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 for medical reasons is not biblical fasting. There must be a spiritual motivation to qualify a fast as biblical.
In his book “A Hunger for God,” John Piper writes, “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, asking 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 the 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 and confirmation during 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 for Fasting
- To be seen by others (Matthew 6:18). Piper writes, “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 18:9-14). In a parable to people “confident of their own righteousness” (New International Version), Jesus spoke of two men. One said, “I fast twice a week.” The other said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Only one “went home justified before God.”
- To be commended to God (1 Corinthians 8:8). Food will not commend us to God; we are neither worse if we do not eat nor the better if we do. 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
- For spiritual strength against an enemy attack.
- To awaken a spiritual hunger for God that may be dulled because of “desires for other things” (Mark 4:19, NIV).
- 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, NIV).
- To demonstrate our love and desire for God above all things (even above His gifts).
- To divide our bread with the poor. “To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6-7, NIV).
5. Types of Fasts
There are three types of fasts that can be described as “biblical”:
- Partial fasts — Described in the book of Daniel, where for three weeks he abstained only from “delicacies” like meat and wine (Daniel 10:3).
- Complete fasts — Water-only 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.
- Absolute fasts — 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 supernatural absolute fasts of forty days (Deuteronomy 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8). An absolute fast should be undertaken with great care and only under the guidance of a physician. Our bodies cannot go without water for more than three days.
6. Preparing for a Water-Only or Juice Fast
Beginners in fasting should start slow. Progressive steps help our bodies adjust to the drop in food intake. You can start by fasting for one meal or for one day.
Before the Fast
Those planning for an extended fast (more than 14 days) should always consult a doctor beforehand. Prepare mentally and physically by cutting down on food intake one week before the actual fast and taking on a vegetarian diet to control cravings for food. Reduce intake of strong beverages like coffee, tea or soft drinks 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 you and teaching you.
Continue to drink plenty of water. Apple or watermelon juice 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 about any severe headaches or bodily reactions.
Ending the Fast
Do not break extended fasts abruptly. Start by taking small portions of fruits, vegetables and liquids. Pace yourself 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. 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. She and her husband, Keith, have three children and currently serve as directors of leadership resources for global student-led movements. Their scope includes Brazil, Greece, India, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain and Zimbabwe among other countries.
The advice in this article has been curated from Philip O’Reilly, “Prayer & Fasting for Breakthroughs: Nurturing Our Hunger & Thirst for God” (2002); Bill Bright, “Your Personal Guide to Fasting and Prayer,” (1997); John Piper, “A Hunger for God,” (Wheaton, Crossway, 1997).