There was only ever one stipulated day of fasting in the Bible. That was on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) when sacrifices were made to deal with the sin of the whole nation. God instructed his people to ‘deny themselves’ legitimate nourishment and instead to pray that the offering being made for their sin would be accepted.
From that point on in the Bible we read many examples of fasting but always as a voluntary response of the worshipper to make space to pray and appeal to God for a breakthrough or intervention. It is a way of saying to God ‘we need you! And it is more important to me that you help us than it is I have my next meal.’
TO BRING FREEDOM
The Old Testament contains many examples of God intervening in the lives of his people when they prayed and fasted – check out the lives of Daniel, Nehemiah and Esther for example. It teaches us that fasting and prayer are a powerful combination BUT on one condition. God is not interested in fasting for its own sake; our self-abasement or self-righteousness. He is interested in the freedom it brings as we work with him in a process. In fact fasting always brings freedom when you examine it closely. Isaiah 58:5-6 says it best:
‘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 fasting 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?’
In other words, fasting is about denying yourself to work with God to bring freedom to a situation. That’s why fasting is not an end in itself; it must be accompanied by focussed prayer.
TO BE OBEDIENT TO JESUS
Jesus fasted and prayed at significant points in his life, like just before he started his public ministry (Luke 4:2). After doing so we read that he returned ‘in the power of the Spirit’ (v14) and went straight to Nazareth where he declared ‘The spirit of the Lord is on me … to proclaim freedom’ (v18-19). We believe that as we emulate Jesus, our fasting and prayer will release God’s power into situations and equip us to be freedom-bringers too.
In obedience to Christ, the first Christians fasted as part of their normal spiritual discipline. As they fasted and prayed, God spoke life-changing words to them (Acts 13:1-3) and we are trusting God will do the same for us this week.
In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus left us a simple instruction about fasting:
‘When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’
So this is a private discipline, something between you and God who promises to reward your obedience. Hold on to that promise this week.
Because fasting is about creating space to pray and engage God, it can take a variety of forms, from a total fast from all food, to a partial fast from certain foods or just specific meals. Some people choose to ‘juice fast’ as the juice gives energy to allow them to carry on with life without becoming over-tired or weak. But whatever you do, keep drinking plenty of water and wisely manage any medical conditions you may have.
Ultimately it’s a personal choice between you and God. But to be meaningful, fasting needs to be sacrificial and create space to pray.
- Is a personal choice through which you engage God in serious prayer. It is you showing God you mean business.
- Is a private discipline, not something to broadcast, but is between you and God.
- Is not difficult when you believe deeply in the thing you are fasting and praying about.
- Could be a partial or total fast, just ensure it is in sensible proportion to your work, life-style, age and health.
So, why fast? To work with God to bring the freedom, resolution, breakthrough or resolve that is the focus of your prayers this week.