What is Fasting?
Fasting is the act of voluntarily abstaining from food (or some other good thing) for a spiritual purpose. True fasting is not only voluntary and spiritual; it is also Christ-centered. True fasting always has the purpose of exchanging physical blessings for the spiritual blessings of Christ and the gospel.
“Andrew Murray says that prayer and fasting are like two hands. Whenever we pray, it is as though we are reaching out and putting one hand on the mercy seat, the place that symbolized God’s forgiving presence on the Ark of the covenant. But when we fast, we take our other hand off the legitimate things of this world (such as the comforts of food) and cast all earthly supports aside in order to put both hands on that mercy seat.”
Why Do We Fast?
For much of church history, the season of Lent leading up to Easter has been a time of fasting for believers. Ultimately, whether or not you choose to fast during the season of Lent is entirely up to you, but here are a few of the reasons that Scripture gives for why believers are called to engage in periods of fasting:
To Strengthen Prayer Fasting and prayer are natural partners. Several places in Scripture depict people fasting and praying together (Dan 9:3; Neh 1:4). The reason that prayer and fasting go together so naturally is that both express and deepen our dependence on God and His grace. Nothing shows us our human frailty and weakness quite like hunger.
To Seek God’s Protection In Esther 4, the Queen Esther commands all the Jews to fast on her behalf as she prepares to go before the king, an act that could have cost her her life. She calls this fast in order to seek the Lord’s protection for her from the king of Persia, but also protection for the Jews from the plot of Haman.
To Express Grief Fasting during a time of grief is a way of expressing the depth of our feelings to God. By fasting during times of grief, we bring our bodies into line with the way that our souls feel— empty and in pain. This type of fasting is seen in Psalm 42:3 and 1 Samuel 1:7-8.
To Express Love to God As a form of worship which God desires, fasting is a way of showing our love for God. We see an example of this in Luke 2:37 in the person of Anna. She had devoted her life to worshipping God through fasting and prayer.
To Express Concern for God’s Work This is simply a more specific form of fasting and prayer going hand in hand. In Nehemiah 1, we see Nehemiah devote himself to a period of prayer and fasting as he appeals to God on behalf of the people of Israel. He sees a work that God is calling him to do, and before he gets to work, he spends time in fasting and prayer.
To Overcome Temptation In Matthew 4, Jesus fasts for 40 days prior to facing temptation from the Devil in the wilderness. Fasting prepares us to face temptation by turning us away from the concerns of the world and towards our God and Savior.
What Should I Fast From?
The Bible gives us examples of all sorts of different fasts. Obviously the traditional fast was from food, but Numbers 6:1-21 describes what was called the Nazirite vow in which the one taking the vow would abstain from all forms of grapes, strong drink, cutting their hair, and coming into contact with the dead.
Below are some examples of what a fast could look like. Due to the extended nature of Lent, the most common forms of fasting for this season are a partial fast or an atypical fast.
Typical Fast The normal model of fasting is to refrain from food but not water. In Matthew 4, Jesus underwent a typical fast as he went 40 days without food but continued to drink water. In a typical fast, a person may continue to drink juices, as well as coffee and/or tea.
Partial Fast A partial fast involves refraining from a certain food or group of foods. This may involve giving up a food that the faster cherishes strongly— coffee, bacon, cheese, etc. We see John the Baptist participate in a partial fast in Matthew 3 by eating only locusts and wild honey.
Absolute Fast An absolute fast is a fast from both food and water. Since the human body can only survive for three days without water, an absolute fast should not be held for more than three days. And this three day model for an absolute fast is even given to us in Scripture passages like Esther 4 and Acts 9.
Atypical Fast Fasting does not have to be limited to food. Among other things, a fast could be taken by abstaining from any of the following: TV or Netflix, ESPN, eating out, social media, speaking, hobbies, or non-essential purchases. The particular activity or pleasure that you refrain from is not important. What matters is taking a season to refrain from an activity that you find enjoyable in order to grasp more fully onto Christ.
Is Fasting Safe?
When done properly, fasting is not only safe and healthy but of great spiritual benefit.
However, fasting is not safe for everyone. If you meet any of the following criteria, Christ Redeemer insists that you do not fast from food:
Those who are underweight or emaciated
Those prone to anorexia, bulimia, or eating disorders
Those who suffer from weakness or anemia
Those with tumors, bleeding ulcers, cancer, blood diseases, or who have heart disease
Those with chronic problems of the kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, or other vital organs
Those who take insulin for diabetes or suffer any other blood sugar problem such as hyperglycemia.
Women who are pregnant or nursing