When I became a Christian at the age of 27, I remember hearing about fasting for the first time. I was perplexed. I completely understood why someone would want to pray and talk to God, but I had a difficult time understanding why someone would want to deprive the body of food.
Clearly, I had a very limited understanding of what fasting is all about. I don’t think I was alone in my lack of awareness about this important spiritual practice and I still think there is a lot of confusion about what fasting actually is and why and how we can make it a part of our spiritual life today.
So, What is Fasting?
A simple definition would be: To temporarily deprive yourself of something that is either nourishing or pleasurable.
Why Do Christians Fast?
Christians fast to take their focus off of worldly things (work, food, sex, video games, sports, etc.) and instead, spend that time seeking God and his will. That’s not to say that these worldly things are sinful or harmful, they certainly aren’t in and of themselves…but fasting is an attempt to deny self of the pleasures and/or nourishment of these things in order to focus on God, prayer, and scripture instead (nourishing the soul over the body).
What Should Our Mindset Be While Fasting?
According to Jesus, when we fast it should not to be seen by other men:
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18
How Long Should I Fast?
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul warned Christians not to fast for too long:
“Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” – 1 Corinthians 7:5
The length of a certain fast should be weighed with one’s ability to focus on God and their ability to deny self. When Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and nights, he was met by serious temptation and was confronted directly by Satan himself. Jesus had the ability to stave off the temptation as he rested in the promises of his Father. For those who have never fasted before, it’s best to think small, and build up over time.
What Are the Different Reasons for Fasting That We Find in Scripture?
- Public Disasters: 1 Samuel 31:11-13
- Private Emotions: 1 Samuel 1:7
- Grief: 2 Samuel 12:16
- Anxiety: Daniel 6:18-20
- National Repentance: 1 Samuel 7:5-6
- Sad News: Nehemiah 1:4
- Sacred Ordinations: Acts 13:3
What Other Spiritual Attitudes or Practices Joined Fasting?
What Safeguards Should You Consider While Fasting?
- Avoid Public Display of Fasting: Matthew 6:16-18
- Remember God: Zechariah 7:5-7
- Chasten the Soul: Psalm 69:10
- Humble the Soul: Psalm 35:13
- Remember the Reason for Fasting: Isaiah 58:1-14
Potential Results of Fasting:
People Mentioned in Scripture who Chose to Fast:
- Moses: Exodus 34:27-28
- Israelites: Judges 20:26
- Samuel: 1 Samuel 7:5-6
- David: 2 Samuel 12:16
- Ninevites: Jonah 3:5-8
- Nehemiah: Nehemiah 1:4
- Daniel: Daniel 9:3
- Jesus: Matthew 4:1-2
- Early Christians: 2 Corinthians 6:4-5
- Paul: 2 Corinthians 11:27
Scripture never commands the follower of God to fast, however, it’s plainly clear in the scriptures that fasting is something that can be very profitable for the believer. The early Believers in Acts 13:2; 14:23 fasted before they made important decisions regarding the growth and organization of the Church. Fasting can serve you well in your journey with Christ. If you have never tried it, perhaps you should prayerfully consider if fasting is for you.