Fasting is the partial or total abstinence from food for a defined period and specific purpose. It has been practised by mankind in practically all ages, nations, cultures and religions.
Maybe with spiritual purpose or even medicinal since the fast provides tremendous physical benefits with the detoxification which produces in the body. But our focus is biblical fasting. Many Christians today do not know what the Bible says about the fasting, or some may receive a distorted teaching or not received any teaching at all about this subject.
I think the Church today lives divided between two extremes: those who do not give any value to fasting and those who excel in their emphasis on it. I think God wants to awaken us to the understanding and practice of this principle which undoubtedly is a powerful weapon for the Christian.
There are no fixed rules about when fasting in the Bible or what kind of fasting practice, this is something personal. But the practice of fasting as well as being Biblical admonition brings some principles that must be understood and followed.
1) The Bible commands the FAST?
In the Old Testament, the Law of Moses, the Jews had a single day of fasting instituted: the Day of Atonement (Lev 23.27), also known as "the day of fasting" (Jer. 36.6) and to which Paul referred to as "fasting" (Acts 09.27). But throughout the Old and New Testament, there is only one commandment concerning fasting. However, although there is an imperative about this practice, the Bible is full of references to fasting. Speaks not only of people who have fasted and the way they did, but we also infer that we fasting and instructs us in the right way to do it.
Many teachers have failed so seriously in saying that, because there is no specific order for fasting, then we should not fast. But when we consider Jesus' teaching on fasting, there is no denying the Master wanted to see us fasting:
"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 in 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.” (Mt 6.16-18).
Although Jesus is not sending us fasting, his words reveal that He expected of us this practice. He directed us to the proper motivation that must be taken while fasting. And when He said that the Father rewards the right attitude of fasting, He showed that this practice produces results!
Some people say that if the epistles say nothing about fasting is because is not important, and despise the teaching of Jesus about fasting.
This is wrong! If you do that, STOP WITH THAT!
Jesus did not come to teach the Jews to live and the Old Covenant, He came to establish the New Covenant, and all its teachings pointed to the practices of the citizens of the kingdom of God.
When He was to be subject to heaven, commanded His apostles to teach people to observe ALL that He had commanded (Matt. 28.20), and this including the proper way to fast!
Jesus himself practised fasting, and we read in Acts that the Church leaders also did. Historical records of the church fathers also show that fasting was still seen as a practice of believers long after the apostles. Fasting, therefore, must be part of our lives and practised in a balanced way, within biblical teaching.
Although the Lord Jesus Himself has fasted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, and often went without eating (either through lack of time ministering to the people - Mark 6.31, or by spending the night just praying without food - Mark 6.46), we recognize that Jesus and his disciples did not observe the fast of the Jews of their days of fasting (except the Day of Atonement). It was the custom of the Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18.12), but Jesus and his disciples did not. Indeed they came to question Jesus about it:
"They said to Him. ”John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” Jesus answered, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast." (Luke 5.33-35).
The Master doesn’t show Himself against fasting and said afterwards that He was "taken out" of direct contact with the disciples (back to heaven), they would be fasting.
Jesus did not refer to fasting only for the days between his death and resurrection/reappearance to the disciples (to mention the day that they would be without the groom), but the days after of His death.
But Jesus made it clear that the practice of fasting in the mold of what was in His day was not what God wanted. The motivation was wrong, people fasted to prove their religiosity and spirituality, and Jesus taught to do it in secret, without fanfare.
Fasting can be an empty practice if it is not done correctly. This happened in the days of the Old Testament when the people began to ask:
"Why have we fasted, They say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed? "(Isaiah 58.3a).
And God said to people that they did wrong:
"Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high"(Isa. 58.3b, 4).
On the other hand, the verse is implying that if observed correctly, God would listen to the voice of the people and help them.
3) The purpose of fasting?
I like the statement of Kenneth Hagin about fasting:
"Fasting does not change God. It is the same before, during and after your fast. But fasting will change you. Will help you to be more susceptible to the Spirit of God."
Fasting does not make God more gracious and merciful to us, it is connect directly to us, to our need to break the barriers and limitations of our flesh.
Fasting will aware our spirit, mortify the flesh and afflicts our soul. Jesus left us precious teaching about it when talking about fasting:
"And no one pours new wine into old wineskin. If he does, the wine will burst the skin, and both the wine and the wineskin will be ruined. No, He pours new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22).
The wineskin was containers made from animal skin, which was duly prepared, but over time get old and parched. The wine was grape juice extracted naturally and fermented in the wineskin. So when did the new wine, it was wise to put it in a new wineskin that does not burst at the time that the wine began to ferment, and the best container was the new wineskin.
