What is Fasting?

an overview of the spiritual practice of fasting.

What is fasting?  

Abstaining from something, usually food, for spiritual purposes. Fasting is an expression of spiritual hunger. It is a way of bringing our physical selves into alignment with our spiritual desire and need.

What does the Bible say?

Biblical examples: Moses (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9, 18), David (2 Samuel 12:16), Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4); Esther (Esther 4:16), Daniel (Daniel 1:12), Anna (Luke 2:37), Paul (Acts 14:23), Jesus (Matthew 4:1-2), the early church (13:2).  

Jesus placed fasting on the same level as financial giving and prayer (Matthew 6:1-18).

Jesus said that there is a time for fasting (Matthew 9:15).

Paul says we should give ourselves at times to prayer and fasting (1 Corinthians 7:5).

What is the purpose of fasting?

The primary purpose of fasting is to focus on God and to center our attention on Him.  In doing so, we glorify God (Zechariah 7:5).

Outer fasting is to lead to inner prayer, worship, and devotion.  We “fast from food so we can feast on God.” Our physical hunger is a constant reminder to turn that appetite toward prayer and worship.

Fasting is not for spiritual brownie points or gaining God's approval (Matthew 6:16-18).

Secondary purposes of fasting:  fasting can reveal non-essential things that control us and take precedence in our lives (1 Corinthians 6:12); fasting can increase the effectiveness of prayer (2 Samuel 12:16); fasting can bring guidance from God in decisions (Acts 14:23); fasting can bring revelations (Acts 13:2); fasting can help our physical well-being (Daniel 1:12); fasting can aid in concentration; fasting can help bring deliverance for those who are in bondage.  

What are the different types of fasting?

Absolute fast:  no food or water for a period of time (Exodus 34:28; Esther 4:16)
Normal fast:  only water, but no food or other drink (Nehemiah 1:4)
Partial fast:  usually only water, juices, and sometimes fruit (Daniel 1:12)
Lent fast:  giving up something specific for the duration of Lent (Ash Wednesday – Easter Sunday)

Other things to fast from:  people, media, electronics, social media, telephone, luxuries, certain activities / habits, etc.

The Bottom LIne

The ancient saints were always bringing their outer, physical selves into alignment with their inner, spiritual and emotional selves. When they were in great grief, they'd rip their clothes or rub dirt and ashes on their bodies. When they were grateful and ecstatic, they'd leap and dance and feast. Their postures of prayer -- whether face down or standing with arms wide open -- reflected their inner disposition as well. And that's where fasting came in for them. It was like saying, "I'm so spiritually hungry, there's no way I'm going to let my body be well-fed. I want my physical self to mirror my spiritual state." There's incredible wisdom and beauty to this.

Are you spiritually hungry? Praying in a very focused way for God to do something in your life? Longing for a break-through of some sort? Or just wanting a deeper relationship with God? Choosing a fast is a great way to align your whole self in this spiritual pursuit.

Be wise. If you're fasting from food, continue to drink lots of water. If you're not in good physical health, consult your doctor. Start small with fasting a meal or two and see how it effects your body. Or just fast from "flavorful" foods, sweets, meats, sugar, etc, to begin with. But more important than what you withhold from your body is what you feed your spirit (or else it's just a diet -- and fasting is NOT a way to diet!). So fuel up with scripture (click here for some suggested reading plans), focused prayer, worship music, and connection with people!