What Does The Bible Say About Fasting?
In the tapestry of spiritual disciplines woven through the scriptures, fasting emerges as a profound and transformative practice. Rooted deeply in the biblical narrative, fasting is not merely an act of self-denial but a wholehearted gesture of seeking a closer relationship with the Divine.
From the solemn deserts of the Old Testament to the bustling streets of New Testament cities, fasting has been a consistent thread, binding believers to a higher purpose and a deeper understanding of their faith. As we explore what the Bible says about fasting, it’s important to understand its multifaceted nature.
While the act itself may seem simple—abstaining from food or certain pleasures—it carries great significance beyond the physical act. Understanding the purpose and profound significance of fasting is akin to unlocking deep spiritual insights, allowing you to tap into divine wisdom and connection.
The Biblical Significance of Fasting
There are many instances of fasting throughout the Bible, each being a pivotal moment in the relationship between God and His people.
In the Old Testament, fasting was often a response to dire circumstances. It was a plea for God’s divine intervention. When the Israelites faced daunting enemies or when prophets like Daniel sought clarity, fasting became a practice to draw near to God.
In the New Testament, the landscape of fasting shifts slightly but retains its core purpose.
Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness before embarking on His public ministry, confronting temptations and solidifying His identity. His disciples would later adopt this practice, using it as a tool to seek God’s guidance and leadership.
At its core, fasting is an act of surrender. It’s a tangible declaration that says, “I hunger for a touch from God more than my physical needs.” It’s a conscious decision to set aside worldly sustenance and turn to the spiritual nourishment that only God can provide. This act of self-denial leads to spiritual fulfillment and breakthrough.
By emptying ourselves, we create a space for God to fill, allowing His presence to permeate our being.
In essence, fasting is less about what we’re giving up and more about what we’re reaching out for.
Through fasting, I have found a deeper connection with God. In the uncomfortable process, the hunger of the soul can only be satisfied by His presence.
Types of Biblical Fasts and Their Significance
Today, when someone uses the word “fasting” they can be talking about a variety of spiritual disciplines, each with their own benefits and purposes.
You might hear about people doing a liquid-only fast, a Daniel fast, or fasting from TV and social media. All of these are great things to practice as long as you’re doing it with the right intentions.
To get a better understanding of Biblical fasting, we need to look at the original language used. If we look at the Hebrew and Greek words used for “fasting”, we find “tsum” in Hebrew and “nésteuó” in Greek. Both of the words used for fasting mean to abstain from food.
A true biblical fast means that you’re not eating food for a certain amount of time.
Taking a break from social media or changing your diet for 21 days is not a fast. Both of those things are good, but they’re a form of consecration, not a fast. This is important to understand because there are spiritual benefits we get only from fasting.
Contrary to popular teachings, the Daniel fast isn’t found anywhere in the Bible. The verse says, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” Daniel 1:8.
It says nothing about fasting.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t other benefits. The Bible goes on to say, “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.” Daniel 1:17
But, it was because they didn’t defile themselves, not because they were fasting.
You might think we’re splitting hairs here, but it’s important to know when you’re fasting and when you’re consecrating yourself to God.
The other types of fasts in the Bible are an absolute fast– where you don’t consume any food or water. Moses did this for 40 days and nights while on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28). Esther called for an absolute fast among the Jews before approaching the king (Esther 4:16).
The purpose of this fast is often to seek urgent divine intervention in critical situations.
There is also a corporate fast. This is when an entire community or group of believers engage in fasting together, often for a shared purpose or cause. The city of Nineveh’s fast in response to Jonah’s prophecy is a notable example (Jonah 3:5). Corporate fasts unite communities in shared devotion, amplifying their collective prayers and fostering unity in seeking God’s will.
Many churches practice corporate fasting at the start of a new year, or before a big change in the church.
Each of these practices will enrich your spiritual journey and bring you closer to the heart of God.
Reasons for Fasting as Mentioned in the Scriptures
The act of fasting is not a religious ritual, but a deeply personal and spiritual journey. Each fast, whether undertaken by an individual or a community, carries with it a purpose, a heartfelt cry, or a solemn petition directed towards the heavens.
The Bible gives us different reasons for fasting, each resonating with different facets of our relationship with God. Let’s explore some of these reasons, understanding the motivations behind each fast and the spiritual transformations they bring.
Seeking God’s Guidance and Wisdom
Throughout the Bible, believers have turned to fasting as a means to seek guidance. By abstaining from physical sustenance, they remove worldly distractions, tuning their spirits to the gentle whispers of God.
King Jehoshaphat, when confronted with vast armies, proclaimed a fast throughout Judah, seeking God’s intervention and guidance. The act of fasting, in such instances, becomes a beacon, illuminating the path of divine wisdom amidst the uncertainty.
Repentance and Turning Away from Sin
Fasting, at its core, can be a profound act of repentance. It’s a tangible expression of a contrite heart, yearning for forgiveness and a fresh start.
