What is it?
Biblically, fasting is abstaining from food, drink, sleep, sex, etc to focus on a period of spiritual growth. Specifically, we humbly deny something of the flesh to glorify God, enhance our spirit, and go deeper in our prayer life.
Focus Deeper on God
Fasting isn’t some kind of a “work” that’s commanded by Christ or required by Scripture. However, that doesn’t mean that fasting isn’t recommended as a part of our spiritual growth. The Book of Acts records believers fasting before they made important decisions (Acts 13:4; 14:23). Fasting and prayer are often linked together (Luke 2:37; 5:33). Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. However, the purpose of fasting is to take our eyes off the things of this world and instead focus on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God and to ourselves that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Although fasting in Scripture is almost always a fasting from food, there are other ways to fast. Anything you can temporarily give up in order to better focus on God can be considered a fast (1 Corinthians 7:1-5). Fasting should be limited to a set time, especially when the fasting is from food. Extended periods of time without eating are harmful to the body. Fasting is not intended to punish our flesh, but to focus on God.
Fasting should not be considered a “dieting method” either. We shouldn’t fast to lose weight, but rather to gain deeper fellowship with God. Yes, anyone can fast. Some may not be able to fast from food (diabetics, for example), but everyone can temporarily give up something in order to focus on God. Even unplugging the television for a period of time can be an effective fast.
Yes, it’s a good idea for believers to fast from time to time. Fasting is not required in Scripture, but it’s highly recommended. The main biblical reason to fast, is to develop a closer walk with God. By taking our eyes off the things of this world, we can focus better on Christ. “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” (Matthew 6:16-18).
A Lifestyle of Servant Living
Fasting is more than denying ourselves food or something else of the flesh – it’s a sacrificial lifestyle before God. In Isaiah 58, we learn what a “true fast” is. It’s not just a one-time act of humility and denial before God, it’s a lifestyle of servant ministry to others. As Isaiah tells us, fasting encourages humility, loosens the chains of injustice, unties the chords of the yoke, frees the oppressed, feeds the hungry, provides for the poor, and clothes the naked. This concept of fasting isn’t a one day thing – it’s a lifestyle of servant living for God and others.
“Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am’ (Isaiah 58:8-9)
Are there different types of fasting?
The Bible describes four major types of fasting:
- A Regular Fast – Traditionally, a regular fast means refraining from eating all food. Most people still drink water or juice during a regular fast. When Jesus fasted in the desert, the Bible says, “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” This verse does not mention Jesus being thirsty.
- A Partial Fast – This type of fast generally refers to omitting a specific meal from your diet or refraining from certain types of foods. Daniel 10:2-3 says, “At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.” In Daniel 1:12, they restricted their diet to vegetables and water: “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.”
- A Full Fast – These fasts are complete – no food and no drink. Acts 9:9 describes when Paul went on a full fast for three days following his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus: “For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” Esther also called for this type of fast in Esther 4:15-16: “Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.'” It is recommended that this type of fast be done with extreme caution and not for extended periods of time.
- A Sexual Fast – 1 Corinthians 7:3-6 says, “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
Although not mentioned in the Bible, Christians today commit to fasting from other activities as well. Some give up entertainment such as TV or movies to concentrate on prayer. Others fast from sleep or another activity for a specified period of time.