Fasting is a spiritual discipline that involves voluntarily abstaining from food for a period of time. It’s mentioned numerous times throughout the Bible, especially in relation to prayer and seeking God. Here’s an overview of what the Bible says about fasting:
Types of Fasting
There are several kinds of fasts described in the Bible:
- Normal fast – Abstaining from all food, but not water (Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:2)
- Partial fast – Restricting diet but not abstaining completely (Daniel 10:3)
- Juice fast – Only drinking fruit or vegetable juices (Esther 4:16)
- Sexual fast – Abstaining from sexual relations (1 Corinthians 7:5)
- Media fast – Limiting media/technology use to focus on prayer and the Bible
- Absolute fast – Abstaining from both food and water (Ezra 10:6, Esther 4:16, Acts 9:9)
The most common type of fast mentioned in the Bible is the normal fast, where people abstain from eating but still drink water. Partial fasts are also described, where people restrict their diet in some way but don’t completely abstain from eating.
Purposes of Fasting
There are several purposes and benefits of fasting according to the Bible:
- Seeking God’s guidance and wisdom – Moses fasted before receiving the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28), the nation of Israel fasted when attacked (Judges 20:26), and Daniel fasted for guidance from God (Daniel 9:3). Fasting humbles us and reminds us of our dependence on God.
- Repentance – Fasting was often done by those mourning their sins, such as David weeping for his adultery and murder (Psalm 69:10). It expresses sorrow and a changing of heart.
- Expressing grief and lament – People fasted to show grief over death and tragedy (1 Samuel 31:13, 2 Samuel 1:12). It expresses a hurting heart.
- Seeking deliverance or protection – Jehoshaphat proclaimed a national fast when Judah was attacked (2 Chronicles 20:3), Esther called for a fast when the Jews were threatened (Esther 4:16), and Ezra fasted for safe travel back to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:21-23).
- Spiritual discipline and purification – Fasting brings us face to face with our human frailties and dependence on God. It can cleanse us spiritually (Isaiah 58:6-12).
- Ministering to the Lord – Anna “worshipped night and day, fasting and praying” at the temple (Luke 2:37). Fasting can increase focus during times of ministry.
- Strengthening prayer – Fasting is often combined with prayer in the Bible. After Jesus cast out an evil spirit, he told his disciples that type only comes out through prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:21).
Overall, the purposes of fasting include seeking God’s face, repenting of sin, expressing grief, seeking protection, purifying ourselves, ministering to God, and strengthening prayer.
How to Fast
Here are some tips on fasting in a Biblical manner:
- Set your heart attitude – Come to God with humility and an openness to hear Him. Don’t fast just as a ritual (Isaiah 58:3-7).
- Plan and prepare – Decide what type of fast you’ll do and for how long. Prepare spiritually. Get your other responsibilities covered so you can focus (Luke 14:28-33).
- Consider your health – Some health conditions make fasting unwise or require modification. Consult your doctor if needed.
- Tell others – Leting loved ones know you are fasting can help avoid misunderstandings.
- Limit distractions – Minimize work, social media, and activities to maximize time seeking God.
- Journal, pray, and worship – Capture what God is showing you. Add fasting to your regular spiritual disciplines.
- Break the fast wisely – Don’t overeat when resuming your normal diet. Eat simple, easily digested foods.
Jesus’ Teaching on Fasting
Jesus expected that fasting would be a regular part of spiritual life for his followers. In Matthew 6:16-18 he said, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do…But 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.” Jesus’ instructions show that fasting should:
- Not be done to impress others, only God (v16)
- Not be made obvious to others (v17-18)
- Be combined with ordinary grooming and hygiene (v17)
- Be directed toward God the Father (v18)
Jesus assumed his followers would be fasting, He just cautioned against fasting for show instead of genuinely seeking God. Elsewhere, He spoke of fasting being combined with fervent prayer (Matthew 17:21). Jesus set the perfect example of fasting when He fasted for 40 days before starting His public ministry (Matthew 4:2).
How Often Should We Fast?
The Bible doesn’t command precisely how often to fast. It offers examples of people fasting regularly (Luke 2:37) and also occasionally for specific purposes. Based on the various instances of fasting in the Bible, some guidelines include:
- Fast occasionally for specific prayer needs or life events
- Consider fasting for one day a week as part of your spiritual disciplines
- Fast during times set aside for special spiritual focus, like Lent or revival services
- Allow the Holy Spirit to guide your fasting and tailor it to your situation
The goal isn’t legalistic fasting for fasting’s sake. The goal is drawing closer to God. Fasting should spring naturally from a desire to heighten focus on God and the spiritual dimensions of life. It enhances prayer, repentance, worship, and dedication to God.
Bible Stories of Fasting
Here are some prominent stories of fasting in the Bible:
Moses’ Receiving of the Commandments – Exodus 34:28
After the Israelites’ idolatry with the golden calf, God told Moses to come back up Mount Sinai to receive the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments again. “Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.” Moses fasted and communed with God those 40 days.
