THE DISCIPLINE OF FASTING
One of the outstanding features about the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ is the fact that it commenced with a long period of fasting in the wilderness. Great men like Moses and the prophets of old went through fasting at critical moments of their ministry. This is an exercise that needs to be part and parcel of every believer who desires to encounter God, and be used by God.
- Fasting is a deliberate abstention from food and/or drink for spiritual purposes.
- Fasting is not a hunger strike or health dieting for slimming.
There are three kinds of fasts that are clearly explicit in the Bible.
- Normal Fast
This is normally referred as the ‘Jesus fast’, where one abstains from food but takes water. After the wilderness experience, it is written that Jesus was hungry (but not thirsty). The assumption is that He had been taking water during the fast.
Matthew 4: 1-2
“Then 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.” A healthy person can comfortably do up to forty days of a normal fast.
- Absolute Fast
This is also known as dry fast. Neither food nor water is taken. This is the kind of fast that was undertaken by: Esther, her maids and the Jews of Susa (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 maids 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.”
Paul in Acts 9:9
“For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.”
The Ninevites (Jonah 3:5-10)
The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:…
…”By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
- Partial Fast
This is also commonly referred to as the ‘Daniel fast’. During this fast, one restricts their diet. One can choose to fast from meats and other pleasant foods, or just live on either ‘soft’ foods or little portions of food, or drinks such as fruit juices or porridge.
Daniel 10: 2- 3
“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.”
- Fasting can take 2 forms:
- Individual fast:
This is done at a personal level by an individual.
- Corporate fast:
This is a united activity, either with your prayer partners, friends, family, or colleagues; or it could be at congregational, denominational, or national level. Most of the fasts in the bible were collective fasts. (Esther 4; Ezra 8; Jonah 1; Acts 13)
When doing corporate fasting it’s highly recommended to:
- Agree on the type of fast and the duration it will take.
- Plan to have joint times of prayer.
- Break the fast together, where possible, in a solemn assembly.
This builds a greater sense of unity, faith and purpose.
Primarily, fasting should be voluntary and centered on God. The Bible shows many diverse reasons why God’s people fasted.
- Fasting as an act of repentance.
“On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads. 2 Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. 3 They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God.”
“Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God. 14 Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.”
- Fasting for humbling one self
“There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.”
- Fasting for battle (2 Chronicles 20:1-30)
2 Chronicles 20:2-3
“Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi). Alarmed,
Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah.
- Fasting to break spiritual interference.
(Daniel 10: 2-15)
- Fasting for divine intervention (Esther 4: 1 – 17)
“Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 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 maids 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.”
- Fasting as a means of building spiritual reserves (Luke 4:1-14)
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.”
- Fasting as a ministry to the Lord.
“There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”
“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”
There are many benefits that accrue to the believers both physically and spiritually as they engage in the discipline of fasting.
- Fasting releases the Holy Spirit to revive us
It gives us a greater awareness of God’s reality and work in our lives. The power of self is reduced and God can now have greater freedom to work in us.
Philippians 2: 13
“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good pleasure.”
- Fasting purifies us spiritually
Fasting burns away selfishness and carnality as we forsake or willingly give up leisure and pleasure to focus on God. It suppresses the physical man and strengthens the spiritual man in us.
1 Corinthians 9:25-27
“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
- Fasting increases our spiritual perception
During fasting, our minds and emotions are quietened before God. Fasting increases concentration and clarity of thought. It also raises our spiritual sensitivity and alertness.
Daniel 9:3; 22- 23
“3So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes” (… …) 22 He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the message and understand the vision.”
- Fasting results in alertness and submission to God’s purposes
“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.”
- Fasting emboldens us against temptations. Like Jesus after the wilderness experience in Matthew 4, fasting serves to inspire us in determination to follow God’s revealed plan for our lives.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”
Fasting is not a tool we use to manipulate God to do what He would otherwise not do. It empowers us to remain focused on Him. Fasting, being an expression of humility and repentance, allows God to have His way in our lives.
- Fasting enables us to deal with all powers of darkness
“So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” (NKJV)
- Set aside precise goals
These could be spiritual renewal, guidance, healing, resolution of a problem, or special grace to handle a situation. Keeping your goals in focus will help sustain your fast when physical temptations and life pressures tempt you to abandon them.
“But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.”
- Prepare yourself spiritually
Confess and repent of all sins that the Holy Spirit may bring to your remembrance; the obvious and not so obvious. Ask God to fill you with His Spirit during the fast.
- Decide the kind of fast you will take
Is it partial, normal or absolute? How long will you fast for? Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in making this decision. You do not have to hear from God though,
on whether to fast or not; He has already spoken in his word.
- Prepare yourself physically
Reduce your food intake gradually as you approach your fast. Avoid over-eating just before a fast. For instance if you intend to do a dry fast, take only light foods a day or two before the fast begins. Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea and carbonated drinks.
The angel declared to Joseph that Jesus would be the incarnation of God among His people. Thus, whereas the Bible is clear that no one can see God and live, through Jesus we can confidently come to God.
If you are either on medication or are recovering from sickness, it would be necessary to seek professional advice before going on a fast.
- Plan ahead to limit physical activity
Avoid strenuous physical exercise or activity especially during the long fast. Take time to rest so you won’t be too exhausted to concentrate on your prayer and meditation. If possible, take a few days off your regular routine, including marital intimacy, to engage in prayer.
‘Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer,’
- Set aside ample time to be alone with God
The more time spent in praise, worship and adoration to God and meditation on His Word, the more effective and meaningful your time of prayer and fasting will be. Devote the normal meal times to prayers.
- Break your fast gradually
Begin by drinking fluids or taking very light meals until your body adjusts. Never break a long fast with a solid protein meal. This could result in physical harm.
Fasting is a useful practice in a Christian’s life. It helps us to seek God more intimately and experience great victories in our Christian walk. Fasting is the highest gear that you can engage in seeking the Lord. It elevates the believer’s prayer life to a higher level. Fundamentally, fasting must be accompanied by intense prayers and meditation. Without prayer, fasting might just pass for a ‘spiritual hunger strike’.