Why do we fast? Fasting is a biblical way to grow closer to God so that we can hear him more clearly. It opens our hearts up for him to renew us and prepare us for His blessing in our lives. Biblical fasting involves giving up something we need, or eliminating things that distract us from God, AND replacing that time, focus, and energy with God. We fast to draw close to God, hear him more clearly, and depend on His strength and power rather than our own.
How do I fast? Fasting may include a fast from food for a limited period of time or denying yourself something you rely on, so you must instead rely on God’s power. Some may fast a single meal daily, a few hours, a whole day periodically, or other. We may fast from things that we spend a lot of time on that distract us from God (e.g., social media, television, gaming) or eliminate beer or wine, shopping, or other activities or ways we sometimes use to relax or fill up. The purpose is to deny yourself something each day that will cause you to draw closer to God and replace that time with prayer and seeking Him. The timing of your fast is less important than the strength of your focus on Him. Your personal fast should present a level of challenge, but it is important to know your body and your options. Seek God in prayer about what He would like you to fast, and follow what the Holy Spirit leads you to do.
Spiritual Guide with Supporting Scriptures
Make sure that fasting is directed by God, by praying in advance about your fast and seeking His guidance.
Fasting helps us subject our bodies to subordination. “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27).
Fast for the Lord. “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?” (Zechariah 7:5).
Fasting brings us direction. 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.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13: 2-3).
We fast for the needs of others. Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib, where he spent the night, neither eating bread nor drinking water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles. (Ezra 10:6).
Understand the correct meaning and purpose of fasting. “Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ (Isaiah 58:3-9a).
Fasting leads us to repentance. Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar. Go in, pass the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God! Because grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God. Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. (Joel 1:13-14).
Our fast should be joyous. Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace. (Zechariah 8:19).
Fasting accompanies our supplication, the requests we ask our Father in prayer. David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. (2 Samuel 12:16).
God hears those who fast and pray. As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. (Nehemiah 1:4-7).
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38).
Fasting should be carried out with the right purpose, seeking God’s glory and will, not man’s glory or desire. An example of mis-guided use of fasting from Acts: When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. (Acts 23:12-13).
Fasting brings connection with God, who hears and answers our prayers. And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.’ (Acts 10:30-31).
Biblical Fasting: Is Fasting Necessary Today?
Biblical fasting is a spiritual discipline that was fostered by Jesus himself while on earth. When asked why the Pharisees and disciples of John the Baptist fasted, while Jesus’ disciples did not fast, Jesus responded: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. Matthew 9:15).
Jesus was indicating that fasting would become a necessity when the bridegroom (Jesus) is taken away. While Jesus, who was God manifested in human form, was on earth, His followers enjoyed intimate communion and friendship with Him. Jesus empowered them to preach, heal the sick, and more. Similarly, when Jesus sent them to minister to the people, he instructed them to carry few provisions.
And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. (Luke 22: 35-36). Jesus was teaching that after His departure all the dynamics would change and His disciples would need another kind of preparation and provision. Fasting is a vital part of this new preparation. The new covenant is based on the truth that we have received everything in Christ: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, (Ephesians 1:3).
The types of fasting described on these next pages are not meant to be a rigorous pattern to follow; they provide examples of how God operates through fasting.
Fasting in Times of Crisis
In the Old Testament, we find the story of Esther, who learned that Haman, the region’s prime minister, had planned to destroy the Jewish race of Babylon. Haman had planned to kill Esther’s uncle, Mordecai (a Jew), hanging him publicly. Esther would intercede with the king, which could have led to her execution. To prepare, Esther told her uncle Mordecai: “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him. (Esther 4:16-17). God moved powerfully. See Esther chapters 6 and 7.
Paul, as Saul, fasted after he was blinded on the road to Damascus. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Acts 9:8-9.
Fasting for Revelation
The second fast described in the Word, in the book of Daniel, is the partial fast of twenty-one days, so that God will reveal the future. Daniel’s twenty-one-day fast was partial and was specifically directed to receive a vision. God wants to remove the curtain that prevents us from seeing the future to come.
The prophet Daniel writes, “I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.” (Daniel 10:3).
The purpose is very clear when Gabriel appears to Daniel, saying that he: “came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.” (Daniel 10:14).
Fasting reveals the vision of God. While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God…He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision. (Daniel 9:20, 22-23).
Fasting for Freedom from Bondage
The Book of Judges contains a dramatic story of when Israel is faced in battle against the tribe of Benjamin as they had fallen into sin. God summoned his people to fight against this particular tribe. In two of the battles, Israel lost about 40,000 men (Judges 20: 18-25). However, they had neglected a part of their prayers during the first battles.
They had not fasted. The Word confirms what happened next: Then all the people of Israel, the whole army, went up and came to Bethel and wept. They sat there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. (Judges 20:26). In the first two attempts, the Israelites tried to win the battle themselves and lost. Afterwards they fasted, and God won the battle for them! (Judges 20:35).
Fasting frees Daniel from the lions’ den. Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him. Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” (Daniel 6:18-22).
The power of prayer and fasting in releasing of evil spirits: “But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting .” (Matthew 17:21).
Fasting in Repentance, Freedom from Judgment
In the Old Testament, there are many accounts where God judged those who rejected His laws and lived in sin. There also are examples in the Scriptures where sinners were forgiven because they repented and followed God’s commandments. King Ahab, Jezebel’s husband is a perfect example. Through Elijah, God told Ahab how furious he was against him. And when Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly. And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house.” (1 Kings 21: 27-29). After Ahab fasted and repented, God lifted His judgment on Ahab’s life.
Fasting for Health
Many individual and nutritionists use fasting to get rid of toxins in the body. In the Bible we read of an Amalekite who fasted for three consecutive days and was healed: They found an Egyptian in the open country and brought him to David. And they gave him bread and he ate. They gave him water to drink, and they gave him a piece of a cake of figs and two clusters of raisins. And when he had eaten, his spirit revived, for he had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights (1 Samuel 30:11-12). Fasting contributed to the recovery of his health.
After fasting and prayer, Jesus begins his ministry of miracles (Luke 4:32-37, 38-39, 40-41).
and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.
v38-39: And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.
v40-41: Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.
Fasting for Dominion, Power and Authority
Biblical fasts were instituted by the Lord to establish God’s dominion. Adam lost dominion when he ate what was forbidden. Jesus gained dominion when He did not eat.
After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, “…was led by the Spirit in the wilderness tor forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days.” (Luke 4: 1-2).
We must understand that it was not necessary for Jesus as the child of God to “fast” to obtain the power of God in His life. As a man, he knew that he had to put his flesh in submission to the Father. The power of God was manifest in Him. After His fast: “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. (Luke 4:14). Jesus could also declare: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Luke 4:18).
Moses receives the Ten Commandments after fasting. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:18). When I went up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord made with you, I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water. (Deuteronomy 9:9).
So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 34:28).