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.
Then he continued, ‘Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.
Daniel 10:2-3; 12
While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’
Fasting is voluntarily giving up something we normally consume or do so that we can increase our focus on God.
Fasting is an act of worship – we show Jesus that we love Him more than our own comfort.
Fasting is one way by which we can open our heart to more of what God already has for us. Throughout the Bible there are many instances of fasting, often in conjunction with prayer. Esther, Anna, Cornelius, Paul, Daniel, Ezra and David all fasted, and the early church practised it regularly. The Apostles worshipped, fasted and prayed (Acts 13), recognising that it is an important aspect of the spiritual life.
Fasting is linked to specific moments in the Bible too:
- Moses fasted for 40 days when he went up to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments
- The nation of Israel practiced fasting as a community during annual festivals.
- After his baptism, Jesus was led into 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert before launching into three of the most impacting years anyone has ever lived.
People fast to separate themselves from the things of the world for a greater focus on God. They fast to see his power for breakthrough and they fast to see situations over communities and even nations changed.
Fasting and prayer are greatly connected; through both, we are seeking God.
There is something intangible and hard to define about the power of fasting. We see many examples of it in the Bible and within the life of Jesus:
“When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others 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.”
Jesus expects us to fast, and suggests that there are answers to prayer we will be unable to get without fasting.
“So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off…”
There is power in denying ourselves to seek God. Fasting connects us to Him and gives strength to our prayers.
But fasting does not have to be about abstaining from food – we can fast from TV, social media or the internet, seeking to remove things that distract us from God to help us to focus on what He has for us. Fasting should have a planned time period and a strategy to end it.
We do not fast to try and prove anything to God or others, we fast to open our hearts to Him. Fasting tenderises our hearts and brings forth righteousness and revelation (Isaiah 58). In combination with prayer and worship, fasting opens us to more deeply hear what the Holy Spirit is saying.
For health reasons, total food fasts for a day or more aren’t recommended for anyone under 16, expectant or breast-feeding mothers, anyone with a medical disorder affected by diet like Diabetes.
We also recommend that food fasts should not be entered into by anyone with a history of eating disorders. Fasting should be a positive dedication to God, so discuss your motivation for fasting before committing to it.
- As you fast, look for what begins to stir in you that you normally keep at bay through comfort eating and drinking. If anger, for example, starts to rise, invite God into it and ask him what the cause of that anger really is.
- Use the time you would normally be eating to read your Bible and pray.
- Breaking a fast early can cause people to feel guilty and like they’ve sinned. Achieving a fast can cause people to feel pride and like they’ve earned favour with God. Watch out for both of these reactions as neither are healthy nor a Biblical picture of fasting.