Fasting is a voluntary abstention from food (or other good things) for a spiritual purpose. There are many examples of fasting in Scripture. Jesus practiced fasting and encouraged the disciples to do so as well.
Fasting is to be Christ-centered in order for it to have any eternal benefit.
Fasting should not be imposed upon anyone by coercion or manipulation.
This is not a crash diet intended to benefit the physical body. It is an abstinence of something physical (often food) for the benefit of something spiritual.
The examples in Scripture primarily involve food. However fasting does not have to involve food to be legitimate.
To make the matter complete, we would add that fasting, if we conceive of it truly, must not only be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything that is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose. There are many bodily functions which are right and normal and perfectly legitimate, but which for special peculiar reasons in certain circumstances should be controlled. That is fasting. There, I suggest, is a kind of general definition of what is meant by fasting.
This is not an exhaustive list. The idea is to give up a legitimate activity in order to become more absorbed in a time of spiritual activity.
In a normal fast we give up all food but not water. This is the way that Jesus fasted in Matthew 4. Many people will drink fruit or vegetable juice during this kind of fast. Sometimes people will continue to drink coffee or tea.
In a partial fast we give up certain foods but not all foods. Some people will limit portion size. Others will eat only simple foods such as raw vegetables. It is common for people to give up a cherished food such as chocolate, cheese, or meat. Daniel fasted in this way in Daniel 1. John the Baptist fasted this way in Matthew 3.
In an absolute fast we give up all food and drink. Most often in Scripture we see this kind of fasting limited to three days. Queen Esther called her people to this for three days in Esther 4. Paul did this for three days after encountering Jesus on the Road to Damascus, in Acts 9. Of note is that the human body can only go three days without water.
Moses and Elijah went for forty days without food or water and God provided for them supernaturally. (Deuteronomy 9; 1 Kings 19) These kinds of fasts are not repeatable unless God very specifically calls you to it.
Jesus calls us to fast privately (in secret) in Matthew 6. In Joel 2 and Acts 13 we see examples of congregational (public) fasts. There are also examples of national fasts and regular fasts such as the one required on the Day of Atonement.
Yes. However it is clear from Scripture that Jesus expected his followers to fast from time to time. (Matthew 6; Matthew 9)
Fasting and prayer go hand in hand. When there is a special urgency to a situation, fasting is important. However, it is not like a hunger strike where we try to manipulate God. Fasting changes our prayer, not the all powerful God.
In Judges 20 and other places we see that God’s people fasted before taking action to seek the will of the Lord. Fasting does not ensure the certainty that we will hear God clearly, but it does makes us more receptive. (Romans 12:2)
Fasting is a means to express the depth of our feelings. It is appropriate for grief-stricken prayers.
In 2 Chronicles 20 we see God’s people fast when in need of God’s protection. In Esther 4, the Queen declares a fast so that she would be protected from the anger of the King.
In 1 Samuel 7 we see that God’s people fasted after repenting and returning to the Lord. We also see this in Jonah 3.
In 1 Kings 21, King Ahab humbled himself before God by fasting and averted disaster.
When Nehemiah saw that despite the return from exile the Jews had not rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem, he fasted first and then set about getting to work. (Nehemiah 1)
Isaiah 58 stresses the need of fasting in direct correlation to concern for the needs of others.
In Matthew 4 we see that Jesus fasted immediately before his temptation by Satan. It didn’t make him weak and vulnerable, but victorious.
Luke 2:37 gives an example of a widow who devoted her life to adoration of God through fasting and prayer.
When done properly, fasting is not only safe but of great spiritual benefit.
You may want to consult with a physician before beginning a fast, but keep in mind that a not-yet-believing doctor may have a limited understanding of the practice of fasting. Nevertheless, if you are taking medications or have a medical condition, checking with your doctor on how a fast may affect you is a wise idea.
If you meet one of the following criteria we do not recommend a fast from food: