What is fasting?

Fasting is the practice of physically putting aside food, maybe even food and drink for a time, as a physical expression of a spiritual reality. It’s basically saying, “More than our bodies are dependent on food, our souls and lives are dependent on God.” When we fast, we set aside a meal when we don’t eat— breakfast, lunch or dinner. Maybe we set aside a day not to eat, or maybe longer than that—a few days, a week or more. When we do this, what we’re saying is, “There’s something more important in my life than physical nourishment. More than I need food, I need God.” Fasting is a physical reminder of that spiritual reality. I know this is a foreign concept among many, so I want to give you a quick overview of why we do it.

Why fast?

First, why not? In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus teaches us a few of the reasons not to fast. He says, “And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face 18 so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” Jesus teaches us that our fasting should not motivated by the praise of others. It should be motivated by a heart for God. That's what fasting means: a heart-hunger for God and his kingdom.

The Bible gives us many reasons to fast. Here are a few:

1. We fast to express our delight in God’s goodness. Think of Psalm 63:1: “God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you.” My soul thirsts for You more than water and is satisfied in You. My soul is satisfied in You as with the richest of foods. If You give me an incredibly rich meal, my soul is more satisfied in You than in this. What we’re saying in fasting is that we delight in God’s goodness. More than we enjoy food, we enjoy God. 

Fasting is a physical statement that says, “More than I want lunch right now, I want God.” We put aside lunch for a day, then instead of eating a sandwich, we pray and read the Word. In so doing, we’re saying, “More than I want a sandwich, I just want You.” That’s what I love about Zechariah 8:19: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts.” Fasting is feasting. It’s not like starving—it’s like feasting on God instead of food. It’s better. We express our delight in God’s goodness and we confess our need for God’s grace.          

2. Often in the Old Testament, in places like Joel 1 and 2, we see fasting associated with times of confession and repentance for sin. Fasting is saying that more than we need a meal, we need God’s mercy to cover over our sin. We fast when we are confronted with our sin. If we’re struggling with a particular besetting sin, our impulse should be to fast, to set aside food for a time, saying, “God, help me in this battle with this sin. I need Your mercy more than I need a meal.”                                                                                                                    

3. We fast to seek and submit to God’s will. Often people in Scripture fasted when a decision needed to be made, when they were seeking to know what God desired them to do. We think of Ezra 8, Nehemiah 1 and Daniel 9. They either needed to know God’s will, or they knew God’s will but they needed help following it. What we’re saying when we fast is that more than we want our hunger to cease, we want God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done in our lives.                                                                                                                  

4. Finally, we fast to anticipate the return of God’s Son. Turn to Matthew 9:14. This is Jesus’ teaching on fasting: “Then the disciples of John came to [Jesus], saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’” The disciples weren’t fasting. “And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.’”                                                                                                                                                    

Jesus was saying that when the bride and bridegroom are together—a picture of Him and His disciples—you don’t fast then. You celebrate. Then when they’re apart, that’s when you fast. Fasting is an expression of an aching, a longing, a hunger inside of you because Christ is not here. He’s coming back, but He’s not here right now, so we long for His return. Fasting is a physical expression that says more than our stomachs long to be full, our souls long to see Christ.                                                                                                    

We are tired of sin and suffering in this world. We’re tired of the injustices around us. We’re tired of pain and cancer and diseases and tumors and death. We long for Jesus to come back and bring an end to that and fasting is an expression of that longing. So if we’re not fasting, then what are we saying? We’re content with being apart from Christ. Not fasting is an expression of a lack of desire for Jesus to return. More than our stomachs long to be full, our souls long to see Christ.

Who fasts?

All followers of Jesus should fast and pray often.

In Matthew 6:16–18, the gripping thing from this text are the words in verse 16, "And whenever you fast . . . " Notice that it does not say, "If you fast," but, "when you fast." From this, we can conclude that Jesus assumed that fasting was a good thing and that it would be done by his disciples. Jesus does not teach on whether we should fast or not. He is assuming we will fast and teaching us how to do it and especially how not to do it.

Maybe you’ve never fasted at all. We as pastors have not talked about this as we should. In Scripture, fasting is a basic as praying. When you look at the beginning of Matthew 6, “When you give, give like this... When you pray, pray like this... When you fast, fast like this...” We don’t ask, “Should we give?” We know we should give. “Should we pray?” We know we should pray. “Should we fast?” Jesus says it’s just as basic as prayer and giving. 

How do we fast?

Here is an acronym to help guide us as we fast:

Focus on God. 

Abstain from food. 

Substitute the time with prayer and study. 

Taste and see that God is good.

Here are the different types of fasts found in the bible:

1. Esther Fast – 3 Days (Esther 4:16) 

  • The purpose of the 3-day Esther fast is to seek God’s favor in the time of crisis.  

