What is Fasting?
Fasting is the act of going without food for a certain amount of time. Fasting, in itself, is not distinctly a Christian or a spiritual act. Many religions include fasting as a regular practice, and some people fast for physical purposes. So when it comes to Christian fasting, it is important to point out the distinctions and explain how it’s different than other forms of fasting.
Why We Fast?
We are expected to fast.
When Jesus gives instructions on fasting in Matthew 6:16 He says “when you fast…”; not if, but when. Though Christians are not explicitly commanded to fast, we are implicitly expected to. Fasting is not a moral obligation (like following the 10 Commandments), but rather an expectation of those who long for God.
When asked why Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast during His earthly ministry He answered “the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast…” (see Matthew 9:14-17). As New Testament believers, we fast as an expression of our longing and hunger for Christ to return.
We fast to deprive our flesh, and feed our spirit.
Jesus was fasting and praying for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness before the devil came to tempt Him. The first thing he tempted Jesus with was to end His fast by turning stones into bread (Matthew 4:3). Jesus’ response was that “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Fasting is a great reminder that our true need is spiritual, not physical. When our flesh says “feed me” we can redirect that hunger towards feeding our spirit with prayer and the Word of God.
We fast as an act of worship.
Luke 2 tells us about a widow who “worshiped day and night”, and then it tells us that her worship consisted of “fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37).
Galatians 5:16 tells us to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”. Our flesh is at at war against God’s will for our lives (Romans 8:7); fasting is an act of worship that reminds our flesh who our true Lord really is.
We fast to build our faith.
Matthew 17:14-21 gives an account of a man whose son suffered from seizures, but Jesus’ disciples couldn’t heal the boy. After He healed the boy…
“…the disciples approached Jesus privately and said, ‘why couldn’t we drive it out?’
‘Because of your little faith,‘ He told them. ‘For I assure you: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.“
Jesus said the reason they weren’t able to heal the boy was because of their little faith, and then He prescribes them to prayer and fasting. Our flesh hinder our faith. Fasting is a great way to build our faith by denying our flesh.
We fast to seek the Lord and get direction.
Throughout the bible there are examples of men and women seeking specific direction from God by prayer and fasting (Daniel 9:3, Ezra 8:23, Acts 13:2). “Why is that?” you may ask.
There are many “voices” pulling us in several directions at any given time. The world, the flesh and the devil are the three-fold enemy we need to be mindful of; and one of their primary means of attack is to keep us distracted from the will of God.
When you fast, you will hear your flesh screaming out to you “feed me”. You’ll also be more keenly aware of the Holy Spirit reminding you that “man shall not live on bread alone”. Fasting is a great way to distinguish between the voice of God and the voices that would try to distract you from His will. If you’re seeking specific direction from the Lord and want to hear His voice, pray and fast.
How We Fast?
We fast in secret.
Though corporate fasting is biblical and appropriate, it is ultimately a personal act of worship and spiritual growth between you and God. Fasting is not meant to be a public spectacle to impress others. Jesus says that those who fast in order to impress others are hypocrites and “they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:16-18).
We fast from food.
Biblical fasting always assumed abstaining from food. Though abstaining from television or social media may be good for our spiritual growth, it’s not technically fasting. Fasting doesn’t necessarily assume abstaining from any and all food, though. Daniel, for example, fasted from meat and only ate vegetables (see Daniel 1:12 and Daniel 10:2-3). Some people fast one or two meals in a day. Others fast from solid food and only drink juice or smoothies. We can exercise freedom in choosing what and how we will fast.
We fast for a period of time.
There is no prescribed duration for fasting in the bible. Whether you fast one meal, or one day, or 40 days, it should be a decision you make personally between you and God. However, it is helpful to predetermine and commit before the Lord what you will fast, and for how long. Fasting is difficult, and if you plan on “playing it by ear” you are more likely to cave in to your flesh by compromising or prematurely ending your fast.
We pray when we fast.
You can pray without fasting, but you cannot fast without prayer. Biblical fasting was always accompanied by prayer. And it makes sense because fasting for the Christian is not simply a physical act, but a spiritual one. Take the time that you would have otherwise spent eating and dedicate it to prayer and bible reading. It is helpful to determine beforehand what you will pray for, so your efforts are guided by a specific thought.
In conclusion, fasting for the Christian is the act of denying our flesh and feeding our spirit by going without food for a period of time, and using that time to pray and seek God. Fasting is an act of worship that expresses our longing for Christ’s return, grows us spiritually, builds our faith and gives us direction. As Christians we are free to choose when, what, and how long we are to fast, but it is wise to predetermine before we start.
We trust and pray that this was helpful in giving you understanding of what, why and how to fast.
Fasting has physical implications that may hinder some people from participating, or limit the manner in which they can participate. This is especially true for those who have specific dietary restrictions or regimens they follow for health reasons. You should seek advice from your physician before fasting, or for choosing what type or how long of a fast you can participate in.