Summary: Practicing the discipline of fasting regularly draws you close to Jesus. There are different kinds of fasts and lengths of time, but every Christian should fast.
In my last post on spiritual formation, I talked about praying the prayer of faith. In this post, I discuss a close friend of praying, the spiritual discipline of fasting.
Fasting is a discipline left untried by many Christians. It’s one of the least tried disciplines, let alone regularly practiced by Christians. But it is an important discipline that we should practice more often.
We need to fast, especially with our world the way it is, with all the divisiveness and division around us. More than anything, we need a fresh move of God in the Church, and fasting brings this great need before the Lord.
Fasting brings us closer to Jesus as we practice it. It calls us to show our desperation for the move of His Spirit among us. It draws us closer to Him and lights a fire in us. Let’s dive in and look at fasting.
The Desire to Fast
The Bible nowhere requires us to fast during certain times or even regularly. Jesus seems to expect Christians to fast when he included His teaching on fasting with other regular disciplines such as giving and praying. He begins His teaching on fasting with, “When you fast,” not “If you fast” (Matthew 6:16).
Jesus also says that when he leaves, His disciples will fast (Matthew 9:15). It is clear Jesus expects us to fast. But the times we fast are up to us. Fasting should become a part of our regular disciplines in the faith. If for nothing else, fasting helps us deny our fleshly desires.
When we fast, we join with the rest of the body of Christ. Many saints have gone before us from Moses to Jesus. Saints have regularly fasted throughout their lifetimes and ministries. There is great spiritual power in fasting (Mark 9:29).
Types of Fasts
A scriptural fast must be for spiritual purposes. There are other types of fasting people do for health or political reasons. But we partake in a biblical fast for spiritual purposes only. This does not mean you cannot do another type of fast.
A partial fast involves keeping from certain foods, but not all food. Some people do what they call the “Daniel Fast,” which is actually a partial fast. Daniel and his friends fasted from eating the king’s food and wine, and were given vegetables to eat (Daniel 1:8-16).
A normal fast is what you usually see in Scripture. This is abstaining from all foods, but not water. This is the fast Jesus did in the wilderness. Scripture says He was hungry after 40 days, but it does not say He was thirsty.
An absolute fast is fasting food and water for some time. Because the human body cannot live without water for more than three or four days, absolute fasts are usually shorter (Esther and the Israelites, Paul for three days). But a few saints did an absolute fast for 40 days (Moses and Elijah)!
Please do not engage in an absolute fast for more than 3-4 days without a direct command from the Lord. You put your body in grave danger of not having the resources to sustain itself during such a time. Even Scripture does not recommend an absolute fast for more than three or four days.
Israel held corporate fasts in times of emergency (Leviticus 23:27; 2 Chronicles 20:1-4; Joel 2:15). The Church today can hold corporate fasts for needs and desires for deeper intimacy with Jesus. Many of our churches and our denomination hold a corporate fast at the beginning of the year to set the pace and desire for Jesus to move in the body through His Spirit in the coming year.
The Purpose of Fasting
Our primary purpose in fasting must be for a spiritual reason. Fasting for weight loss or other health benefits is secondary, and not our focus. If we fast for these reasons, they can be beneficial. But when we fast to the Lord, we fast for spiritual reasons. We set it in our mind, heart, and spirit to fast to meet Jesus.
Desperation for God’s intervention. In situations when we need God’s immediate intervention, fasting and prayer are our greatest tools. We cannot force God to do anything. Fasting does not make God aware of our plight. But it shows Him our desperation and need for Him, realizing that only He can come to our rescue.
To intimately meet with God. We need to know God in the most intimate of ways. Sometimes we allow our relationship with Him to get away from us, to not become the most important thing in our lives. In times we realize we are not as close to Jesus as we could be we should take time to fast and pray, get into His Word, and spend quality time with our Savior and Lord.
To deny the flesh its pleasures. When we fast, we deny our body one of its greatest pleasures, that of food and drink. These creature comforts sometimes deceive us into believing we don’t need to give up anything. More than anything, fasting reminds us that we live by the very words of God (Matthew 4:4).
The inability to give up the basics of food and water shows us we harbor the inability to give up anything. When God calls us to surrender and sacrifice, how can we obey Him if we cannot fast? Fasting quickly shows us our lack of self-control and obedience when Christ calls us to surrender and sacrifice.
It also shows us that there may be character flaws yet in us the Holy Spirit must still work on. Through fasting, we become keenly aware of those things the Holy Spirit has not yet completed maturing in us. We can become irritable, angry with others, anxious, full of worry, or unable to wait on the Lord for His response or intervention. Fasting helps us to see the truth about ourselves.
For spiritual insights. Sometimes in our walk with Christ that we have become blinded to a spiritual issue. We cannot see in the natural what must be seen in the spiritual. Balaam realized this when his donkey was more acute to the angel of the Lord standing before him and blocking his way (Numbers 22:22-31). We must be able to see more in the spiritual then we see in the natural. When God wishes to reveal Himself or His principles to us, we must have eyes to see these spiritual insights.
For spiritual power. Jesus hints that the spiritual power to cast out demons or do other mighty works of God relies on the discipline of fasting (Mark 9:29). More modern translations lack the words “prayer and fasting” in favor of only mentioning prayer. But some manuscripts have, “and fasting.”
There are many reasons for fasting. But we can see God do great things through us when we are more attune to Him and the power of His Spirit when we our own desires don’t control us. To have spiritual power, we must neglect our reasoning and own resources.
Along with the spiritual authority to cast out demons, we should also experience the spiritual power to assert the authority Jesus gave us over sicknesses and diseases. One reason we don’t see miraculous healings today in a greater number may be because we lack the discipline to fast and receive power from God to do these miracles for His glory. Not surrendering ourselves in fasting may rob us of such power to see the spiritual break through on the natural.
Recommendations for Your First Fast
To begin your fast, don’t go all out for a three-to-seven-day fast. Start with one day fast. Fast from lunch one day to lunch the next day, cutting two meals. You want to ease into it. Eat a light breakfast before your fast. Eating too much before you begin will only discourage you.
Build up your fasting experience. When you start with a little, you will build up in two more days and more meals skipped in favor of feasting on God’s Word and the Lord. Begin with a normal fast. If you don’t like water, you can flavor it with a fruit.
Focus on the Lord and His Word, prayer, and other disciplines. Have a prayer focus for this time. Plan out your fast so you are not stuck with nothing to pray about and no Scripture focus. This helps you to not meander through your fast and not complete it.
The goal of your fast is to grow spiritually and devote yourself to the Lord. You can do the regular tasks of your day, inwardly in an attitude of prayer, worship, and ministry to the Lord. During the times you normally prepare food and eat, meet Jesus in prayer, the Word, and worship. Whatever your prayer focus is, use that as the theme of your fast.
Only tell people who need to know you are fasting. Your family needs to know, especially the one who prepares the meals for everyone. Even if you are present at the table with them, you will be prayerfully reading your Bible, enjoying the Lord’s presence. You will be present, but focused.
Your body will give you many signs that it is suffering. The longer you fast, the more these symptoms will subside. But your body does not rule you. Remain focused on the Lord and feed on Him rather than food.
As you close out your fast, do not eat a large meal. Just as you began, so you will end. Eat a small meal to come out of there fast. Snack throughout the day after you end your fast. Build yourself up to full, heavier meals. If you start with a heavy meal, you will probably make yourself sick.
Start with a small fast of one day. Plan your prayer and Bible reading focus. Who will you tell about your fast? Once you have completed a one day fast, plan for a three-to-seven-day fast. Build yourself up in this discipline and notice the spiritual benefits of connecting with the Lord in this special way.
Now you have learned about fasting and begun this discipline in your life, keep it up regularly. Next, we will study the discipline of Bible reading and meditation.