Christian fasting should be a regular part of the Christian life, and although it isn’t commanded by Scripture, Jesus clearly expects His followers to fast regularly. When Jesus taught on fasting in His Sermon on the Mount In Matthew 6:16, He didn’t say “if” you fast, but “when” you fast. And in Matthew 9:15, He doesn’t say His followers “might” fast; but “they will.” It’s something that He expects of us if we are in relation with Him and expect to go deeper in our intimacy with Him.
Biblical fasting should not be considered a method for dieting, but a method for growing into deeper communion with God and being more in tune with His Spirit. The primary Biblical reason to fast is to take our eyes off of the things of the flesh and to open our eyes to the things of God.
… In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.Ephesians 4:22-23
Fasting isn’t easy because our natural tendency isn’t to deny the flesh but to gratify it. So the immediate result of a fast might be temptation and discouragement, which is why during the fast, we must keep in mind that Scripture commands us to continuously die to self, and our rewards aren’t stored up in earthly treasures but treasures in heaven. We must live a life of putting off temporary fleshly satisfaction to store up eternal satisfaction.
Isaiah tells us that fasting loosens the chains of injustice, unties the cords of the yoke, sets the oppressed free, and breaks every yoke. He also tells us that when we turn away from our own flesh and blood, the Lord’s light will break like the dawn and His healing will quickly appear (Isaiah 58:6,8).
Fasting is more than cutting something out for a period of time; it’s a sacrificial lifestyle before God and telling Him “I belong to You, not to the things of this world.” Fasting isn’t simply a one-time act of humility, it’s a continuous sacrifice of servant living for God and for others.
What is the definition of Christian fasting? Christian fasting is the act of intentionally abstaining from food or a regularly enjoyed good gift from God to focus on a period of spiritual growth or deepening our relationship with God. In the act of fasting, we humbly deny the flesh to focus on and glorify God, become more in tune with His Spirit, and go deeper in our prayer life.
Fasting is for stretching ourselves to enrich our dependence on Jesus by being in a weak state before Him, for He says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Fasting is also a way to demonstrate to the Lord that we are serious about Him by fixing our eyes on Him alone.
I turned to the Master God, asking for an answer—praying earnestly, fasting from meals, wearing rough penitential burlap, and kneeling in the ashes. I poured out my heart, baring my soul to God, my God.Daniel 9:3 (MSG)
Anything that you give up for a period of time with the purpose of focusing more on God can be considered a fast. It should be limited to a set time, especially when the fasting is from food, since fasting from food for an extended period of time can be harmful to the body. Fasting isn’t intended to punish the flesh, but to deny it to better focus on God. It reveals to us our true spiritual condition.
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.”Joel 2:12-15
Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness and relenting of evil. Who knows whether He will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him, even a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?
Now that we’ve defined Christian fasting, let’s take a look at fasting examples we see throughout Scripture.
Biblical Examples of Fasting
Fasting is a tool that has been used by God’s people throughout Biblical history, and it is still a powerful way for Christians to deepen their relationship with God. We see fasting documented all throughout the Bible, and is frequently referenced as an act of worship that is accompanied by prayer and repentance.
Here are a few examples of fasting that we see in the Bible:
David’s Fast for the Healing of His Sick Child
In 2 Samuel 12:14-16, David pleaded with God for the healing of his sick child through fasting. Although God chose to not spare the child’s life, but the purpose of David’s fast remained because ultimately, it served its purpose in bringing David closer to God after being separated by sin. After receiving the news about his child’s death, David worshiped because his intention behind the fast was not to get what he wanted, but to be reconciled with God.
Fasting Before Making a Decision
All throughout the book of Acts, we see the apostles fasting to seek God’s will when making decisions as a congregation. They did this in Acts 14:23 when ordaining elders in the church, and in Acts 13:2-3 when the church sent Barnabas and Saul to do the Lord’s work as missionaries.
Jesus’ Fast for 40 Days and 40 Nights
Before Jesus started His public ministry, He fasted for 40 days and was tempted by the devil himself for all 40 days of the fast (Luke 4:1-13, Matthew 4:1-11). Matthew 4:1 tells us that He was lead by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, which indicates that the purpose of Him going into the wilderness was for the temptation to come. Jesus’ own example of fasting can be instrumental in preparing us to overcome future temptations and tribulations.
The Prophetess Anna
Luke 2:36-40 tells us of a prophetess named Anna who was old in age, and was married for 7 years and a widow for 84. The Bible records her never leaving the temple, and her vocation was worshiping God with fasting and prayer day and night.
Ezra and the Israelites Fast for a Safe Journey
In Ezra 8:21-23, Ezra proclaimed a fast at the river of Ahava for 220 temple servants that they might humble themselves before God and ask Him for wise guidance and a safe journey for them, the children, and all of their possessions. Ezra was embarrassed to ask the king for a bodyguard because he had just told him that God lovingly looks after those who seek Him and turns away in disgust from those who leave Him, so they fasted and prayed that God would take care of them and He listened.
