“I wonder whether we have ever fasted? I wonder whether it has ever occurred to us that we ought to be considering the question of fasting? The fact is, is it not, that this whole subject seems to have dropped right out of our lives and right out of our whole Christian thinking”. (D Martyn Lloyd-Jones)
People fasted throughout the whole bible from the Old Testament to the New. It carried on through church history and was practiced by many pioneers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards. Jesus expected that his followers would fast. “Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying ‘why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them ‘can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them and then they will fast’”. (Matthew 9:14-15)
…And after giving instructions on The Lord’s Prayer Jesus says “…when you fast…”, (Matthew 6:16). Notice he didn’t say “if”, but “when”. It was part of His instruction on prayer.
Examples from the Bible
You may have many questions about fasting, such as ‘how should I fast?’, ‘what should I fast from?’, ‘and for what purpose?’. These questions can be answered as we look through specific examples in the bible. I won’t look at all of them but here below are just a few.
Being in and enjoying God’s presence
Exodus 34:28. (However I would not recommend you go for 40 days without food or water, or you really will be in God’s presence!!!). Luke 2:37
During a personal crisis
1 Samuel 1:7. Hannah was desperate for a child and she prayed and fasted for years until God answered her prayer.
Fasting when you are mourning
1 Samuel 31:13
When praying for healing
2 Samuel 12:16. This is a sobering passage which demonstrates that fasting does not guarantee success. God is sovereign and He will not always change His judgements.
Fasting for protection
Ezra 8:21-23. Ezra and the people of Israel prayed and fasted before embarking on a dangerous journey.
Fasting when going into dangerous situations
Esther 4:16. Esther was about to take her life into her hands by approaching the king without being summoned, so she called for her people the Jews to fast and pray that she would gain his favour.
Fasting as part of repentance
Daniel 9:3. Daniel fasted and repented on behalf of the people. Many times in the Old Testament the Israelites returned to God in repentance and fasting demonstrated the seriousness of their repentance eg. Joel 1:14. God even has compassion on a godless city like Nineveh as they all turned to God in repentance and fasting. (Jonah 3:7).
Direction for ministry (guidance)
Acts 13:1-3. While the church were worshipping and fasting the Holy Spirit led them to send out Paul and Barnabas.
Fasting helps us take control over our bodies (the flesh)
1 Corinthians 9:27. When we fast we are saying to our bodies that we will not be mastered by the flesh and it’s desires.
Different types of fasting
As we have seen, there are many different reasons for fasting. In the same way there are many different ways to fast:
· A total fast where you drink only water.
· A liquid fast where you limit yourself to drinking a variety of liquids and soups but abstain from solid food.
· A fast from rich food such as the fast carried out by Daniel and his friends in Daniel chapter 1, eating only vegetables.
· A fast from watching the television. This fast of course is not mentioned in the bible, but can be considered a fast as long as the time saved by abstaining from watching the TV is given over to prayer and seeking God.
You can be creative by fasting from other things personal to you that take up your time and attention.
Fasting can also be for different lengths of time:
· 1 Day (Leviticus 23:27);
· 10 days (Daniel 1:12);
· 21 days (Daniel 10:2);
· 40 days (Matthew 4:2).
If you have never fasted before I would suggest fasting for just one meal to begin with, and building up from there. However it is very important that you consult your doctor before undertaking any kind of fast if you have any medical conditions.
Some practical guidelines for fasting
· Always drink plenty of water when fasting.
· Be aware that during the first few days of a fast your body will start to detoxify and you will suffer with bad breath. Use mouthwash!
· Take time to get alone with God as often as possible without any distractions. Read your bible. Have a pen and notebook to hand to record whatever God may say to you.
· When you break your fast, don’t eat a great big meal all at once but rather gradually build up your food intake slowly.
· Remember you are under grace. If you slip up, repent, receive forgiveness and carry on. Whatever fast you decide on is between you and God-He is not demanding!
To fast means to put God first. Fasting is an attitude of our hearts as we interrupt our normal life in order to pray and seek God for His will in our lives, to effectively move obstacles and burdens that we may encounter, and to simply tell God that He is the most important one in our lives. It is a discipline that quickly turns into a delight as God rewards our devotion with His presence.
“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.” (John Piper “A hunger for God”)