2. Daniel Fast – 21 Days (Daniel 10:2-3) 

  • Daniel fast is a fast of only vegetables, fruit, and water. It includes no bread of any type, no pasta, and no meat.  Purpose of this fast:  Daniel 10:10-11, 14 
  • God had a vision for Daniel’s life. Also, God has a vision for your life. Daniel’s fast gave him an understanding of his vision. Another word for understanding would be focus or clarity. So the purpose of this fast is for understanding, focus, or clarity of God’s vision or purpose He has for you.

3. Self-Examination Fast – 1 Day (Leviticus 23:27)

  • Jeremiah 36:6 talks about “upon a fasting day”. In other words, God is saying, “I want you to set aside a certain time that you fast and seek Me, and here’s the purpose for it---for self-examination and consecration.” 
  • Purpose of this fast: “God, I’m doing a checkup on me spiritually. How am I doing? Do I love You like I loved You when I first met You? Have I drawn closer to You this year, or have I lost my passion? Is my worship at the level You desire? Lord I am bringing myself to You because I really do want to be more like You, and I need a self-examination. I’m seeing some things in my life that are not like You, and I want You to help me deal with them on this fast.

4. Fast before a Battle – however long it takes (Judges 20)

  • This is a powerful chapter on fasting. God had told the children of Israel to fight the tribe of Benjamin, because the tribe of Benjamin had become perverted and God was ready to judge them. He said, “I want you to go fight against them.” They prayed and sought the Lord, and then asked Him, “Should we go now?” And God said yes. He told them to send Judah up to the battle first. They sent Judah and his men to battle, and they lost the battle, losing 22,000 men. Think about what had happened; they did just what God told them to do, and it was a failure and a disaster. They went back home and cried and sought God as earnestly as they knew how to do. Then again asked, “Should we go out today and fight against our enemy again?” Again, God said, “Yes, absolutely go.” They went out to the battle and lost 18,000 more men. In two days, 40,000 Israeli soldiers were dead. The amazing thing is that God had told them to do it, and yet they were suffering defeat. But then we come to verse 26, which says: “Then all the children of Israel, that is, all the people, went up and came to the house of God and wept. They sat there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord.” If you read the rest of the story, that time they went out and completely killed off the enemy. 
  • Purpose of this fast: You should never go into a major battle without fasting first. Don’t expect to walk into expansion and do great things for God, or to start a new initiative or plan that launches you out or expands your business, without putting a day of fasting behind that effort. Something happens when we fast and pray that will not happen if you don’t fast.

5. Fasting to lift God’s Judgment from another’s life – however long (1 Kings 21:27-29)

  • This is the story of Ahab, a king who was extremely wicked. A prophet prophesied over him that the dogs would like up his blood because he had sinned against God. Do you know someone who knows right from wrong, and yet that person is living a wicked life? There is a supernatural power in fasting and prayer that is not confined just to your life. Ahab was so wicked that the prophet told him the dogs would lick up his blood, and hearing that so moved him that he humbled himself and began to fast. God said that because this wicked man had humbled himself in fasting, God would lift the judgment.
  • Purpose of this fast: I believe you can fast and pray and by so doing lift judgment off another’s life and give them more time for God’s mercy to do a work in that person’s life. If you know someone for whom you desire to see God’s judgment lifted, pray this over them:

 I claim this soul for You. I pray that even as I fast, You will lift judgment off _________________’s life and extend mercy. Bring that person to his or her sense, I pray. Break the yoke of sin that binds. Loose the bands of wickedness. Break up and mess up ungodly associations in that person’s life. Draw this person to Yourself God. Drive him or her to their knees. 
In Jesus name, amen.

6. Fast for Healing – however long (Isaiah 58:6-9)

  • This portion of scripture says that your health will spring forth speedily. Fasting can usher in God’s healing; your cholesterol levels can come down, your blood pressure can normalize, and you will feel the healing power of God come upon you. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If we would just get out of the way and let Him be God, we will see His super natural power at work. But we must decrease, and He must increase.
  • Purpose of this fast: Healing over yourself, another, or over your town, campus, or city.

7. Dominion Fast – 40 days (Matthew 4)

  • Why did Jesus fast for 40 days and 40 nights? He did it for dominion and authority. Adam lost dominion when he ate the fruit that God told him not to eat. Esau lost his birthright by eating. In the wilderness, the children of Israel lost the Promised land by eating quail when God had given them his supernatural provision of manna. Is that meat you feel like eating rather than fasting worth the risk of you missing the promise of God? Fasting makes you tough in the spirit. Fasting makes the inner man rise up and say, “Devil, who do you think you are to mess with my family, or put fear in my mind, or inflict my body. Greater is He that is in me.”
  • Purpose of this fast: By fasting 40 days and 40 nights, Jesus got back dominion. He returned in the power of the Spirit after He fasted.

More scriptures to look at before fasting: Matthew 4:4; Isaiah 58; John 4:32,34; Job 23:12

Fasting is not something that some people are called to do, you see all people throughout the bible fasting. The book of Acts records believers fasting before they made important decisions (Acts 13:2; 14:23). Fasting and prayer are often linked together (Luke 2:37; 5:33).