We see celebrities talking about intermittent fasting on social media as a great way to lose some quick pounds, millennials are out touting the amazing effects of turning off their phones for a whole weekend to clear their minds. It could be said that the World seems to be talking more about fasting than the Church these days.
But this week Andrew and Lakeith sat down to talk about Biblical fasting and what we as believers should know about it. This article is a compilation of that conversation.
Definition of Biblical Fasting
First off, we want to make it clear that there is a big difference between a Christian fast and a fast for health reasons. A health fast is done for its own sake – to lose weight, to help us with mental health, etc. I think most of us are probably aware of this, and find ourselves happy to try out a Whole30 diet or fast from Facebook for a month, but become intimidated when a Biblical fast comes up.
Maybe being intimated is not the wrong reaction (more about that later), but we shouldn’t let it stop us from fasting.
A Biblical fast is a sacrificial act for which we ask God to take note and move in response to our fast. In this type of fasting, we are feeding the spiritual instead of the flesh, whether that’s literally removing the food that sustains us or by removing something else that brings ease and comfort to our lives.
One thing all the fasting we see in Scripture has in common is that there is a clear intent or purpose behind it; there is a set amount of time that it lasts and that we can expect an answer from the Lord.
In all the examples of fasting in scripture, such as fasting for deliverance1, for direction 2, protection 3 and repentance, 4 our act of fasting is expressing the truth that we cannot do this thing on our own. Whatever it is, we are acknowledging our place and God’s place. We are asking Him to move.
Early on in my walk with Christ, I (Keith) decided to do a two-week fast of all television or screens before bed. I had suffered all my life from not being able to go to sleep on my own because of nightly fear. I set aside this fast to express to the Lord that now that I had given my life to Him, I would trust Him to help me instead of trusting in my own methods. I haven’t had to fall asleep with help ever since that time of fasting. The Lord did something in my life that I could not do on my own.
Whatever our particular fast looks like, there should be a practical time set for ourselves, and clear parameters of what we are fasting from. Often the Holy Spirit dictates those things for us, but it’s good for us to know what we are taking on from the beginning.
As I (Andrew) was preparing for this chat, I read an article that said there were 7 different types of Biblical fasts 5. But no matter what type of fast you commit to: a partial fast-from sunrise to sunset (something I’ve personally done), a full day fast (where you only drink water), sexual fast as a married couple, a non-food fast (like cutting out social media or spending an extended period of time alone), we want to make sure we keep to our boundaries and only commit to what the Lord has called us. It is better to not make a vow than to make one and break it. Ecc. 5:5
This title may be a little misleading because it seems like fasting must always have the “intended” result, however probably one of the most famous examples of fasting – David fasting for his sick son – reminds us that fasting is not about getting God to do “what we want” (if you remember his son ended up passing away). In that case, and in all cases of fasting, it is a matter of humbling ourselves before the Lord and looking to Him. In a society where we often over glorify action, fasting is truly a sacrifice of stillness, a void versus a fullness which allows us to “be still and know” 6
Yes, the Lord often uses times of fasting to show us His miraculous. We do know that there are certain strongholds, levels of spiritual experience and breakthroughs that only happen through prayer and fasting. 7 And we definitely see Him do the miraculous in these seasons.
Just this year (Andrew speaking), our whole church entered into a time of fasting for a government decision that was completely out of our hands but had a great impact on individuals in our church. It was beautiful to see the Lord answer our prayers in that time of fasting and praying for something we could not control in our own power.
I (Lakeith) also had a two-year period where I took a vow of singleness, that allowed me to keep my eyes and heart focused fully and completely on growing in my spiritual walk. Of course, it wasn’t without its temptations and hard seasons, but it ultimately took me so much deeper in my Christian walk, and allowed me to have clarity about what the Lord had for my future (an awesome wife, by the way).
Quick Guide to First-Time Fasters
This perfectly segues us into a few tips for anyone who wants to go deeper and enter into this discipline of the Christian walk.
- Start small (maybe a two-year fast isn’t the best first effort!) and stay humble. Fasting is almost entirely about the heart.
- Grab a buddy. Many of the fasts we have as examples in the Bible are corporate! It is always good to have someone with whom you can be accountable and who you can support during a fast.
- Expect it to be a challenge worth doing. Unlike a health fast, a Biblical fast includes the Spiritual realm; you will face opposition, but we guarantee that it’s worth it.
- 2 Samuel 12:16, Daniel 9:3
- Judges 20:26, Acts 14:23
- Esther 4:16, Ezra 8:21
- Jonah 3:5-8, Joel 2:12-13
- Different Types of Spiritual Fasts
- Ps 46:10
- Matthew 17:14-21