Hannah Praying for a Child – 1 Samuel 1:7-8
“On the day Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions of the meat…to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.” Hannah fasted and poured her heart out to the Lord in grief and longing for a child (1 Samuel 1:10).
David’s Repentance After the Bathsheba Affair – 2 Samuel 12:16-18, Psalm 69:10
“David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.” This shows David fasting and grieving after his confession of adultery with Bathsheba and arranging the murder of her husband Uriah. Psalm 69:10 he mentions fasting as part of his repentance.
Daniel’s 3 Week Fast – Daniel 10:3-13
“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…On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man…He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed…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.” This shows Daniel fasting for 3 weeks while seeking God’s wisdom and direction.
Esther’s Call for a Fast – Esther 4:16
“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 attendants 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.” Esther called for a fast when the Jewish people were under threat. She recognized fasting as an act of intercession before approaching the king.
Jesus’ Temptation in the Desert – Matthew 4:1-2
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” Before launching His earthly ministry, Jesus fasted and was tempted by Satan in the desert. Fasting prepared Him for ministry and spiritual warfare.
Warnings About Fasting
While the Bible promotes fasting for faith, there are also some cautions about the proper motivation and attitude:
- Don’t fast hypocritically just to impress others (Matthew 6:16-18)
- Don’t let fasting cover up inner wickedness (Isaiah 58:3-7)
- Don’t obsess over minor aspects of fasting (Colossians 2:16-23)
- Don’t completely neglect eating for extreme durations (1 Timothy 5:23)
The purpose of fasting is to draw closer to God, not to adhere to rituals or win praise from other people. It should flow from a sincere heart of faith, not duty or dead religion.
Tips for Your First Fast
If you’ve never fasted before, here are some tips for getting started:
- Start small – Fast for only part of a day or one day at first.
- Drink water – Stay well hydrated, especially if fasting for several days.
- Rest properly – Get sufficient sleep before and after your fast.
- Break the fast gently – Eat light, easily digestible food when resuming eating.
- Pray and journal – Seek God and record what He is showing you.
- Tell a friend – Have someone join you or encourage you.
- Be flexible – If you feel ill or incapable, stop and try again later.
The first fast is often the hardest physically and spiritually. Don’t be too ambitious. Learn your limits and build up your spiritual muscles over time. With experience and wisdom, longer and more intense fasts can be attempted.
Scriptures to Study While Fasting
Here are some great Bible passages to study and meditate on during your fast:
- Matthew 6:16-18 – Jesus’ instructions on fasting
- Isaiah 58 – Fasting that pleases God
- Nehemiah 9 – Israel’s fasting and repentance
- Psalm 69:10 – David’s fasting in repentance
- Daniel 9 & 10 – Daniel’s fast for revelation
- Joel 2:12-18 – Call to fasting and repentance
- Matthew 4:1-11 – Jesus’ fasting during temptation
- Acts 13:2-3 – Early church fasting and ministry
Immerse your mind in God’s Word while fasting. Let His Word rebuke, refresh, and renew you during your fast.
Finding Your Own Way While Fasting
The Bible gives principles and examples of fasting, but everyone must find their own path. Seek God’s guidance for your fasting journey. Over time, you’ll discover:
- What fasting methods work best for your body, temperament, and calling
- When fasting is most helpful during different seasons of life
- How fasting and prayer work together to draw you closer to Jesus
- Creative ways to make fasting meaningful while still keeping up with duties
- How fasting stretches your faith and deepens trust in God’s provision
Be patient with yourself. Fasting is a process that takes time to understand and master. But God rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Keep persevering in this powerful spiritual discipline!
Common Questions About Fasting
Should pregnant or nursing women fast?
Pregnant and nursing mothers are generally either prohibited or cautioned against fasting due to their bodies’ increased nutritional needs during that time. If a pregnant or nursing mother fasts, it should only be after medical consultation.
Can children fast?
Children below a certain age should not fast food due to their developing bodies and metabolic rates. Older children who understand fasting can try short, age-appropriate fasts under parental supervision.
What about fasting for medical tests?
Fasting is sometimes required prior to medical tests and procedures. This diagnostic fasting differs from biblical fasting and should be conducted carefully based on medical advice.
What if I take medications?
Those taking regular medications should talk with their doctor before fasting to ensure needed medicines are still properly taken.
Can fasting cure disease?
While fasting has health benefits, it should not be viewed as a cure-all for diseases. Extended fasting should only be done under medical monitoring.
What’s a Daniel fast?
A Daniel fast is a partial fast based on accounts of Daniel’s eating habits in the Bible. It involves abstaining from meat, sweets, and breads and eating fruits, vegetables, and water.
Fasting is an important spiritual discipline that allows us to seek God more earnestly. When practiced with sincerity and wisdom, it can strengthen prayer, purify our hearts, reveal hidden areas of our lives, and deepen dependence on God. Approach fasting with care and patience. Let Scripture and the Holy Spirit guide your journey into this time-honored path of drawing closer to Jesus.