Moses’ Fast Before Receiving the Commandments
Moses went up on the mountain and fasted food and water for 40 days and 40 nights before receiving the commandments of God written on stone tablets. After the 40 days and 40 nights, the Lord told Moses that the people whom he brought out of Egypt have become corrupt, turned away from what He commanded them, and made an idol for themselves. They transgressed the commandments the Lord had just given them, so Moses angrily breaks the tables of stone. He then ascends to the mountain once again and fasts for another 40 days and 40 nights before receiving the commandments once more.
The Daniel Fast
In Daniel 10:1-3, Daniel fasted for an answer to prayer and an understanding a vision, which was what would become of the people of God in the future. Verses 2 and 3 tell us that the fast was for 3 weeks, and he ate only plain and simple food with no meat or wine. He also didn’t bathe or shave until the three weeks were up. This along with Daniel’s other fast (Daniel 1:12, 15-16) are the basis for what many call a “Daniel Fast,” which is characterized by only eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with the only drink being water.
Nineveh Fasts in an Act of Repentance
When Jonah preached to the city of Nineveh, the whole city came together and fasted in an act of repentance. The king of Nineveh issued a public proclamation throughout Nineveh of a fast of no water and no food so that they would be brought to repentance from their evil lives and violent ways. They were to “cry mightily to God” (Jonah 3:8) so that God would change His mind about them and forgive them. After their fast, God saw what they had done and that they had turned from their evil ways, forgave them, and didn’t do to them what He said He was going to do.
Paul Fasts Often
In 2 Corinthians 11:27, Paul states that he fasted often in his list of ways that he had suffered for the gospel. Paul fasted often because he constantly felt the need for God’s help in his sufferings and many trials, and he used fasting as a tool to help strengthen him spiritually.
Nehemiah Fasted in Grief
In the book of Nehemiah, it records that Jerusalem’s walls had been broken down. The exile survivors who were left there in the province were in bad shape, and the conditions were appalling. Nehemiah responded with mourning, fasting, and prayer when he heard of this (1:1-4).
Fasting to Gain Victory
In the book of Judges, it records that forty thousand men died in battle within two days. In response to this, the Israelites cried out to God for help. Judges 20:26 says “All the People of Israel, the whole army, were back at Bethel, weeping, sitting there in the presence of God. That day they fasted until evening. They sacrificed Whole-Burnt-Offerings and Peace-Offerings before God.” They asked God if they should continue in battle or if they should call it quits, and He responded to them and said “Attack. Tomorrow I’ll give you victory.”
Fasting: Where to Begin
Now that we’ve seen Biblical examples of fasting, let’s go over where to begin.
Understand the Purpose Behind Fasting
John Piper writes in his book Hunger for God “Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God. Christian fasting is not only the spontaneous effect of superior satisfaction in God, it is also a chosen weapon against every force in the world that would take that satisfaction away.”
Jesus says in Matthew 6:16-18 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
It’s important to know your motivation behind fasting and to ask yourself what the purpose of the fast is. Fasting gives the Lord more room to work in our lives because we are actively emptying ourselves, thus opening more doors for us to see the Holy Spirit working in and through our lives.
Some Wrong Motivations for Fasting Include:
– To be seen by others.
– To be commended to God.
– To be justified by God.
– To be more holy or righteous.
– For a reward.
Some Right Motivations for Fasting Include:
– For God’s intervention.
– For humility.
– For repentance.
– To break demonic bondage.
– To deepen spiritual hunger for God.
– For clarity on a decision you have to make.
– To test and see what desires control us.
Just as Jesus fasted in the secret place, we are to do the same. He didn’t go around the city telling others that He was fasting, but He withdrew Himself and let His fasting be in secret. When we tell others of our fast, our reward is earthly, but when we withdraw and allow our fast to be in secret (only telling a close friend or two for accountability), our reward is eternal, and is from the Father.
Our fasting must be done with an attitude of humility. We should be fasting for union with God, and not seek any gain of our own.
Fasting helps express, deepens, confirms the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.Andrew Murray, Missionary to South Africa
How to Start Fasting
- Have a Purpose. It’s necessary to have a purpose behind your fast and plan ahead. Whether it’s fighting against sin, seeking wisdom on a decision, longing for more of Jesus, or something else, it’s important to have a reason for your fast and remind yourself of that reason during your fast.
- Start with Occasional Short Fasts. It’s important to start with occasional short fasts and take into consideration the practicalities of fasting. Some people are shocked when they first fast, and their blood sugar levels may drop. Start small and work your way up.
- Try Different Kinds of Fasting. If fasting food simply doesn’t work for you due to health conditions, fast another important thing in your life, such as social media. Examine your own heart and discern what would be the best thing to fast.
