What the Bible Says About... | Fasting
"And (Anna) was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day." (Luke 2:37).
Fasting is abstaining from food and sometimes drink in order to focus on God and prayer. There are no guidelines for the length of time you are to fast. Just listen to the Holy Spirit's guidance, whether it be one meal, one day, one week, or even one month. Fasting was done by many individuals throughout the Bible, and was also done by Israel as a nation.
Why should you fast?
To Humble the Soul. Through the act of fasting, one becomes humble before God. David wrote in Psalm 35, "I humbled my soul with fasting."
To Show a Repentant Heart and Spirit. God spoke through the prophet Joel, "Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments" (Joel 2:12-13).
To Seek God's Guidance and Will. Ezra called a fast "That we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek of him a straight way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance." (Ezra 8:21).
Through fasting we show we can, with God's help, conquer the desires of the flesh, which in turn strengthens us for times of future testing and trial. Paul fasted often and kept his body under subjection. Our body is not our own, but God's. We should never let it rule us or control our actions. Fasting, in conjunction with prayer, shows singleness of mind in touching God for a particular need. Remaining in an attitude of prayer, while refraining from eating, shows God your seriousness about the need, your desire for Him to answer, and willingness to sacrifice in order for the need to be met. Fasting will lead to a deeper level of spiritual growth and inward revival and renewal which can spread to others around you. It will cause a humble, meek repentant heart and spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
When Jesus spoke of fasting in Matthew 6:16, He said, "When ye fast...." as if it were an expected discipline. Our motive for fasting should always be to glorify God and to draw closer to Him. Never should it be for self-glorification or just to make yourself appear spiritual before others. You may have a need or request you desire God to answer, but seek His will concerning the matter and pray that He will answer so that He is glorified and not man. Jesus taught us in Matthew, "Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly." (Matthew 6:16-18).
"Ye ask and receive not," James tells us, "because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." (James 4:3). One of the reasons for unanswered prayer, James tells us, is the we pray selfishly, or to satisfy our lusts for worldly pleasures and things. The same could be said of fasting. If we are fasting and praying for selfish reasons or for self-glorification, then our fasting and prayers are in vain.
God told the people of Israel through Isaiah, "For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. 'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?' 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 yor voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the kind of fast I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" (Isaiah 58:2-7 NIV).
God was telling Israel here, "Every day they seek Me and seem eager to know My ways, just as if they were keeping My commandments and doing what is right. They ask Me for guidance and seem eager for Me to come to them. But I know it is only an outward show. On the outside they appear righteous and sincere, but on the inside they are hypocrites. What is fasting?", God challenges them. "Is it just a day for you to bow your head and humble yourself? Don't just do this for yourself! The food you are giving up; take it and give it to the hungry, clothe the naked and give shelter to the homeless. Set the oppressed free and break the yokes of bondage. Sure, you want healing, you want Me to help you in your day of trouble. But it is not just about you, but it is about others also."
If we do our fasting the right way, God has given us a promise, "Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear," God says through Isaiah. "Your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call," God promises, "and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say, 'Here am I.' If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness." The great promises continue, "The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs.... You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail." (Isaiah 58: 8-11 NIV).