Fasting is Important
God considers fasting important. The Bible contains 92 passages referring to it. Many of our heroes of the faith, including Moses, Elijah, Esther, Nehemiah, Daniel and Paul, fasted at crucial points in their journeys with God.
Fasting played an important role in the life and ministry of Jesus. After being anointed by the Holy Spirit, He was led into the wilderness to fast and pray for 40 days (Matthew 4:2). During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave specific instructions on how to fast (Matthew 6:16-18). Jesus knew the followers He addressed would fast.
Purpose of Fasting
But what is the purpose of fasting in the life of the believer today?
One reason we fast is to demonstrate humility before the Creator of the universe. God responds when we diligently and wholeheartedly seek Him (2 Chronicles 7:14).
A second reason we fast is to respond to God’s love toward us. It is as if we are saying to God, “Because You are righteous and holy, and loved me enough to send Jesus to die for my sins, I want to get to know You more intimately.” Jeremiah 29:13 says we will find God when we seek Him with all our hearts. So we may want to take extra time to seek and praise God by missing a meal or abstaining from food for a day or more.
Sometimes we fast to demonstrate our sincerity to God concerning something we truly desire. Ezra proclaimed a fast to ask God to protect His people as they journeyed to Jerusalem from exile. God responded by delivering them from their enemies and ambushes along the way (Ezra 8:21,31).
Seeking God’s direction is different from asking Him for something we desire. When the Israelites were in conflict with the tribe of Benjamin, they sought God’s will through fasting. The entire army fasted until evening, and they asked God, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites, or not?” (Judges 2028, New International Version).
An important benefit of fasting is that it promotes self-control through disciplining the body. When we say no to our natural appetite for food, we develop the will-power and discipline to say no to other fleshly desires (1 Corinthians 9:27).
Bright encouraged believers to fast, but he also warned of two common pitfalls:
- We can become legalistic about fasting. It is essential to remember God loves us and is not displeased with us when we do not fast.
- We can take pride in our fasting. To avoid this problem we focus on God’s character and all He has done for us.
Fasting is Biblical. Throughout the Old and New Testament eras and during the last 2,000 years, fasting has been a primary means of humbling ourselves before God. Fasting is a common practice that can be found in Scripture. It is voluntary and total abstinence of food for a specific amount of time or days, and its aim is to devote oneself through prayer and seeking God. Jesus’ fasting can be read in one major occasion in Matthew 4:1-11. The ancient practice of fasting is a natural way to express your faith with your whole being – body and spirit together – whenever you experience a sacred moment that compels you to respond. Your spirit’s hunger for God can find fulfillment when you fast with your body.
Both the Old and New Testaments feature multiple instances of believers practicing fasting and prayer together. Here are a handful of the examples I found:
- The Israelites fasted and lifted up prayers of praise and confession after sinning against God (Nehemiah 9).
- Esther fasts with Israel and prays for the strength to ask her husband to spare Israel from Haman’s plot of genocide (Esther 4:16).
- David mentions praying and fasting for his enemies (Psalm 35:12-14).
- Daniel fasts and prays to lament Israel’s disobedience while exiled in Babylon and asks God to have mercy on His chosen people (Daniel 9).
- The prophet Anna fasted and prayed regularly for Israel, then prophesied to Mary and Joseph about Jesus (Luke 2:36-38).
- Paul and Barnabas pray and fast to ask for guidance in appointing elders over the first-century church (Acts 14:23).
Prayer is great and fasting is fantastic, but the discipline of using them together can help us make life in a sinful world more bearable by connecting us to God and drawing on His power instead of our own.
From a purely practical standpoint, the combination of prayer and fasting can lead to staggering results. Let’s break down the examples given above to see how God worked through each of those instances:
- God welcomed Israel back into His arms (Nehemiah 9).
- King Xerxes not only spared Esther when he had every right to kill her for approaching the throne uninvited but also listened to her and helped her rescue Israel from Haman (Esther 4:16).
- David doesn’t materially gain from praying and fasting for his enemies — quite the opposite, actually — but he reveals to the world that he truly is a man after God’s own heart (Psalm 35:12-14).
- God hears Daniel’s pleas and sends an angel to prophesy to him (Daniel 9).
- Anna gets to meet her Savior in person (Luke 2:36-38).
- Paul and Barnabas found the men God wanted them to appoint as elders (Acts 14:23).
We should be praying and fasting whether or not we get the results we want; the hardships David faced in his life weren’t enough to stop him, so why are our hardships enough to stop us?
We Need the Right Attitude
The truth about prayer and fasting may make us want to practice these disciplines as often as we can without harming our bodies, but here’s the catch: They only work if you’re acting in service of God and not your ego or pride.
Jesus, Himself, speaks against those who pray and fast for selfish reasons in the Sermon on the Mount:
When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:5)
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)
It’s great that you want to pray and fast, but before you do, ask God to check your motives. If you want to pray and fast to feel like a better Christian, stop right there and ask God to purify your intentions. But if you’re approaching these practices with love and respect for God, then you are free to approach the altar and do so.
