Christian Fasting – What Does The Bible Say?
The Bible presents fasting as something that is good, profitable, and beneficial. The book of Acts records believers fasting before they made important decisions. In Acts 13:2 and 14:23, the Apostle Paul prayed and fasted with fellow believers. It was through this period of fasting that the Apostle Paul knew with certainty what the will of the Lord was concerning his call and where he was to go next to spread the gospel. In fact, in verse four of Acts 13, the Scripture was clear in saying, “so, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went …” They knew the certain will of God, in this circumstance, only through prayer and fasting, so much so that the Scripture didn’t say they went where they wanted. Rather, they were sent by the Holy Spirit.
In today’s age, we are often told that we cannot know the will of God, we cannot truly know what God says of things. This is absolutely false. While this is whole other subject matter, it goes without saying that fasting is one means by which the Bible is clear we can come to know exactly what the Lord’s will is for our call and direction.
Fasting and prayer are often linked together as found in Luke 2:37 and Luke 5:33. Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. While this is a component of the spiritual discipline of fasting, fasting looses its vital significance when we place it in the context of the following statement, “what are you giving up for Lent?”
Fasting, is not a spiritual discipline when one simple gives up something or a particular food if is not accompanied by a heart desire to want to draw near to God. Furthermore fasting must also be accompanied by intentional prayer and reading of the word of God during the time allotted for any fast. Throughout Scripture, in every context where fasting is mentioned, it is always followed up with deliberate mention of prayer or a visual description of the act of prayer the person or persons are engaged in. They didn’t just give something up for selfish reasons and went on a head with their daily routine without even given Christ a second thought throughout the day.
Brothers and Sisters, the purpose of fasting should be to take your eyes off the things of this world to focus completely on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God, and to ourselves, that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God. When taken together, the Scripture points to fasting as meaning, “to bring our flesh under the authority and discipline of God.”
Although fasting in Scripture is almost always a fasting from food, there are other ways to fast. Anything given up temporarily in order to focus all our attention on God can be considered a fast as found in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5. You may fast from the food or things which you feel are a hindrance to your intimacy with Christ. In other words, maybe you have been using television as a way to feel better, pass the time, or feel motivated. In this scenario, you are using television to do for you temporarily what God can do for you permanently when you bring your needs, thoughts, and desires under His authority through prayer. Fasting from television for a period of time will help you shift your dependency on television to dependency on Jesus Christ.
Fasting from something doesn’t necessarily mean that that thing is bad, this is not the case at all. Rather, fasting from something, food or otherwise, is to develop spiritual disciplines that will deepen our relationship with Christ, God said, “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Fasting from food, helps us to draw closer to God and be reminded that the true sustenance for our souls isn’t from earthly food but heavenly food, the word of God. This passage also reminds us that fasting from food or things or activities isn’t the Biblical understanding of fasting if we don’t spend quality time in prayer and the study of the Word which comes forth from the mouth of God.
Also, it is important to know that whether in the Bible or in a secular dictionary, fasting isn’t choosing to do more “good deeds,” or “doing charitable work,” or “taking on something extra.” No matter how wonderful and well meaning a gesture, extra good deeds will not achieve the same spiritual goals, discipline, and intimacy with God. Fasting is requires the refraining from, or giving up the pleasure of, a food or thing.
In summation, fasting should be limited to a set time, especially when fasting from food. Extended periods of time without eating can be harmful to the body. Fasting is not intended to punish the flesh, but to redirect attention to God. Fasting should not be considered a “dieting method” either. The purpose of a Biblical fast is not to lose weight, but rather to gain deeper fellowship with God. Anyone can fast, but some may not be able to fast from food (diabetics, for example). Everyone can temporarily give up something in order to draw closer to God.
By taking our eyes off the things of this world, we can more successfully turn our attention to Christ. Fasting is not a way to get God to do what we want. Fasting changes us, not God. Fasting is not a way to appear more spiritual than others. Fasting is to be done in a spirit of humility and a joyful attitude.
Matthew 6:16-18 declares, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”