware of and in tune with God.
Now we can look at fasting. Fasting is something that mystifies many believers. Yet, it is simply abstention from food. It may include an abstention from all food and drink, or it may include drink, or even just water. Jews would fast for a variety of reasons: in preparation for a feast day, for repentance, as preparation for prayer, or simply as a devotional rite. When Jesus taught fasting, he was not teaching anything new to his hearers. Rather, he taught them out of what they already knew.
In Matthew 4:2, we learn that Jesus fasted in the wilderness. Ahead of his temptation by the devil, he fasted. Fasting was preparatory -- it prepared him for the time of trial. In chapter 6, teaches about fasting as one of the primary spiritual practices of his day. In that teaching, he says that fasting is to be between us and the Lord. That does not mean that we cannot tell someone we are fasting, but we are not fasting so that others will praise our level of spirituality. We fast to draw near to God. In chapter 9, fasting is taught as a means of preparation, of grief over the absence of the "bridegroom." Jesus was talking about how his disciples would fast in his absence, as they awaited his return. Finally, in a disputed verse (17:21), Jesus includes prayer and fasting as spiritual disciplines that would have enabled his disciples to progress in faith to be able to cast out a demon.
Fasting follows the example of Jesus and helps us prepare our hearts to follow his leading.
Why is fasting something we do not pay much attention to today? Is it because we enjoy eating too much? Perhaps that is an idol preventing us from following Jesus fully. Is it because we do not like the crankiness and irritability that comes from missing a meal? It's possible that we should consider a dietary change, or moderation in eating certain foods, or eating altogether, as part of following Jesus. Is it because our hearts are not turned towards Jesus in worship? Fasting enables us to ask these questions, to investigate them, to take more time in prayer to understand the spiritual journey we are on.
To begin to fast, start small. Perhaps skip just one meal, and use the time to read the Bible or meditate on it or pray. Or, if you cannot fast from food due to medical reasons, fast from something. Go an entire day without watching TV or listening to the news. Use the time to reflect on your spiritual journey and prepare yourself to worship God.
What if we, as a church, fasted on Saturday in preparation for worship on Sunday? How powerful might our encounter with the Lord be?