If you have done this before, the word itself may elicit some discomfort in your mind.
In its simplest term, fasting is abstaining or reduction of food or fluid intake. Some people fast for a few hours to days and even weeks.
There are different reasons for people fast. Others fast to lose weight, deal with medical conditions, and even protest from an oppressive government. No matter what the reason is, fasting – the biblical fasting – is something not popular in Christianity today.
Though it is the most neglected Christian practice, fasting is a powerful tool that can instantly bring us closer to God.
The Bible has much to say about fasting and why it should be part of our Christian walk. Let us now discover why this often-neglected spiritual tool can make us highly effective Christians.
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What is fasting?
Fasting is going without food and drink. This is evident as we let the Bible defines it. Esther 4:16 tells us:
“Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”
The word fast here came from the Hebrew word tsum, meaning to cover the mouth.
In the New Testament, Fast came from the Greek word nesteuo, meaning to abstain from food.
The longest fast recorded was done by Jesus, Moses, and possibly Elijah. They were able to fast for forty days and forty nights.
Obviously, this type of fast includes supernatural help as ordinary people today won’t be able to do this.
How long and often should we fast?
There is one particular day when we are commanded by God to fast. It is during the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27), also referred to as The Fast (Acts 27:9). The fast that we do on the Day of Atonement lasts from sunset to sunset or 24 hours.
In this particular period of time, let me add a side note. Some people dismiss that the Day of Atonement is just an Old Testament practice and it is done away with after the death of Christ.
However, there’s no Biblical evidence supporting that claim. As a matter of fact, Paul – the Apostle to the Gentiles – continued to observe this day even many years after Christ’s death.
From the example of the Day of Atonement, we can conclude that a normal fast is suggested to last for a day. However, on other occasions when you choose to fast, it can be done part of a day or more than a day. It depends upon your purpose.
When it comes to the question of the frequency of our fast, it is really a personal choice. But it is highly suggested to fast at least once a month. Healthy individuals can even tolerate fasting twice a month.
It is recommended that you consult with your doctor when you fast especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition. From there, you can decide how often you should fast.
Are we commanded to fast?
We have already seen that we are commanded to fast on the Day of Atonement. But are we also commanded to fast on other days of the year?
It is worth noting that Christ expects His followers to fast. When asked by the disciples of John why Christ’s disciples do not fast, Christ answered with a short parable and responded:
“But the days will come when the bridegroom (referring to Himself) will be taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15).
When Christ explained to His disciples how to fast, He clearly said, “WHEN you fast” (Matthew 6:16-17), He didn’t say, “If you fast.” This clearly tells us that Jesus/Yashua is telling us that we need to fast.
When we think about it, we all fast. When we go to sleep, we go on without food and drink for several hours. That’s why we call it “breakfast.”
However, this type of fasting is done out of necessity. The kind of fasting that God expects from us is a deliberate choice.
Fasting for our spiritual growth does not come naturally. It should be a choice. Therefore, since God commanded us to fast, then we need to choose to do it.
How should we fast?
Do you know that we can be fasting, and yet God will not acknowledge it? There is a right way and wrong way of fasting.
If we are to harness the power of fasting, we need to know what the Bible really says about the proper way of fasting.
We can fast and still not be pleasing to God. There are plenty of ways that we can fast in vain. The Bible clearly talks about how we should properly fast.
First, let us take a look at what Christ said about how we should fast. Let’s read Matthew 6:16:
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that THEY MAY APPEAR TO MEN TO BE FASTING. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
From this verse we can conclude the following:
- We must not fast to impress other people.
- Fasting is a way to get closer to God and NOT a way to look more righteous than others.
- We must fast in such a way that people will not be able to know we are fasting. It is not something that we should shout out to the world.
- The reward of our fast comes from God and not from men.
The Prophet Isaiah has something to say about fasting as well. In Isaiah 58, the people asked why God did not recognize their fast. God revealed the answer in verse 3 and 4:
“In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure,
And exploit all your laborers.
Indeed you fast for strife and debate,
And to strike with the fist of wickedness.
Isaiah was telling us that fasting is NOTHING if our actions don’t reflect God’s will for our lives. We can fast all we want and yet, if we don’t do what God tells us to do, we will be fasting in futility.
The Israelites at that time fast, but they are still indulging in their pleasure, lust, and sin.
In this case, the Israelites didn’t completely abandon their rebellious attitude and idolatrous worship. Thus, it is possible that even if we fast, we are still sinning.
Isaiah added that they continued to exploit their laborers! How true is this for us Christians today?
We might be very diligent in our Christian duties such as prayer and fasting and yet, we lack good works. We are unforgiving to those who have indebted or have wronged us. Instead of forgiving, we “strive with the fist of wickedness.”
Notice as well their wrong attitude toward fasting. Their primary motive is to bend God to their will!
They fasted so that God will grant them divine favor and when they did not receive it, they murmur and complain to God! They thought that they could “buy” God’s divine favor by fasting!
So how should we fast in a proper manner? Isaiah continued:
Is it a fast that I have chosen,
A day for a man to afflict his soul?
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush,
And to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Would you call this a fast,
And an acceptable day to the Lord?
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:5-7)
These verses can be a mouthful and so let me break it down for you. From these verses we can conclude:
- Fasting involves afflicting our soul. Like what we have already mentioned, we fast by going without food and drink.
- Spreading sackcloth and ashes is a symbol of humility. We need to fast with a humble attitude. Fasting helps us to recognize that we are nothing, that we are COMPLETELY reliant on God. Without food and drink, we get weak and eventually die. Since God is the Source of all blessings, including food and drink, we need to rely on Him for our daily sustenance.
- The pain and discomfort that we feel during our fast don’t give us the “right” to God’s mercy and favor. God will answer our prayers because He is loving, patient, and kind.
- Fasting is primarily done to know God’s will and purpose in our lives. It is done to gain understanding, wisdom, and guidance from God. Along with fasting, we need to ensure that we have the willing heart to obey whatever God has revealed to us.
- Fasting can only be meaningful when we couple it with righteous acts. The Prophet Isaiah listed some of the examples we need to do before, during, and after fasting. He said that we should let loose the bonds of wickedness, let go of the oppressed, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked. In short, we must fast and at the same time, not forget our Christian duties to one another.
Christ and Isaiah both concluded in the same voice. They said that if we are to fast in the proper way, God, who sees us fasting in secret “will reward [us] openly” (Matthew 6:18).
Then our “light shall break forth like the morning, [our] healing shall spring forth speedily, and [our] righteousness shall go before [us]; the glory of the Lord shall be [our] rear guard. Then [we] shall call, and the Lord will answer; [we] shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’” (Isaiah 58:8-9).
So fast in the proper way and with the right attitude. Though it may be difficult, the physical and spiritual rewards are great! It will be all worth it!
Develop the habit of fasting
The primary purpose of fasting is to worship God, deny and humble ourselves, draw closer to Him, grow spiritually, and seek His will for our lives.
Fasting is a powerful spiritual tool that we should take advantage of as Christians. It is something that we must do on a regular basis.
Devote at least one day in a month for a 24-hour fasting.
You can also fast more often than that.
Of course, the frequency of your fast depends upon your medical condition as well. But let it not be an excuse for us to forsake this powerful habit of a successful Christian.
Let us not forget what God has said through the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9).
With these in mind, I hope you will find time to fast and cultivate the powerful benefits of this amazing spiritual tool. As you form the habit of fasting, you will become a more effective Christian.