This is part 6 of 10 in the Basic Practices for Growing Christians series.
Fasting is a biblical practice that involves voluntarily depriving ourselves of food or water (or some other good gift from God) in order to focus solely on God. Practiced with the right attitude, fasting will help you grow in your relationship with him.
Fasting Is Normal Christian Experience
Fasting is not very common among Christians today, in part as a reaction against abuses in the past when fasting was practiced with inadequate understanding or wrong motives. Yet Jesus saw fasting as a normal experience for God’s people. In the Sermon on the Mount, he told his followers, “When you fast…” not “If you fast…” (Matthew 6:16). Another time, Jesus expressed his expectation that his followers would fast.
Matthew 9:14-15 One day the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked him, “Why don’t your disciples fast like we do and the Pharisees do?” Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests mourn while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.
The Purpose of Fasting
The Bible gives many examples of people fasting, for a variety of reasons. For example, people might fast as a regular habit or spiritual discipline, to focus on God. Fasting becomes a regular framework of life, usually coupled with prayer and worship.
Luke 2:37 [Anna] lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer.
Biblical characters often fasting during times of crisis, to express dependence on God and to ask God to intervene to meet their need. For example, a vast army threatened to overwhelm Israel.
2 Chronicles 20:3-4 Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance. He also ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting. So people from all the towns of Judah came to Jerusalem to seek the Lord’s help.
But fasting is not just for times of crisis and need. It can be done in times of blessing to stay humble and regain an eternal perspective.
Fasting is also commonly an expression of repentance and returning to God.
2 Samuel 7:6 So [Israel] gathered at Mizpah and, in a great ceremony, drew water from a well and poured it out before the Lord. They also went without food all day and confessed that they had sinned against the Lord.
People fast to seek God’s guidance about some particular decision or situation.
Acts 14:23 Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
How Fasting Works
God’s power is available to all of his people at all times. In that way, it is like the sun. But while the sun shines everywhere, a magnifying glass can focus the power of the sun on a particular spot with greater intensity. There is nothing magical about fasting. Fasting does not insure that something miraculous will happen. But fasting helps us concentrate God’s power on a specific issue or need.
In the Bible, people sometimes fasted just from food, or just from water. Sometimes they fasted three days (Esther 4:16), one day, or one day a week. It may have been just for one meal. At times, people fasted, not from all food, but just certain foods (Daniel 10:3). If it is an extended fast, then once the crisis is over, or the decision has been made, the fast is done.
When fasting, temper your expectations of what God will do. It’s easy to think that because you are praying and fasting, God has to do whatever you want or need – because you are so focused and serious. But it’s really about focusing on God, not on what you expect him to do. Whatever happens will be a blessing, whether it’s a miracle or a breakthrough, or not. The point is that you are in a closer, deeper relationship with God in the midst of your issue or crisis.
Be aware that the spiritual battle can be intensified during a time of fasting. Fasting can be hard! Temptations can feel stronger than ever. You may not feel like you’re winning the battle. You may feel even more spiritually vulnerable and more exposed. Remember, Jesus was fasting when Satan attacked him with temptations in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).
Practiced with the right attitude, fasting can be something God can use in your life to help you grow in your relationship to him.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- Have you ever tried fasting? Why did you do it? What happened?
- Read 2 Samuel 12:15-22. Explain David’s personal crisis.
- In this passage, why did David engage in fasting? Why did he end his fast?
- Read Joel 2:12-15. Why did the prophet call the people to fast? With what attitudes were they to approach fasting, and why?
- Read Daniel 9:3-5. Why did Daniel fast? What did his fasting reflect about his attitude?
- Read Ezra 8:21-23. Why did Ezra proclaim a fast?
- When would fasting be appropriate for an entire group to practice together (as in Ezra or Joel), as opposed to what isolated individuals might do?
- Read Acts 13:1-3. What role did fasting play in this situation?
- Read Matthew 6:16-18. What are some key points Jesus makes about fasting?
- Of all the reasons for fasting, which one applies most to you right now?
- What sensible precautions should a person take before engaging in a fast for the first time?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.