- Fast From Something Other than Food. Fasting isn’t simply abstinence from food, but abstinence from a regularly enjoyed gift from God.
- Plan What You’ll Do Instead. If you’re fasting from watching Netflix one night a week, plan what you’ll do during that time. Fasting opens up time to spend in prayer and meditation on God’s Word, so I suggest replacing the time you would spend doing the thing you’re fasting from and devoting that time to the Lord instead.
“Without a purpose and a plan, it’s not Christian fasting; it’s just going hungry.”Desiring God
Before the Fast
Evaluate why you’re fasting and what you want the Lord to do as a result of your fast. People in the Bible fasted and prayed because they wanted something specific to happen. They wanted God to change their circumstance, reveal something to them, or change them.
If your fast is for an extended period of time, it’s important to prepare mentally, practically, and physically since fasting is abstinence from a regular aspect of your life. If it’s food, cut down on food intake a week before the actual fast and take on a vegetarian diet to help control cravings for food. You should reduce heavily caffeinated drinks and drink more water as well.
During the Fast
Spend the time you would normally spend eating meals, on social media, or whatever it may be you’re fasting from with the Lord. Keep a journal of the things the Lord has been speaking to you and showing you, and set aside specific and significant time to worship, pray, and seek Him. Many people begin fasts by repenting of any sins that the Holy Spirit brings to mind, so it doesn’t bring hinderance to their communication with God. Don’t rush your fellowship with God. Take time to listen.
During your fast, remind yourself consistently of why you’re fasting, and keep your eyes and mind on the Lord rather than whatever it is you’re fasting from. Don’t give into temptation, and if you’re fasting food, remember to drink plenty of water or juices.
Romans 8:7-18 says
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Remind yourself that by fasting, you’re denying the flesh, which is pleasing to God! Fasting is temporary, but the treasures you store up in heaven are eternal.
Ending the Fast
Especially with food, ending extended fasts shouldn’t be done abruptly. End your fast by taking small portions of food or liquids. It’s important to pace yourself and slowly return to your normal diet within about a week. After the fast, read your journal entries about the things the Lord revealed to you, and continue to pray about it. Ending a fast is easy because it feels as if our reward is the thing we fasted from, but remember that earthly rewards are fleeting, and our satisfaction is in Christ alone. Your fast developed discipline, so even after your fast is over, keep putting that discipline into practice!
Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.Titus 1:8
Types of Fasts
- Regular Fast: Traditionally, a regular fast means refraining from eating all food. Most people still drink water or juice during their fast because after Jesus fasted, the Bible says He was hungry (Matthew 4:2). It has no mention of Him being thirsty.
- Partial Fast: The partial fast is described in the book of Daniel where he went three weeks without delicacies, only ate plain and simple food with no seasoning, and abstained from meat and wine.
- Full Fast: Full fasts include no food or drink. The Bible mentions in Acts 9:9 that after Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was blind for three days and didn’t eat or drink anything. We see another example of a full fast in Esther 4:15-16 where she says “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” A full fast should be done with extreme caution and not for an extended period of time.
- Sexual Fast: 1 Corinthians 7:3-6 says, “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
- Intermittent Fast: An intermittent fast is a regular act of abstinence, for example one day a week. You may abstain from food, coffee, media, etc.
- Corporate Fast: A corporate fast is done with a group of other people. This can take place in church, a friend group, a Bible study, with your spouse, etc.
- Soul Fast: A soul fast is fasting something in your life that can easily be a distraction or consume too much of your time. For example, if you find yourself on social media than you find yourself in the Word, it might be time to consider a fast. We want to be careful not to idolize anyone or anything other than the Lord.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.Colossians 3:5
You can read more on different types of fasts here: https://justdisciple.com/fasting-types/.
Remember that your fast isn’t about how long it is, but your heart’s posture and attitude toward God and your walk with Him. God desires for you to love and obey Him, and one of the greatest ways you can do this is by abstaining from something for a period of time to better fix your eyes on Him.
Jesus says in Matthew 10:38 “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Fasting is a prime example of taking up your cross and following Him, because it is a sacrificial act of dying to self.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…Titus 2:11-12
Fasting is difficult mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritual. John Piper calls it “the path of pleasant pain.” Not only may you experience physical side effects such as headaches, fatigue, hunger, and discomfort, but spiritually, the attacks of the enemy increase in frequency and intensity, which may result in frustration or discouragement. Fasting takes an exceptional amount of self discipline, but the reward is worth it. Don’t resist the sufferings that accompany fasting, but embrace it and rejoice in it!
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.Romans 5:3-5
Now that you know the definition of fasting, Biblical examples and reasons for it, and how to fast, put it into practice in your own walk with the Lord and watch Him do the miraculous! As you empty yourself physically and spiritually, you open the door for the Lord to step in and allow yourself to be more sensitive to the Spirit and be more in tune with His voice.