Fasting is mentioned many times in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. It means going without something that’s important to us so that we can spend more time praying and drawing close to God. Jesus did this himself right at the start of his ministry. He went without food in the wilderness, helped by the Holy Spirit, and came out of it able to resist temptation from Satan and being sure about what God wanted him to do.
Jesus clearly expects his disciples – that’s you and me – to fast. In Matthew 6:16-18 he says ‘When you fast…’ not ‘If you fast…’ He says: “When you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They make their faces look sad to show people they are fasting…So when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then people will not know that you are fasting, but your Father, whom you cannot see, will see you. Your Father sees what is done in secret, and he will reward you.”
So what’s the point of fasting? It’s not about trying to impress God with how spiritual we are, and trying to twist his arm to get what we want.
Fasting helps us in several ways:
- Fasting is a great way of remembering how much God has blessed us and how dependent on Him we are. You sometimes only really appreciate something when you have to do without it!
- Fasting gives us the opportunity to exercise self-control and ensure our ‘appetites’ are not in control of us.
- Fasting reminds us to pray. When your stomach rumbles because you’re hungry, it’s a bit like an alarm clock telling you it’s time to pray. You can then drive that hunger into a prayer, for example: ‘God I’m more hungry that you answer this prayer than I am for food.’
- Fasting also creates time and space to pray more. We can use the time when we’d usually have a meal to pray instead.
What should we fast?
The most common approach to fasting involves going without food. If, for example, you were committing to a 24 hour fast then you would go 24 hours without having breakfast, lunch and dinner. Make sure that you keep drinking although water or juice is better than lots of caffeine drinks. Some people might not feel able to do this so you could fast breakfast and lunch and then just eat in the evening (maybe a lighter meal).
If you’re not physically able to give up food, for medical reasons, then consider other things you could ‘fast’ e.g. tv.
Remember, we don’t fast to impress God or try to twist His arm. Fasting is good for us as we sacrifice in order to draw closer to God.
Additional scriptures to look at
- Nehemiah 1 – Nehemiah fasts and prays to receive God’s wisdom on how to restore Jerusalem.
- Isaiah 58:1-5 – fasting on its own doesn’t impress God; it needs to be done with right motives.
- Joel 2:12-13 – God encourages us to return to him with fasting.
- Acts 13:1-3 – the first Christians fasted and prayed when they had important decisions to make.