With this illustration, Jesus was teaching us that the new wine that He would bring (the Holy Spirit) should be put into new wineskins, and wineskins (or container of wine) is our body. The Bible is saying with this that fasting has the power to "renew" our body. Scripture teaches that the flesh militates against the spirit, and the best way to get the wine of the Spirit is in a process of mortification of the flesh.
I believe that the primary purpose of fasting is to mortify the flesh, which will make us more susceptible to the Holy Spirit. There are other benefits that will arise from this, but this is the essence of fasting.
Some people think that fasting is a "magic wand" to solve things by itself, but we can not take the wrong approach. When we fast, we should not believe in Fasting, but in God.
For example, faith is from the spirit and not from the flesh, so by fasting we are removing the resistance of the flash and releasing our faith to express itself. When Jesus told that the disciples could not cast out a demon from lack of fasting (Matt. 17:21), he did not limit the problem to this, but talked about the lack of faith (Mt 17.19,20) as a decisive factor in the failure of that attempt to release.
Fasting helps to release your faith! What gives us victory over the enemy, is that what Christ did on the cross. Fasting in itself does not make me win but releases faith to fight and strengthens us, making us more aware of the authority delegated to us.
But despite the central purpose of fasting is the mortification of the flesh, we verify many other biblical examples for this practice:
a) In the Old Testament we find several purposes for fasting:
Consagration - The Nazarite vow involved abstinence/fasting for certain types of food (Numbers 6.3-4)
Repentance of sins - Samuel and the people fasted at Mizpah, as a sign of repentance of their sins (1 Samuel 7.6, Nee 9.11)
Mourning - David fasts in an expression of grief for Saul and Jonathan, and after the death of Abner. (2 Samuel 1.12 and 3.35)
Afflictions - David fasts in favour of the child born from Bathsheba, who was sick unto death (2 Sam 12.16-23).
Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah when he was in the danger of being conquered by the Moabites and Ammonites (2 Cr 20.3)
Seeking Protection - Ezra fasting proclaimed by the river Ava, asking for protection and blessing of God on his journey (Ezra 8.21-23)
Esther asks his people to fast for her, for protection in their encounter with the king (Esther 4.16)
In situations of illness - David fasted and prayed for others who were sick (Psalms 35.13)
Intercession - Daniel praying for Jerusalem and his people (Dan. 9.3, 10.2-3)
b) In the Gospels
Preparing for Spiritual Warfare - Jesus mentioned that certain varieties of demons only come out through prayer and fasting, which brings greater coat of authority (Matt. 17.21)
To be with the Lord - Anna never left the temple, often praying and fasting (Luke 2.37)
Preparing for the Ministry - Jesus began his ministry only after being filled with the Holy Spirit and prepared in fasting (extended) in the wilderness (Luke 4.1-2)
c) In Acts we see the Church practising fasting in various situations, such as:
Ministering to the Lord - The leaders of the church in Antioch fasted only to worship the Lord (Acts 13.2)
Send ministries - At the time of laying hands and send ministries commissioned (Acts 13.3)
Establish elders - In addition to lay hands on fasting to those that will be sent, were also on the receiving government authority in the local church, which shows that fasting was a principle practised in the ordination of ministers (Acts 14.23).
d) In the Epistles
Paul mentions to have fasted (2 Corinthians 6.3-5; 11.23-27).
4) Different forms of Fasting
There are different ways of fasting. Those found in the Bible are:
A) Partial Fast
Usually, the partial fast is practised in longer periods or when the person is unable to abstain totally from food (because of work or health issues for example). We read about this form of fasting in the book of Daniel:
"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. "(Daniel 10.2-3)
The prophet Daniel says exactly what he was without eating: meat, wine and choice food. Probably restricted to a diet of fruits and vegetables! The fact is that he abstained from food, but not entirely. And although it has chosen what is apparently the least rigorous fasting, devoted himself to it for three weeks.
In other situations, Daniel seems to be in the middle of a normal fasting (Daniel 9.3), showing that he practised more than one form of fasting. At the end of this period, an angel of the Lord came to him and brought him a tremendous revelation. Told him that since the first day of that time, the prayer had been heard (v.12), but a battle was being waged in the spiritual realm (v. 13) which also occur in the return of that angel (v. 20).
Here we also learn about the power that fasting has in times of spiritual warfare.
b) Normal Fasting
It is the abstinence from food, but still drinking water. It was the way that our Lord did in the desert. I grew up hearing about the need to fast by drinking
"The Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry "(Matthew 4.2).
We call this form of fasting as normal because we understand that this form of fasting is more suitable in regularly fasting (like a day).
c) Total fasting
It is abstinence from everything, including water. In the Bible, we find little mention of having someone fasted without water, and even this within a limit: no more than three days.
