What is fasting?
The Bible teaches us that fasting = going without food for a period of time in order to focus on God through prayer.
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 abstince from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose. There are many bodily functions that are right and normal and perfectly legitimate, but which for special peculiar reasons in certain circumstances should be controlled.
There are other ways to fast besides going without food. These ways the Bible doesn’t directly teach on, but the Bible does teach us to get rid of anything that can make us stumble (Matthew 5:30). In this generation, we have so much that can make us stumble. It’s pretty much like the world is waiting to cater to our sins and distractions. So, you might not have to cut your arm, but maybe the internet for some time, or social media whatever takes a lot of your time. The time you can spend in prayer or reading the Word of God.
Several Kinds of fasting:
- Normal fast: abstaining from all food, but not from water (Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:2)
- Partial fast: limitation of the diet, but not abstention from all food (Daniël 1:12, Matthew 3:4).
- Absolute fast: abstaining from all food and drink (Ezra 10:6, Esther 4:16)
- Private fast: fasting in a way not to be noticed by others. (Matthew 6: 16 – 18)There are some others as well, but I would like to leave it at this for this post.
I do want to mention that point 4 is actually something that is always included in every fast. We are not to go around telling people of the fact that we are fasting.
For the problem is not wether another person knows or asks about your fast, but wether you want him or her to know or asks so you can appear more spiritual.Donald S. Whitney
= fasting with the purpose to get closer to God. Examples of Godly fasts:
- To strengthen prayer (Daniel 9: 3)
Fasting is calculated to bring a note of urgency and importunity into our prayer, and to give force to our pleading in the court of heaven. The man who prays with fasting is giving heaven notice that he is truly in earnestness in a divinely appointed way. He is using a means that God has chosen to make his voice to be heard on high.Arthur Wallis
- To seek God’s guidance (Acts 14:23)
You can pray about any decision that can have a direct impact on your life. The new year fasting I spoke about in my last post is a good example of this kind of fasting. I have been fasting at the beginning of every year for the past 3 years, simply to ask for the guidance of God throughout the year. Another example of this kind of fasting was when I fasted for the right college, right subject to study and the right place to live. So, like I said before it really can be about anything that can have a direct impact on your life.
- To express grief (1 Samuel 20:34)
“Fasting can be a means of expressing grief for the sins of others, such as for the sins of people within your church or for sins by your country.” For example, The moment that the Holy Spirit really started working in me, he opened my eyes not only to see my own sins but also the sins of my church members and of my country. It was more the general sins that others might see as just something minor. For a week-long I had such an extreme sadness living in me, a heaviness on my chest I simply can’t explain. So, I decided to fast and pray for all our sins. To express my grief towards God, beg for mercy and ask for protection for those who did what they did out of lack of knowledge.
- To seek Deliverance or Protection (Esther 4:16)
15Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
- To express Repentance and the Return to God (Joel 2:12)
In 2018 I fasted once every week for exactly this reason. Because I was very aware of the fact that going to church on Sundays alone wasn’t enough to keep growing as a Christian. Besides that, I also knew that the flow of life could take me away from the path of God. So, I fasted to ask for forgiveness for any sin I might have committed in that week and it also served as a remembrance to return to God.
- To humble oneself before God (Psalm 35:13)
This is also one of the reasons why I fasted once a week in the year 2018. It truly helped me humble my self before God because it reminded me how much I needed God.