How to Begin Fasting
Fasting is voluntarily going without food — or any other regularly enjoyed, good gift from God — for the sake of some spiritual purpose. It is markedly counter-cultural in our consumerist society.
We fast in this life because we believe in the life to come. We don’t have to get it all here and now, because we have a promise that we will have it all in the coming age. We fast from what we can see and taste, because we have tasted and seen the goodness of the invisible and infinite God — and are desperately hungry for more of him.
Fasting is for this world, for stretching our hearts to get fresh air beyond the pain and trouble around us. And it is for the battle against the sin and weakness inside us. We express our discontent with our sinful selves and our longing for more of Christ.
Fasting isn’t merely an act of self-deprivation, but a spiritual discipline for seeking more of God’s fullness. Which means we should have a plan for what positive pursuit to undertake in the time it normally takes to eat. We spend a good portion of our day with food in front of us. One significant part of fasting is the time it creates for prayer and meditation on God’s word or some act of love for others.
Fasting from food is not necessarily for everyone. Some health conditions keep even the most devout from the traditional course. However, fasting is not limited to abstaining from food. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose.”
If the better part of wisdom for you, in your health condition, is not to go without food, consider fasting from television, computer, social media, or some other regular enjoyment that would bend your heart toward greater enjoyment of Jesus
Christian fasting turns its attention to Jesus or some great cause of his in the world. Christian fasting seeks to take the pains of hunger and transpose them into the key of some eternal anthem, whether it’s fighting against some sin, or pleading for someone’s salvation, or for the cause of the unborn, or longing for a greater taste of Jesus.
Reasons We Don’t Fast
Despite biblical examples throughout Scripture, many Christians are slow to fast. I believe there are three main factors that cause believers to be hesitant — fear, ignorance, or rebellion.
Fear. They’re afraid. Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of feeling hunger pangs. Afraid of starting and not finishing. Afraid of fasting alone. The Enemy has them convinced they could never do it. Instead of looking to the Lord’s strength for help, they become consumed with their own weaknesses and paralyzed by fear.
Ignorance. Many Christians simply have not been taught about the importance of seeking God in this way. Churches often do not encourage fasting, and in many cases never even mention it from the pulpit. For example, I grew up in a Bible-believing church, but I don’t recall hearing a message on fasting until I was an adult.
Rebellion. A large segment of the Christian population is aware of the benefits of fasting, yet they’re unwilling to do it. Their hearts are hardened when it comes to the idea of fasting. When God invites them to draw near, they dig their heels into the ground and refuse to obey.
Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, was a firm believer in the power of prayer and fasting. In his guide Why You Should Fast, he listed the following reasons for seeking God through self-denial.
- Fasting was an expected discipline in both the Old and New Testament eras.
- Fasting and prayer can restore the loss of the “first love” for your Lord and result in a more intimate relationship with Christ.
- Fasting is a biblical way to truly humble yourself in the sight of God.
- Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life.
- Fasting will encourage the Holy Spirit to quicken the Word of God in your heart and His truth will become more meaningful to you.
- Fasting can transform your prayer life into a richer and more personal experience.
- Fasting can result in a dynamic personal revival in your own life and make you a channel of revival to others.
Many times we don’t fast because we’ve lost our spiritual appetite. John Piper says, “The absence of fasting is the measure of our contentment with the absence of Christ.” Piper adds, “If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”
It truly is the “path of pleasant pain,” as John Piper calls it. As you empty yourself physically and spiritually, you open the door for God to step in and do the miraculous. Your relationship with the Lord is taken to a whole new level. You also become more sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit, which enables you to hear God’s voice more clearly.
Chapters 20, 21, 22 Questions
- Pg 151 ( Thrasher ) “ Foster defines fasting as the “ voluntary denial of a normal function for an intense spiritual activity”…..and O. Hallesby says regarding fasting , “ to loosen to some degree the ties which bind us to the world or material surroundings as a whole in order that we may concentrate all our spiritual powers upon the unseen and eternal things “. If you have fasted , share your experiences…what type of fasting….how long …. How did this affect your prayers / the outcome ?
- Pg 154: (Thrasher ) Fill in the blanks ! “ The answer to the question of regular lies in the _________ __ _____ , which He is willing to ___________to each of His individual children. All fasting needs to be _________on the Lord, ________by Him , and ___________by Him .”
- Share thoughts . Have you ever been led to practice fasting by God ? Explain
- Pg 163-164: Discuss this section on Spiritual Benefits of Fasting . Share thoughts/ insights .
- Pg 167 ( Thrasher ) “ Lacking a God-focused purpose for fasting can be quite a self –centered experience . It should be done for the Lord ( Zech 7:5) and motivated by love for Him and others I ( I Cor 13:1-3) Discuss the four abuses of fasting that were discussed in Chap 22.( pages 165-166)
- Share what you have learned / gained new insight into fasting from the 3 chapters and the notes. Has this study on fasting encouraged you to implement fasting ? Have you asked the question “Lord, how do you desire me to make use of this discipline in my life ?” ( pg 155 ).