What does the Bible say about fasting?
One aspect of Christian life that is experiencing a revival in our time, is fasting.Perhaps we need to listen once more to the Bible's teaching about fasting, so as not to miss this blessing.
It is not true that only Pharisees fast. Right through the Bible / also in the New Testament / fasting plays an important role in serving God. During the Reformation fasting was prominent.
John Wesley (of the Methodist Church) even refused to ordain a minister who did not fast regularly.
When should a Christian fast?
The famous Reformer John Calvin speaks about the Christian fast in Institute 1V:X11:14-18. He says one should fast for three reasons:
1. To avoid being controlled by the flesh (your sinful nature);
2. For prayer and meditation;
3. As part of repentance and confession of sins.
He stresses especially that a time of fasting
and prayer should be called for whenever intercession for an important matter is needed.
John Wesley tells of a national day of prayer and fasting proclaimed by the King of England in 1756 because of an impending attack by France. The churches were filled to overflowing, for everybody realized the danger. Their prayers were answered, and the attack was averted.
Examples from the Bible
We often read of times of prayer and fasting in the Bible, e.g.
- when Christian leaders pray together (Acts 13:1-2);
- when ministers are ordained (Acts 13:3);
- when elders are elected (Acts 14:23);
- when believers are in danger (Esther 4:16);
- when specific prayers are called for (Psalm 35:13).
In the Sermon on the Mount it is clear that Jesus expected his disciples to fast at times. In Matthew 6:16-18 He says, "and when you fast, do not put on a sad face as the hypocrites do . . ."
It is surprising to discover
which Bible characters found it necessary to fast, for example Moses (Exodus 24:18); David (Psalm 69:10); Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:1-4); Elijah (1 Kings 19:8); Ezra (Ezra 8:21-23); Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4); Joel (Joel 2:15 ); Anna (Luke 2:37); Jesus (Matthew 4:2); his disciples (Luke 5:35); Paul (Acts 9:9) and the Christian churches (Acts 14:23).
So we also read in the Didache, a Christian document written in the first century AD, that Christians of that period fasted every
Wednesday and Friday.
How does one fast?
There are different ways of fasting:
1. by avoiding delicacies (Daniel 10:3);
2. by eating less than usual;
3. by avoiding all food, but drinking liquids (Luke 4:2);
4. by abstaining from all food and drink (Acts 9:9). (The latter is exceptional, since a normal human cannot live for more than three days
The Christian fast should not be confused with
- eating strikes for political purposes;
- a diet plan to lose weight;
- fasting for health, as has become the fashion lately.
Christian fasting is always combined with prayer, since fasting on its own does not have any value in God's eyes (Joel 2:13; Isaiah 58:5; Colossians 2:23; Zechariah 7:5). Fasting reveals to us what really controls our lives. It helps to keep the body und er control (1 Corinthians 9:27) and helps us to avoid becoming addicted to anything (1 Corinthians
The Christian fast is completely voluntary. It helps you to dedicate yourself completely to prayer. All who practice fasting testify to the value thereof.
If you wish to fast, you are recommended to start by skipping one meal, and later to abstain from food for 24 hours (supper to supper). If you are not very healthy you could also fast for a period of time by just abstaining from rich foods and sweets.
Remember the main purpose of fasting: to
have fellowship with God. It is not to try to force God to do something against his will, but to conform yourself to God's will.