How Should We Think About Fasting?

Here are four things to keep in mind to shape our thinking on fasting:

First: We observe that there is no command in scripture to fast, but Jesus assumed his followers would fast and there are many examples in scripture of the practice that would lead us to participate. Here is a short list; 1 Cor 7:5 (part of marriage), Isaiah 58:3-6 (for love and blessing for others), Matt 6:16-18 (don’t put on the gloomy face of a hypocrite),Daniel 9:3-19 (with humiliation and repentance), Ps 35:13(for the sick) , Isaiah 58 (for the poor). 

Second: There are two kinds of fasts – public and private.  We see both examples in scripture. Jesus speaks of fasting and prayer in your closet (Matt 6:16-18) , and there are numerous corporate fasts in scripture (Acts 13, Daniel 9).

Third: There are temptations related to fasting in the area of pomposity and pride and  trumpeting your works (Matthew 6:16-18).

Fourth: There are many examples of fasting in the Word of God: 

In Esther 4:16, fasting was engaged for deliverance from danger and evil. 

In Matthew 17:21, fasting was for deliverance in the exercise of authority over the demonic powers over a boy. 

In Ezra 8:22 fasting was for protection in the same way Queen Esther called her people, the Jews, to join her in a corporate fast. 

In 1 Samuel 7:6 the people of God joined together to seek God’s guidance for them corporately and fasted and confessed their sins. 

In Luke 2:37 we encounter Anna serving in the Temple with a lifestyle of prayer and fasting. 

In Acts 27:21 Paul fasted for safety and deliverance during a fierce storm. 

In Daniel 9:3, the prophet fasted as a gesture of repentance on behalf of the sin of the people. 

In Joel 2:15, fasting was a prerequisite for revival. Prior to the prophecy of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh, the people of God are challenged to “declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly” (Joel 2:15). 

In Acts 13, there are several elements: 1.  It was something the whole church did together. The fasting was corporate – the whole church was fasting and praying as well as the leaders. In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns about fasting to be seen by men and that your heavenly Father who sees in secret will reward you.  But here we have a public fast. 2.  It was to help with discernment regarding important issues of direction of peoples lives in the church. 3.  It caused the spread of the gospel to Asia Minor, Greece, Rome and Spain. 4.  It was in response to a need.  The importance of this time of prayer and fasting is hard to overestimate. This fast had a dramatic impact on world history, for it launched the first wave of missionaries to the gentiles.

God has given us fasting in order to humble us, and center us on prayer for important matters for the glory of God.