After hearing Jonah’s prophecy of impending destruction, the people of Nineveh proclaimed a fast, signaling their genuine repentance and commitment to turn away from their wicked ways. Such fasts are a testament to the transformative power of genuine repentance, showcasing how a sincere heart can move God’s heart and bring divine mercy.
Expressing Grief or Mourning
There are many instances of fasting being an outlet for grief and sorrow.
When King David received news of Saul and Jonathan’s deaths, he fasted and mourned for them. Fasting, in such contexts, becomes a silent cry, a way to process the weight of loss and find solace in God’s comfort.
Worship and Adoration of God
Fasting can be a pure act of worship, an expression of love, and adoration for the God. Anna, the prophetess, serves as one example. She fasted and prayed at the temple, day and night, worshiping God with unwavering devotion. Such fasts are a celebration of God’s magnificence, a dance of joy in His presence.
Intercession for Others
Fasting can also be an act of intercession, standing in the gap for others, and seeking divine intervention on their behalf. Esther called for a collective fast, interceding before God for their deliverance. Such acts of intercession showcase the boundless power of collective faith, where believers unite in prayer, amplifying their pleas and drawing down God’s blessings.
Whether you’re looking for for guidance, repenting, or singing worship, fasting becomes the voice of the soul, reaching out to the heavens, seeking communion with the Holy Spirit, and experience God’s grace.
Benefits and Outcomes of Fasting
The act of fasting is not devoid of rewards. Jesus said that when God see our sacrifice of fasting, He will reward us.
As believers practice fasting, they often find new spiritual insights and transformative experiences. Let’s dive into a few of these benefits.
Spiritual Growth and Increased Sensitivity to God’s Presence:
One of the greatest benefits of fasting is the acceleration of spiritual growth.
As your physical body is denied its usual comforts, your spirit becomes more attuned to God. This heightened sensitivity creates a deeper communion with God, allowing you to hear His voice with greater clarity. The distractions of the world fade, and you’ll feel God’s presence, finding new spiritual strength.
When Jesus taught about fasting, He said the disciples weren’t fasting because He was with them. Once Jesus left the earth, He said believers would fast to experience more of His presence.
A Deeper Understanding of God’s Word and His Will
Fasting often goes hand in hand with spending more time in prayer and reading the Bible. I’ve found it best to spend the time I normally prepare and eat food with spending time in prayer and the word of God.
You will find the clarity that fasting brings allows for a deeper understanding of God’s word. Complex passages become clear, and the overarching narrative of God’s love and purpose unfolds with new depth. In this state of heightened spiritual awareness, God’s will becomes more discernible, guiding you down the right paths.
God has a great purpose and calling for you. Fasting will help you discover it and give you confidence on the journey.
Greater spiritual freedom
The primary benefit of fasting mentioned by Isaiah is the breaking of chains. God told Isaiah that the type of fasting He desires will break the chains of injustice and set the oppressed free.
If you’ve been feeling oppressed or opposed by the devil, fasting will break the chains and bring you into God’s freedom. We see this happen in Matthew 17. The disciples try to cast a demon out of a boy and can’t do it. Jesus sets the boy free and explains that his freedom was only possible through prayer and fasting.
James 4:7 says when we submit to God and resist the devil, he flees. Fasting is one of the best ways to submit yourself to God, leading you to greater freedom.
Read: Powerful Scriptures to read during your fast
Cautionary Notes on Fasting
While fasting is a powerful spiritual discipline, it’s essential to approach it with wisdom and discernment. The scriptures, in their wisdom, offer cautionary notes, ensuring that the act of fasting remains pure and untainted by ulterior motives.
Avoiding Fasting for Show or Approval
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against fasting as a display for others.
He cautioned against the hypocrisy of making your fasting obvious to get praise or approval from other people. True fasting is a private affair between you and God. Biblical fasting isn’t something you do to impress your friends or pastor.
Fasting is an intimate act of devotion, not a public spectacle.
The Importance of the Right Motives and a Genuine Heart:
The essence of fasting is not merely about abstaining from food but about approaching God with a sincere and genuine heart.
The prophet Isaiah highlighted this when he spoke of the kind of fast that God desires – one that breaks the chains of injustice and sets the oppressed free. It’s a fast that comes from love, compassion, and a genuine desire to draw closer to God.
While fasting offers many spiritual benefits, it’s crucial to approach it with the right motives and a pure heart. When done with sincerity and genuine devotion, fasting is a transformative journey, drawing you closer to the heart of God and revealing the depths of His love and grace.
While the journey of fasting may seem daunting, the rewards, both spiritual and personal, are profound.
As we’ve journeyed through the scriptures, understanding its significance, types, reasons, benefits, and cautions, it becomes evident that fasting is more than just an act; it’s an invitation.
An invitation to delve deeper, to seek God and experience His presence in unparalleled ways. I want to encourage you to explore fasting. Embrace it not just as a ritual or routine, but as a heartfelt expression of your desire to draw closer to God.
Let it be a transformative experience, one that enriches your spiritual journey and brings you closer to the heart of God.