Water is not food, and our body depends on it so that the kidneys function normally and that the toxins do not accumulate in the body. There are two biblical examples of this type of fasting, in an old and in the New Testament:
1) Esther in a moment of crisis, in which Jews (as a nation) were sentenced to death by a decree of the king, asks her uncle Mordecai to fast for her,:
" 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" (Est 4.16).
2) Paul in his conversion also used this form of fasting, due to the impact of the revelation he received:
"For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything” (Acts 9.9).
There is no other mention of total fasting (except that of Moses and Elijah in a different condition, we will explain below). Medicine warns over a period of three days without water as harmful. We take care of the body while fasting and not strike him; remember that you will be fighting against your flesh (nature and impulses) and not against your body.
5. The duration of fasting
How long should be fasting? The Bible does not prescribe rules of this kind, so each one is free to choose when, how and for how long will fast. We see several examples of different duration of fasting in Scripture:
1 day - Fasting the Day of Atonement
3 days - The Fast of Esther (Esther 4.16) and Paul (Acts 9.9)
7 days - Fasting for mourning the death of Saul (I Sm. 31.13)
14 days – Involuntary fast that Paul and those who were with him on the ship (Acts 27.33)
21 days - Fasting of Daniel in favour of Jerusalem (Dan 10.3)
40 days - the Lord Jesus fasting in the wilderness (Luke 4.1-2)
NOTE: The Bible speaks of Moses (Exodus 34.28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19.8) in periods of fasting of forty days. But it is noteworthy that they were under special conditions, under the supernatural of God. Moses did not even drink water during these 40 days, which is humanly impossible. But he was involved with the divine glory. The same happened with Elijah, who walked 40 days in the power of food that the angel brought to him. This is a different fasting that began with a beautiful "deposit", of a celestial food. But Jesus had a normal fasting of this duration.
Many people make the mistake of making votes related to the duration of fasting. I advise to everyone to not do a vow of how long the fast will be, as this will leave you "stuck" in case of something escape of your control. Follow the Bible's counsel:
" When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it." (Ecc 5.4-5)
There is something special in fasting for a prolonged period, but must be done under the direction of God (the Scriptures show that Jesus was led by the Spirit to fasting in the wilderness for 40 days - Luke 4.1).
I know brothers who have fasted for thirty and even forty days, although I personally have not done fasting so long, the longest time I fasted (only drinking water) was 7 days. But each of the brothers confirmed having received from God for such a direction.
It is noteworthy also that some care must be taken. We can not play with our body. A diet to detox the body before the fasting is recommended, and also in breaking the fasting for a few days(more than 3 days). S
I express recommend that if someone is planning to fast for the first time for longer than 6 hours, please do seek medical assistance before you do it!
Can we share that we are fasting?
Some people are extremists on the discretion of fasting, while others, like the Pharisees, play the trumpet before themselves. In Matthew 6.16-18, Jesus condemns the exhibitionism of the Pharisees that wanting to appear to men, to show their spirituality.
Jesus did not forbid to comment about the fast, because if suppose to be in total secret the Bible itself would be violating this, by sharing the fast that Jesus did ... How did you know that Christ (who was alone in the wilderness) made a forty-day fast? Certainly, because he told! Not everyone came out trumpeting before, but quietly shared his experience with his disciples.
I personally started to fast stimulated by the experiences of other men and women of God. After that, I began (slowly) to understand the biblical teaching on fasting. And I praise God for the people who encouraged me!
I remember the first fast I did in my teens, I cut only lunch but I had a coke to not "suffer" too much. I did it to pray for a friend who wanted to see baptized in the Holy Spirit. That boy had received so much prayer, but nothing had happened yet. So I fasted and prayed on his behalf. Today I know that was not much, but at the time was my best. Well, someone found out and ridiculed me, said that fasting was actually staying all day without eating and drinking no more than a little water, this person said I was wasting my time and only had a "little diet" because true fasting did not admit sugary candy in his mouth, imagine a coke! ... but that day my friend was filled with the Holy Spirit and preferred to believe that the fast worked.
Then I heard other brother’s comment on fasting over a day and "went after", and so, gradually, I learned about fasting what is not learned in church or Christian literature. I think wisely and carefully we can encourage others to practice fasting, just sharing our experiences and encourages them.
There will be periods when the Holy Spirit will draw us more to fasting, and times when it almost did not feel the need to do it. I've gone years without receiving any special impulse to fasts over three days, and these days themselves were few.
And there were times when then felt the need to do it. But I think that fasting normal one-day is something that Christians should practice more, without feeling any "emergency" spiritual for it.
I finish challenging you to practice more fasting, and certainly you will find that the power of this weapon that the Lord has given to us is difficult to measure with words.
The experience will strengthen what we have shared here. May the Lord be with you and guide you in this practice!