What is a fast? It’s abstaining from food for a limited period of time to seek God. It’s a denial of self for the purposes of intense spiritual activity.
A fast is not eating fast food.
4 Types of Biblical Fasts
The Normal Fast: Fasting from all food like Jesus did for 40 days and forty nights. (Matthew 4:2)
The Partial Fast: This is when you eat or abstain from eating certain things like when Daniel refused to eat the king’s food, but only vegetables. (Daniel 1:12) (Some people may want to fast from going on the computer or anything else that may hinder time with God.)
The Absolute Fast: This is when you eat and drink nothing like Ezra did when he mourned over the unfaithfulness of his people. (Ezra 10:6)
The Supernatural Fast: When Moses went to get the two stone tablets, he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights and ate no bread and drank no water.” (Deuteronomy 9:9)
Biblical fasts could be 1 day, 3 days, 7,14, 21 days, or 40 days. (Judges 20:26; Acts 9:9; 1 Samuel 31:13; Acts 27:33, Daniel 10:3-13, Matthew 4:1-11)
There is a question when it comes to this type of spiritual discipline: Why do they call it a fast when it goes so slow?
Unlike helping the needy and praying, which Christians are expected to do, fasting is an entirely optional spiritual discipline.
It was only commanded for the Jews to observe in the Old Testament on the Day of Atonement once a year.
When Jesus made his once-for-all sacrifice on the cross, we were no longer commanded to fast because we no longer needed to observe that holy day.
Still, Jesus said, “When you fast….” (Matthew 6:16) so it is a normal and acceptable part of a Christian’s spiritual lifestyle. Fasting is mentioned 30 times in the New Testament, almost all the references are favorable.
J. C. Ryle wrote: “Fasting, or occasional abstinence from food in order to bring the body into subjection to the spirit, is a practice frequently mentioned in the Bible, generally in connection with prayer. It seems to be left to everyone’s discretion, whether he will fast or not.”
The Puritans called it “soul-fattening fasting.”
When we fast, ideally, we shouldn’t tell anyone that we are doing it. But it is quite the temptation.
Several years ago at my former church, we fasted once a week for a year. I hated it. But, we were doing it so that we could get wisdom about a special project.
Fasting is not a hunger strike, nor a manipulative device nor a form of dieting. Fasting should be about God, one that is set apart for him to honor and glorify him, designed to accomplish his will.
Should we fast today? What spiritual benefits can we get from this ancient discipline? Let me give you 5 quick reasons to fast.
5 Reasons to Fast for God
#1: Fast as an act of devotion
Do you want a closer walk with God? Humbling yourself before him with fasting is a sure-fire way to get closer.
Someone said, “Pride and a too-full stomach are old bedfellows.”
This is a way to practice self-denial by not being distracted by food for a little while.
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
Fasting runs counter to the American mindset of “I want it and I want it now.” My pastor used to say, “It’s an opportunity to tell your stomach that you’re taking a day off.”
Andrew Murray (1828–1917) writes, “Fasting helps to express, to deepen, and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, to sacrifice ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”
Fasting helps to focus our prayers by not being distracted by food.
#2: Fast during times of testing, trials or sorrow
King David did this when his baby was struck ill by God because of his sin with Bathsheba.
2 Samuel 12:16: David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground.
#3: Fast when facing great danger or trouble
In 2 Chronicles 20 the Israelites were surrounded by three huge armies and they knew not what to do.
2 Chronicles 20:3-4—Alarmed, [King] Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.
V. 13: All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD.
How did God answer the people when they prayed and fasted?
2 Chronicles 15,17—This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you….Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.
What was the result? The people met their enemies with songs of praise and God caused those vast armies to turn against themselves and “they helped to destroy one another.” (V.23)
#4: Fast as an act of repentance
After Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh that they would be destroyed if they didn’t repent, this is what they did.
Jonah 3:5,7: The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink.
God ended up sparing Nineveh.
Perhaps there’s a sin you can’t overcome. Try fasting.
#5: Fast as an act of humility before God.
Fasting can be a prescription against our prideful hearts. It disciplines the body and humbles the soul.
James 4:10—Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
John Wesley said fasting will “remove the food of lust and sensuality, to withdraw the incentives of foolish and hurtful desires, of vile and vain affections.”
In the Bible, people have also fasted for guidance, or when receiving or proclaiming a special revelation from God, or at the beginning of an important task or ministry.
Fasting doesn’t so much as change God’s hearing as it changes the way we pray.
If you have been brought low by some personal defeat; if you feel the call to go deeper with God, or perhaps there’s a new challenge in life you are facing and don’t know what to do, then ask God if this is a time for you to go on a fast.
Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758): “Under special difficulties or [if you have a need for] any particular mercy…set apart a day for secret prayer and fasting by yourself alone; and let the day be spent, not only in petitions for the mercies you desire, but in searching your heart, and in looking over your past life, and confessing your sins before God,”
When you fast you are giving heaven notice that that you are serious about whatever you are fasting for.
Is there a situation in your life where you need God to move…and now? You’ve waited and waited and prayed and prayed, but nothing. Have you considered fasting?
Matthew Henry: “Fasting and prayer are proper means for the bringing down of Satan’s power against us, and the fetching in of divine power to our assistance.”
It’s time for us to to take this old spiritual discipline out of the mothballs and put it into practice.
Just remember, when you do it, brush your hair and teeth, wash your face, smile, and most of all, don’t tell anybody.