1. What is Biblical Fasting?
Biblical fasting can be defined as abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. Simply going without food because it is not available or because of medical reasons is not biblical fasting. There must be a spiritual motivation to qualify a fast as Scriptural.
John Piper writes in his book Hunger for God: "Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God. Christian fasting is not only the spontaneous effect of superior satisfaction in God, it is also a chosen weapon against every force in the world that would take that satisfaction away."
2. Some Biblical Examples and Purposes of Fasting
- Jesus fasted to acknowledge His dependence and to gain spiritual strength through reliance on the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. He did this before He began His public ministry (Luke 4:1,2).
- Nehemiah fasted for confession, repentance, and favor in the sight of the king to get permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:4).
- David humbled himself for God to intervene because of injustice (Psalm 35:13). In 2 Samuel 12:17,23, he fasted for healing and miraculous intervention.
- Mordecai and the Jews fasted upon hearing news of Haman’s wicked plot for their extermination (Esther 4:3).
- The Early Church fasted while worshiping and committing their ministry to the Lord. They also sought the Lord through fasting for guidance, confirmation and the appointment of elders (Acts 13:2; 14:23).
- Jesus expected His disciples to fast, but He did not command it (Matthew 6:16).
3. Wrong Motivations in Fasting
- To be seen by others (Matthew 6:18). "The critical issue is not whether people know you are fasting but whether you want them to know so that you can bask in their admiration."
- To be justified by God (Luke 18:12-14). There once were two men. One said, "I fast twice a week." The other said, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Only one went down to his house justified.
- To be commended to God (1 Corinthians 8:8). Food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. Fasting does not cause us to “earn” something from God, but it helps us to be more receptive to what He wants to do in and through us.
4. Right Motivations for Fasting
- Spiritual strength against an enemy attack.
- To break demonic bondage. "This kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting" (Matthew 17:21, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
- To awaken a spiritual hunger for God that may be dulled because of a "desire for other things."
- To test and see what desires control us.
- To forfeit good things for the better and best.
- To express our ache for His return. Jesus said, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about" (John 4:32, New International Version).
- To demonstrate our love and desire for God above all things (even His gifts).
- To divide our bread with the poor. "To house the homeless poor, to loosen bonds of wickedness, to let the oppressed go free" (Isaiah 58:6,7).
5. Types of Fasts
There are three types of fasts commonly practiced by Christians:
- Partial fast – Described in the book of Daniel where for three weeks he abstained only from “delicacies,” meat and wine (Daniel 10:3).
- Supernatural fast – These are total fasts--no food (solid or liquid) and no water. Paul went on an absolute fast for three days following his encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:9). Moses and Elijah engaged in a supernatural absolute fast of forty days (Deuteronomy 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8). This kind of fast should be done with great care. Our bodies cannot go without water for more than three days.
- Complete fast – Water or juice fasting, especially when fasting for an extended period. Juice fasts will provide you with more energy than water-only fasts and still lead you into the humbling experience of denying your desire for solid, chewable food.
6. Getting into a Fast (for water & juice fast)
For new beginners in fasting, start slow. Progressive steps help our body to be accustomed to the drop in food intake. You can start by fasting for one meal a day, one day a week or one week a month.
Before the Fast:
Those planning for an extended fast (more than 14 days) should prepare mentally and physically by cutting down on food intake one week before the actual fast and take on a vegetarian diet to control cravings for food. You should reduce strong beverages like coffee, tea or coke as well. Drink plenty of water.
During the Fast:
Spend the time that you would normally use for meals to pray and seek the Lord. Keep a journal on what the Lord has been showing and speaking to you.
Continue to drink plenty of water. Apple or watermelon juices are great morale boosters. Sleep early--the first few days of the fast are usually the most challenging. Persevere through this period. Consult your doctor if you are unsure of any headaches or body reactions.
Ending the Fast:
Breaking extended fasts should not be done abruptly. Start by taking small portions of food or liquids. Pace yourselves to return slowly to your normal diet in about a week.
Do not have a big celebration feast when breaking a fast! Your body may not be used to the sudden increased intake and break down. Be cautious, and always consult your doctor if you are unsure of your physical condition.
Read more about why and how to do a fast.
About the Author: Sheri is a native Arizonian who has followed the Lord and her sense of adventure to live and minister around the world. Married to Keith for 29 years, she is a mother of 3 children and currently serves as the coordinator for prayer and women's leadership development in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Compiled from Pastor Philip O'Reilly, "Prayer & Fasting for Breakthroughs Nurturing our Hunger & Thirst for God," 2002. "Your Personal Guide to Prayer and Fasting" by Dr. Bill Bright, 1997 Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru). “Hunger for God” by John Piper.