I. What Fasting Is (and is not)
a. Definition: “A Christian’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.” -Whitney
b. Types of Fasts in the Bible
i. With Respect to Food and Drink Intake
1. Normal Fast – abstaining from all food but not water (Matt. 4:2)
2. Absolute Fast – abstaining from all food and water (Ezra 10:6; Acts 9:9)
3. Supernatural Fast – abstaining from all food and water for a period of time that would be humanly impossible apart from God’s supernatural intervention (Deut. 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8)
ii. With Respect to Participation
1. Private Fast – on your own in secret (Matt. 6:16-18)
2. Congregational Fast – as a body of believers (Joel 2:15-16; Acts 13:2)
3. National Fast – as a nation (2 Chron 20:3; Jonah 3:5-8)
iii. With Respect to Scheduling
1. Regular Fast – scheduled on a regular basis (Lev. 16:29-31; Zech. 8:19; Luke 18:12)
2. Occasional Fast – done whenever needed, desired, or otherwise decided (Matt. 9:15)
NOTE: Most Christian fasting is normal, private, and occasional in nature.
c. What is NOT fasting
i. Eating – the Bible never calls something a fast if food is eaten.
ii. Prayerless hunger – “Fasting without prayer is a diet.”
II. What God Expects of Us (and what He does not)
a. Fasting is expected to be a normal part of our lives as Christians
Matthew 6:16 And when you fast…
Luke 5:35 and then they will fast in those days. (The days we’re in now.)
b. Private fasts are expected of us, while other types of fasting are optional
Matthew 6:17-18 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
c. Fasting is expected to be sincere, worshipful, and self-denying
Isaiah 58:3-4 Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. 4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.
d. What is NOT expected:
i. The Bible does not require Christians to fast on a regular schedule, although many have chosen to do so.
ii. The Bible does not require Christians to fast for any particular length of time. It could be as short as missing one meal or as long as 40 days.
iii. The Bible does not require Christians to observe any particular type of fast other than private fasts. (But others can be good to do, such as congregational fasts.)
III. Good Purposes For Fasting (and bad ones)
a. Purposes for every fast
i. Obedience to God’s expectation that we do it
ii. To amplify our prayers and worship
Daniel 9:3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.
iii. To broaden our concerns and perspectives beyond your own needs
Isaiah 58:6-7 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
iv. To become more godly
1 Timothy 4:7 discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness
v. To be rewarded in eternity
Matthew 6:18 And your Father who sees [your fasting] in secret will reward you.
b. Occasion-specific purposes in the Bible
i. Seeking God’s guidance (Judges 20:26; Acts 14:23)
ii. Expressing grief (1 Sam. 31:13, 2 Sam. 1:11-12)
iii. Seeking deliverance or protection (2 Chron. 20:3-4; Ezra 8:20-21)
iv. Expressing repentance from sin (1 Sam. 7:6; Jonah 3:5-8)
v. Humbling yourself before God (1 Kings 21:27-29; Psalm 35:13)
vi. Expressing concern for the work of God (Neh. 1:3-4; Daniel 9:3)
vii. Overcoming temptation and dedicating yourself to God (Matt. 4:1-11)
viii. Expressing love and worship to God (Luke 2:37; Phil. 3:19)
c. Bad purposes for fasting
i. To lose weight
ii. To make God owe us something
iii. To be seen by others
Matthew 6:16 And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
iv. Just for the sake of fasting
Zechariah 7:5-6 Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?
IV. What Steps to Take (and not to)
a. Steps NOT to take
i. Ignoring or forgetting about God’s call to fast
ii. Jumping into fasting without prayer
iii. Jumping into fasting without considering it medically
b. Steps TO take
1. If you have any concerns, get a doctor’s advice first. If your doctor says no, then do not fast. God is gracious and will understand.
2. If you haven’t fasted much before, start with missing only one, two, or three meals.
3. Don’t plan a fast for a period of time when you’ll be doing more vigorous physical activity than usual.
4. Drink plenty of liquids, especially water. (But don’t drink milk, smoothies, or other filling drinks, which would defeat the purpose.)
5. If you are fasting and feel like you might pass out, then thank God for the time of fasting He gave you and go get something to eat.
6. When the fast is over, don’t gorge yourself. Go back to eating a normal amount on a normal schedule.
ii. Spiritually and Practically
1. Pray about and plan for fasting. Put a date on your calendar today, perhaps Thursday, May 6, which is the National Day of Prayer.
2. During the fast, use the time when you would have eaten meals instead as time for reading God’s Word and praying. Each time you feel a hunger pain throughout the day, let it remind you to seek God’s face and to declare that your belly is not your god (Phil 3:19).
3. Abstain from more than just food when you’re fasting. Also take that time to step away from other things that you tend to indulge in such as TV, movies, music, internet, video games, etc. God wants it to be a time of self-denial.
4. Do good for others while you fast. If your fast doesn’t move you to act out your faith, then it’s just an empty ritual (see Isaiah 58:1-11).
Final thought: fasting as preparation for real suffering that God will take us through in the future
· The call to follow Jesus is a call to suffer (Luke 9:23-24; Phil. 3:7-11)
· Fasting can teach us how to find our joy in Christ even while we suffer; we look beyond the temporary pain and toward the eternal reward.
Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
· Jesus suffered and died for us, and when we follow him we suffer also. Fasting is one step.