By this we must not conclude that the act of fasting has some virtuous power, and that we have made ourselves more humble; there is no virtue in fallen man by which he can make himself more godly; there is, however, virtue in the divinely appointed means of grace. If we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, mortify the deeds of the body (through fasting), we shall grow in grace, but the glory of such change will be God’s alone. For as long as I can remember I was thaught that because fasting itself is a sacrifice, the act itself is more than enough to get God’s favor for what I was fasting for. Which in essence didn’t make any sense, because it will then come to the fact that I’m getting paid for my work, which goes against the sovereignty and grace of God.David Smith
- To express concern for the work of God (Nehemiah 1: 3 – 4)
They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” 4When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
- To minister to the needs of others (Isaiah 58)
I have never done this kind of fasting, but I use to be a Muslim and during the Ramadan it is known to be on your best behavior, combine with good deeds for the poor. But what I noticed is that as sincere those deeds were, they also almost disappeared after the Ramadan period. Most of us also simply went back to our old ways after the fasting period. Isaiah says it all in
Isaiah 58: … For day after day they seek me out;they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. … “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you pleaseand exploit all your workers. 4Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.
- To overcome temptation and dedicate yourself to God (Matthew 4: 1 – 11)
One principle we learn form Jesus’ example is this: Fasting is a way to overcoming temptation and of freshly dedicating ourselves to the Father.Donald S. Whitney
There are general things that tempt us all, but there are also more specific areas of our personal lives that might be or bring temptations into our lives. It is of great importance to take action against this. Because sin that one doesn’t address might grow to lead one to the end.
- To express Love and Worship to God (Luke 2: 37)
The very first time I fasted as a Christian was to express my gratitude toward God for His mercy and Grace. As you might have read in my introduction post, I use to have a very hard time living at home which led to some horrible experiences. So, I fasted to thank God for getting me out of that situation and for not giving up on me. Do know that if your expression of love and worship is not sincere during your fasting, it will become a very hard fasting period. But if it is, it will be so much easier! I personally bearly felt anything at all.
Fasting with a purpose
I’ve already spoken about this in the New year fasting post, but I would like to add this to it.
Whitout a purpose, fasting can be a miserable, self-centred experience about willpower and endurance. Whithout a clear biblical purpose, fasting becomes an end in itself. Every hunger pang only makes you calculate the time remaining until you can eat. Such thinking disconnects the experience in your mind and heart from the gospel and descends into the deception that perhaps your suffering will earn God’s favor. Although the physical discomfort is unpleasing, perhaps even painful, it is important to feel some degree of hunger during your fast. Your hunger helps you, serving as continual reminder of your spiritual purpose. Donald S. Whitney
Fasting and prayer
Fasting without prayer is a huge waste of time. It’s no different from a simple diet. I have heard this being said: “Being a Christian is like having a weapon and the bullet of that weapon is prayer”.
In giving us the privilege of fasting as well as praying God had added a powerful weapon to our spiritual armory.Arthur Wallis
Even though the Bible teaches us that Jesus expected us to pray (Matthew 6: 16 – 17), prayer is one of the most neglected spiritual disciplines. I must confess that my prayer life is way beneath what I would like it to be aswell, but this doesn’t keep me from praying during any fasting period I commit myself to. I have experienced that fasting really does strength one’s prayer life.
Maybe a small tip if you are having difficulties praying: you can use the Psalm to pray, It really contains about every subject we deal with as Christians. Besides that, there are also prayer books you can buy. You can start with those, as you use those, you will start to have words of your own. But the best way to learn how to pray is by reading the Bible. Because prayer is in some way an expression of what one knows about God. You can’t speak of what you don’t know.
Your heart position while doing Godly purposed kind of fasting is of great importance to God. God, in general, is way more interested in our heart posture than anything else. So, definitely consider your reason for fasting, reflects on if you are doing it for the right reason? or just as a religious duty?
Any blessing which is bestowed by the Father upon His undeserving children must be considered to be an act of grace. We fail to appreciate the mercy of the Lord if we think that by our doing something we have forced (or even coerced) God to grant that blessing which we have asked for… All of our fasting, therefore, must be on this basis; we should use scriptural means whereby we are melted into a more complete realization of the purposes of the Lord in our life, church, community, and nation.David Smith
Book: “Spiritual disciplines for the Christian life” (pages 191 – 2019)
The Bible: see the verses noted in the text.