In many Christian churches today, fasting has become a lost discipline, rarely discussed or practiced.
Despite its current decrease in popularity, there are a host of reasons and benefits to prayer coupled with fasting. Let’s begin with a simple definition of what fasting is, and another of what fasting is not.
WHAT FASTING IS: Fasting is defined as voluntarily going without food and/or drink for a period of time in order to focus on deeper prayer and fellowship with God.
You can look at fasting as an exchange of physical needs for spiritual needs.
There are different ways to fast which we will cover later.
WHAT FASTING IS NOT: Fasting is not a special tool or method in which we manipulate God to respond like a genie in a bottle and grant our every wish.
Fasting is not just denying yourself food. As stated above, it’s an exchange of physical needs for spiritual ones. Fasting is not a diet.
What the Bible says: Scripture does not command Christians to fast. However the Bible mentions fasting numerous times as something that is good, beneficial and rewarding. I think it’s worth noting that although Jesus didn’t speak too much on fasting during His ministry, the one time that He gave specific instructions on fasting, in Matthew 6:5-18, He started by saying: “when you fast,” not “if you fast.”
The practice of fasting is mentioned in the Bible in response to various circumstances. Fasting was for repentance, as when the King of Nineveh ordered a fast after the preaching of Jonah (Jonah 3:5-9). Prayer and fasting was often done in times of distress or trouble. David fasted when he learned that Saul and Jonathan had been killed (2 Samuel 1:12). We also find people fasting when God’s deliverance was needed, as when Jehoshaphat was approached by a large invading army (2 Chronicles 20:3).
Fasting is mentioned in the New Testament when Anna, the prophetess, is described as serving God day and night with fasting and prayers (Luke 2:37). John the Baptist taught his disciples to fast (Mark 2:18). Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted when they ordained elders in the Church (Acts 14:23). And Jesus Christ fasted 40 days and nights before facing Satan in an epic battle of spiritual will (Matthew 4:2).
THE BENEFITS OF FASTING
Fasting helps us draw closer to God. We acknowledge through fasting that we need God to live more than food. It should help us break away from the desire to satisfy our own lusts and materialism, thereby desiring God in a new, fresh way. Fasting can help us understand what the Psalmist meant when he wrote, “Like the deer that pants after water, my soul longs for You.” (Psalm 42:1)
Fasting fosters self-discipline in an undisciplined age. Have you noticed the age in which we live seems to despise discipline? We live in a very materialistic society where we are used to getting what we want rather quickly. It seems whether you live in an affluent country or poor one, the world today is becoming more and more interested in what their neighbor has. Even as far back as the 10 Commandments given to Moses, God talked about materialism and being satisfied with what you have.
Fasting provides a way to impose self-discipline in your life. Physical self-discipline “rubs off” into spiritual self-discipline.
Fasting provides guidance. “Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” (Acts 14:23)
The Israelites sought the Lord through fasting when they had been defeated in battle by the tribe of Benjamin in Judges 20:26-28.
Fasting shows humility and dependence upon God. King David was known as a man after God’s own heart. David shows us in Psalm 35:13 an example of humbling oneself before God.“Yet when they were ill, I grieved for them. I denied myself by fasting for them, but my prayers returned unanswered.”
“And there by the Ahava Canal, I gave orders for all of us to fast and humble ourselves before our God. We prayed that he would give us a safe journey and protect us, our children, and our goods as we traveled.” (Ezra 8:21)
Fasting Empowers. I look at prayer combined with fasting as the TNT of a Christian’s weaponry arsenal.
The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 6:10-18, tells us that WE ARE AT WAR, not with flesh-and-blood enemies, but evil spiritual forces. He then describes heavenly spiritual armor that God provides for believers. A powerful part of our arsenal includes prayer, as well as prayer coupled with fasting.
When Jesus faced the temptation of Satan, he fasted (Luke 4:1-11).
In Mark 9:29, we read that the disciples needed a power from God that comes only through fasting. Matthew 17:20 and 21 say that prayer with fasting can work spiritual miracles.
THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FASTING
Usually, fasting is going without food for a certain amount of time. However, there are other types of fasts, some which don’t involve food.
The Partial Fast: A partial fast is abstaining from certain foods and/or drinks for a time. The prophet Daniel spent three weeks fasting from certain foods. “All that time I had eaten no rich food. No meat or wine crossed my lips, and I used no fragrant lotions until those three weeks had passed.” Daniel 10:3
Types of partial fasts: Abstaining from solid food only, but drinking fruit juices, smoothies and broths for a period of time. Abstaining from certain foods or drinks such as alcohol, caffeinated drinks, refined sugars, meat etc.
Non-Food Fasts: The Bible mentions a sexual fast, but not by that name.
In Exodus 19:15, the people of Israel were to prepare for their encounter with the Lord at Mt. Sinai, and part of their preparation was to abstain from sexual relations for three days. And in 1Corinthians 7:5, the apostle Paul says a married couple may abstain from sexual relations for a time in order to devote themselves in prayer. He does warn however, they are to, “come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
Another type of non-food fast is to abstain from a particular activity such as watching TV or going out to eat for a certain period of time.
BEFORE YOU FAST
Fasting is a sacrifice whether total, partial, or non-food, and some preparation is in order. There are a few things to consider such as withdrawals that may occur from abstaining from caffeine, sugars etc. I will gradually wean myself from caffeine several days before starting a fast where I will be abstaining from it.
I’m also mindful of special events or parties that may take extra planning.
I like to think of fasting like this: Physical food never fully satisfies; in a few hours, you’ll need to eat again. But when you are ‘fed’ from doing the work of the Lord, you will find a new satisfaction like you’ve never experienced.
I’ll admit, fasting started out difficult for me, but the more often I have practiced it, the more benefits I have found which has encouraged me to continue to incorporated it into my life on a regular basis.
What has been your experience with prayer and fasting? Share in the comments below.
*If you are diabetic or are under a doctor’s care, it’s best to check with your doctor before starting a fast. If you have struggled with anorexia or bulimia, a non-food fast may be the best option.