Fasting – Sacrifice for God

What is Fasting?

Fasting is one of the great privileges of the Christian life. It is an act of self-denial that enhances our prayer life.

Fasting is not merely abstaining from food. It involves prayer, repentance, and soul-searching. Abstinence from food is an outward expression of an inward prayer. It is an act of self-denial by which we focus our entire attention on God.

Quick Examples in Scripture

The Old Testament is filled with examples of fasting. Moses fasted on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28). Hannah fasted when she prayed for a son (I Samuel 1:7). David fasted on several occasions (2 Samuel 1: 12; 12:22). Daniel fasted as he struggled to receive a vision of the future (Daniel 10:2-3). Esther and the Jews fasted when they faced persecution and extinction (Esther 4:1-17). On the Day of Atonement each year the entire nation of Israel fasted (Leviticus 23:27).

The New Testament also abounds in examples of fasting. John the Baptist taught his disciples to fast (Mark 2:18). Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2). Anna served God in the temple by fasting (Luke 2:37). Paul fasted after his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:9). Cornelius fasted while seeking God (Acts 10:30).

The Antioch church fasted before commissioning Paul and Barnabas for their first missionary journey.

In times of national crisis the people of God need to pray and fast. Jehoshaphat called a national fast when Israel was threatened by Edom (2 Chronicles 20:3). Ezra called for a national fast when the Jews returned to the Promised Land (Ezra 8:21). Today, we too are facing a national crisis, and we need to learn to fast and pray. Fasting builds your inner spirit and denies the flesh. It shows God that you are serious about your relationship to Him.

Today, there is some confusion about fasting. Some people use fasting for dieting or other physical benefits. A few people have fasted so excessively they have died. Some believers avoid fasting because it is often associated with other religions or because Jesus warned against the spiritual hypocrisy that may accompany fasting (see Matthew 6:16). However, our Lord Himself fasted. But He did it in private, so as not to call attention to Himself.

Facts on Fasting

The purpose of fasting is an act of self-denial enabling us to concentrate on our need for God. When Jesus’ disciples failed to heal a demon-possessed boy, our Lord explained, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). In reality, fasting is a dedication of our bodies to the Lord and an act of preparation for the empowerment of God.

The Need to Fast

The Bible does not give us specific regulations for fasting, but it does give us ample examples of fasting. Clearly, fasting involves self-denial, soul-searching, and prayer. We can only assume that since we all face problems and difficulties, all of us need to fast in a voluntary manner at some time.

Length of the Fast

Be sure to set a reasonable time limit for fasting. If you have never fasted before, begin with one day. Do not eat anything after the evening meal. Skip breakfast and lunch the next day. By the evening meal on the second day, you will have fasted for 24 hours and missed only two meals. This is a good way to begin. Later you can extend the length of time based upon your physical condition. Refrain from solid foods, but drink plenty of liquids. If you have any question about your physical health, consult your physician.

Prayer and Repentance

Fasting should be accompanied by prayer and repentance. Set aside long periods of private prayer while you are fasting, so you can meditate on God and His Word. When David humbled himself before God he said, “I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting” (Psalm 69:10). Ask God to search your heart and reveal areas of sin. Then repent and seek His forgiveness and cleansing. In the Old Testament, people spent days begging God to forgive their sins. Under the Law, that was necessary, but not under Grace. We are cleansed by the shed blood of Jesus Christ (see I John 1:7). Therefore we can confidently claim God’s forgiveness for our sins.

Worship and Fasting

Abstaining from food indicates one’s dedication to God. It prepares the heart for worship by focusing our attention on God alone. As you fast, meditate on His greatness, power, and majesty. Praise Him for who He is and what He has done for you. Worship and magnify the Lord. Recount all the answers to prayer that you have received. Recall your times of fellowship with God. Seek His wisdom and guidance in your life.

Ending Your Fast

When you end your fast, do it in an atmosphere of prayer and worship. Just as you abstained from food to the glory of God, eat to the glory of God (see I Corinthians 10:31). But remember, come off your fast lightly with soup, juice, or a small sandwich. Don’t overeat after disciplining yourself not to eat.

Fasting is a way of putting our spiritual priorities in order. The Bible says, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14). Fasting is a good way to deny the flesh and discipline your body to the glory of God. If you have never fasted, try it soon. Fasting will add an exciting new dimension to your prayer life.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, “O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

When Should We Fast?

The Bible teaches there are several occasions and conditions during which we should fast.

We should fast in times of need for special power to overcome Satan.

In Matthew 17:14-21, some of Jesus’ disciples had failed to cast out a demon from a terribly tormented young man. After Jesus, Himself, cast out the demon, His disciples asked Him why they could not cast him out. Jesus replied in verse 21, “This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” Thus it is obvious we should fast when we need special power to defeat Satan in his terrible hold on others.

Fasting in Need

We should fast in times of special needs for the work of God, and in times of persecution and opposition toward the people and the work of God.

This is indicated in II Corinthians 6:5:

“In stripes, in imprisonment, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings…”

It is also indicated in II Corinthians 11:27:

“In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”

Fasting in Prayer

We should fast in times of exceptionally earnest prayer, whatever the prayer may concern.

This is indicated in I Corinthians 7:5:

“Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent: for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinence.”

This verse shows it is right, sometimes, for a brief time only, for a man and his wife to forego enjoyment of one another physically in order to pray and fast together for some particular object of prayer which the Holy Spirit has laid on their hearts. However, it is important to notice that, to avoid temptation, they are warned not to stay apart physically even for spiritual matters such as prayer and fasting.

Fasting for Guidance

We should pray and fast in times of need for special guidance concerning the work of God, and for power and blessings upon those the Lord leads us to send out from our midst as missionaries.

This is indicated in Acts 13:1-3:

“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

“As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”

“And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent then away.”

Fasting as Worship

We should fast during some times of special worship and communion and with enjoyment of the Lord.

This is indicated in Exodus 24:18- 34:28; and Deuteronomy 9:9, 18. These verses tell us how Moses did without anything to eat or drink for forty days and nights while he was in most wonderful communion with the Lord.

The following two tabs change content below.
Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

Latest posts by Dr. Elmer Towns (see all)