When people hear the word “fast” their mind conjures images of going without food prior to their annual physical.  They may even think of some zealot trying to make a religious or even a political statement by refusing to eat.  Fasting is simply…going without food.  Fasting means self-denial by going without food for a period of time.  Fasting may be total or partial -- avoiding certain foods or eating smaller than normal quantities. 

Why does the Bible encourage people to fast?  Fasting is spiritual “reset button”.  It allows gives the follower of God the ability to recalibrate their spiritual lives to the sensitivity of the Holy Spirit.  Fasting is a way of showing God that He is most important in our lives by taking the cravings we have to eat and redirecting them toward the cravings of our hunger for God.  Fasting is way for us to build ourselves up spiritually…pushing those things that are unimportant and are unneeded and accelerates those things that are most important and needful for us.  Richard Foster says, “The central idea in fasting is the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.”  The intense spiritual activity we are making room for is prayer.  Lastly, fasting is a way for us to develop self control when it comes to things that tend to control us like lust, overeating, materialism, sexual addictions, etc. 

What does fasting look like?  There are many examples of people in Scripture who set time aside as a spiritual discipline to ask God to show up.  In both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible mention fasting for various reasons: 

Distress and Grief.  If you have ever experienced distress or grief on a high level you may have had a loss of appetite.  King David fasted as a sign of grief when Abner was murdered (2 Samuel 3:35). The Jews fasted in the book of Esther when they learned of the plot to annihilate all the Jews (Esther 3:13-4:3, 16). 

Spiritual Preparation.  Many have fasted in order to humble themselves and make them more accepting of God's will.  Moses fasted for forty days in preparation for receiving the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28).  Daniel fasted for three weeks before receiving his vision (Daniel 10:2-6).  Elijah fasted forty days before speaking with God (1 Kings 19:8). Jesus fasted for forty days in preparation for His temptation by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13).  

Repentance, Atonement and Revival.  Fasting is seen in the Bible as a demonstration of one’s contrition. When the Israelites had sinned, they often humbled themselves and fasted in hopes of regaining the favor of God (Judges 20:26, 1 Samuel 7:6; Nehemiah 9:1-3). 

For Answered Prayer.  There are examples in the Bible where people have fasted in order to get something from God.  David fasted when his baby born from adultery was dying (2 Samuel 12:15-16).  Ezra proclaimed a fast for safe journey (Ezra 8:21-23).  Nehemiah fasted that God would grant him compassion before the king (Nehemiah 1:4, 11). For Deliverance.  Sometimes fasting is to be employed to bring deliverance to those in bondage, whether spiritual, emotional, sexual, chemical, or any other kind of bondage or spiritual oppression.  It plainly says in Isaiah 58:6 that the fast that God chooses “loosens the bonds of wickedness, lets the oppressed go free and breaks every yoke.”

To Seek God’s Wisdom and Guidance.  Fasting was used by God’s people to discern the mind of God.  Acts 13:1-3 records that the Church of Antioch, after prayer and fasting, selected Paul and Barnabas and sent them away on their missionary journeys.  Elders were appointed in the churches of Lystra, Iconium and Antioch only after the disciples prayed with fasting (Acts 14:23).  It should go without saying that in the Bible, fasting was always accompanied by prayer.  Philippians 4:6  says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God…”  1 Peter 5:5-7 says, “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” 

Is there a stronghold in your life that you are having a difficult time breaking free of?  Does an addiction have you in its grasp and you feel that you cannot escape it?  Perhaps there is a decision you have to make that you are waiting on the Lord to provide you with the wisdom to know which way to go.  Is there a relationship in your life or the life of a loved one that is precarious… unhealthy…do you or your loved one need God’s help getting free?  Fasting puts us into the same desperate state of mind and heart as the Old Testament patriarch Jacob, who as he held on to the Lord said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” 

Much of the Bible Points material comes from the sermons of Pastor Chuck Brooks who serves as pastor-teacher of GraceWay Church, 2001 North Rolling Road, Baltimore, MD.  You can listen to or download many of Chuck’s sermons at www.mygraceway.org or keep up with the events sponsored by GraceWay on our Facebook page.