Fasting can be defined as a voluntary abstention from food (or some other good thing) for a spiritual purpose. We see many examples of fasting in Scripture. Indeed, Jesus Christ himself practiced fasting and encouraged his disciples to do so as well.
Because it is biblical, fasting should be encouraged by the Church but it should never be imposed on anyone by coercion or manipulation.
Biblical fasting is not a fad diet intended to benefit the physical body. It is an abstention from something physical for the benefit of something spiritual.
In order to be of any eternal benefit, biblical fasting should be Christ-centered. We fast because Jesus modeled it and commanded it.
NOT ALWAYS FOOD
In Scripture we mostly see examples of fasting from food. However, fasting does not have to involve food in order to be legitimate. Indeed, some people probably should not fast from food because of health conditions.
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.
MARTIN LLOYD JONES
TYPES OF FASTS
- All Food
- Eating Out
- Social Media
- Non-essential Purchases
KINDS OF FASTS IN SCRIPTURE
In a typical 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 specific (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 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 advisable unless God very specifically and clearly calls you to it.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
PRIVATE OR PUBLIC?
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.
IS IT REALLY VOLUNTARY?
Yes. However it is clear from Scripture that Jesus expected his followers to fast from time to time. (Matthew 6; Matthew 9)
WHEN AND HOW LONG?
Some people fast all day and night for a set period of time. Others fast only one meal a day. Some fast six days a week but not on Sunday. There's no right or wrong way to do it - pray about it and see what the Spirit prompts you to do.
PURPOSES OF FASTS IN SCRIPTURE
TO STRENGTHEN PRAYER
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.
TO SEEK GOD’S GUIDANCE
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)
TO EXPRESS GRIEF
Fasting is a means to express the depth of our feelings. It is appropriate for grief-stricken prayers.
TO SEEK GOD'S PROTECTION
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.
TO HUMBLE OURSELVES
TO EXPRESS LOVE TO GOD
TO EXPRESS CONCERN FOR GOD'S WORK
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)
TO MINISTER TO THE NEEDS OF OTHERS
Isaiah 58 stresses the need of fasting in direct correlation to concern for the needs of others.
TO OVERCOME TEMPTATION
In Matthew 4 we see that Jesus fasted immediately before his temptation by Satan. It didn’t make him weak and vulnerable, but victorious.
KEEPING THINGS SAFE AND HEALTHY
When done properly, fasting is not only safe but of great spiritual benefit.
New City Church recommends that you consult with a licensed physician who has a good understanding of biblical fasting before you begin a fast, especially if it is your first time. If you are taking medications or have any ongoing medical condition checking with your physician is absolutely essential. God has provided us with access to excellent medical professionals and we definitely should take advantage of this blessing.
If you meet any of the following criteria New City Church insists that you do not fast from food:
- Those who are underweight or emaciated
- Those prone to anorexia, bulimia, or eating disorders
- Those who suffer from weakness or anemia
- Those with tumors, bleeding ulcers, cancer, blood diseases, or who have heart disease
- Those with chronic problems of the kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, or other vital organs
- Those who take insulin for diabetes or suffer any other blood sugar problem such as hyperglycemia.
- Women who are pregnant or nursing
Dr. Bill Bright has written some helpful things about fasting that are hosted on the Cru website. New City Church does not control the information provided on these webpages and may not be made aware if (or when) they are changed.
MUCH CREDIT TO: DONALD S. WHITNEY – SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES FOR THE CHRISTIAN LIFE