What The Bible Says About Fasting
I. Types of Fasts:
Fasting can be broadly characterized in three ways:
1. The "restrictive fast" (not total abstention). The prophet Daniel once employed this when he refused to eat the king's delicacies (DAN 10:3). (Involves the fasting of desserts, meats, or certain foods for a designated period.)
2. The "standard fast." This involves abstaining from all food except water (LUK 4:2).
3. The "total abstention fast." This fast is where one refuses any intake of food and water (Acts 9:9). (Biblical examples include Moses [40 days] and Jesus [40 days] and Paul [3 days]).
II. Expectations of Fasting
There are several normative expectations that accompany Biblical fasting, especially the standard and total abstention fasts.
1. You will experience physical discomfort. Such discomfort comes in the form of hunger, headaches, physical weakness, and irritability. These discomforts come both as a natural result of not eating and as a spiritual battle from Satan.
2. You will experience temptation. Jesus was tempted at the conclusion of His fast in Matthew 4 and we will not go unnoticed by Satan when we fast. (Much temptation comes from the temptation to close the fast before your appointed commitment.)
3. Expect God's blessing when He directs you to fast. The classic Biblical passage on fasting is Isaiah 58. One key phrase from that passage is: "Is this not the fast I [the Lord] have chosen" (verse 5-6). God chooses the fast, ordains its purposes, and fashions it for His glory. Therefore, expect His blessing. However, we should never fast to twist God's arm and convince Him to let us have our way. You will be disappointed.
4. God expects you to fast discretely, humbly, and for God's glory. Christ taught us how to fast in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:16-18 when He said: "Do not be as the hypocrites when you fast, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Truly I say unto you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash thy face; that you appear not unto men to fast, but unto you Father which is in secret: and your Father, which sees in secret, shall reward you openly."
III. Reasons for Fasting
1. Fasting is necessary because Jesus expects Christians to fast! Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: "whenever you fast" (MAT 6:16-18).
2. Fasting helps control our fleshly nature (ISA 58:6; 1CO 9:27).
3. Fasting empowers prayer (MAT 4:4; 17:14-21). David said, "I humbled my soul with fasting and my prayer returned into my bosom" (PSA 35:13); Isaiah 58:9 says: "you will call and the Lord will answer."
4. Fasting aids in breaking the powers of darkness that control our spirit, soul, and body (ISA 58:6).
5. Fasting is needed when believers face great peril and divine help is needed (Esther 4:16).
(Illustration) In 1756 the King of England proclaimed a national day of prayer and fasting proclaimed due to an impending attack by
6. Fasting is useful in ascertaining God's will when making important decisions, especially as it regards the Lord's work. Acts 13:3 notes the church fasted when they commissioned Paul and Barnabas as missionaries; and fasting took place when elders were appointed in the churches 14:23.
7. Fasting invites a greater presence of God into our lives. Jeremiah 29:13 says: "You shall seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Isaiah 58:8 promises that we will experience the glory of God.
8. God promises to give attention to the contrite. Proverbs says "God gives grace to the humble one."