“Voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.” -Donald Whitney
“The voluntary denial of a normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.”
Types of fasting in the Bible
- Normal fast – abstaining from food but not liquids
- Partial fast – a limitation of the diet (Daniel 1:12, Matthew 3;4) or some activity (1 Cor. 7:5)
- Absolute fast – avoiding all food and liquids, even water (Ezra 10:6, Esther 4:16)
- Supernatural fast – a prolonged absolute fast which requires supernatural intervention for survival (Deuteronomy 9:9, 1 Kings 19:8)
Scope of fasting
- Private fast (Daniel)
- Congregational fast (Joel 2:15-16, Acts 13:2)
- National fast (2 Chronicles 20:3, Nehemiah 9:1)
- England in 1756 when threatened by France
- US: John Adams, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln 3X during Civil War
Schedule of fasting in Bible Times
- Regular fasting
- One scheduled, annual fast – on Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-31)
- Pharisees fasted every Monday and Thursday (Luke 18:12)
- Occasional fasting
- On special occasions when a need arose (Esther, Nehemiah)
Purposes of fasting in the Bible
- To strengthen prayer (Nehemiah 1:4)
- To seek God’s guidance (Judges 20:26)
- To express grief (1 Samuel 31:13)
- To seek deliverance or protection (2 Chronicles 20:3-4)
- To express repentance and returning to God (1 Samuel 7:6, Joel 2:12)
- To humble yourself before God (1 Kings 21:27, Psalm 35:13)
- To express concern for the work of God (Nehemiah 1:3-4, Daniel 9:3)
- To minister to the needs of others (Isaiah 58:6-7, Mark 9:29)
- To overcome temptation and dedicate yourself to God (Matthew 4:1-11)
- To express love and worship to God (Luke 2:37)
*To display self-righteousness and win the approval of others. (Luke 18:12)
*To gain selfish ends and get ahead of others. (Zechariah 7:5-6, Isaiah 58:3)
The power of fasting
- Through fasting, armies can be turned away and defeated (1 Samuel 7:6-13, 2 Chronicles 20)
- The decisions of rulers can be swayed and evil powers defeated (Esther)
- The power of demons can be broken and defeated (Matthew 4:1-11)
- The judgment of God can be turned back (1 Kings 21:27-29)
Fasting after the cross
- Jesus assumed fasting along with giving and prayer (Matthew 6:16-18)
- Jesus expected that his followers would fast while physically separated from him (Mark 2:20)
- Jesus created a new paradigm for religion: from transactional to relational, from law to liberty, from external forms to inner realities, from temporary gain to eternal glory.
- The first Christian churches practiced fasting
“Christians should fast not like the hypocrites on Monday and Thursday but instead on Wednesdays and Fridays.” -Didache (1st century)
“Who does not know that the fast of the fourth and sixth days of the week are observed by Christians throughout the world?” -Ephiphanius (4th century)
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” -Acts 13:2
Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. -Acts 14:23
Is fasting required for Christians?
- Fasting is not commanded in the NT.
- Fasting is assumed and practiced in the NT. (Not if, but when. Not might, but will.)
“It was not Christ’s intention to reject or despise fasting . . . it was his intention to restore proper fasting.” -Martin Luther
- Fasting has been widely taught and encouraged throughout church history for its tremendous spiritual benefits and power to bring change into the world.
Who is fasting for?
Fasting is for anyone who wants greater focus and power in prayer, greater clarity in discerning God’s will, protection and deliverance from evil, success for their plans, victory over sin and temptation, breakthroughs in the lives of others, the advancing of the kingdom of God, greater maturity and godliness or greater joy in experiencing God. Fasting is for Christians living in a culture of affluence and comfort.
How should we fast?
- Christians should fast with humility, freedom and purpose.
- Christians should fast with wisdom.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown