The Bible talks about the spiritual tool of fasting, which can be used properly or improperly. What is fasting, and how does God want us to fast?
Fasting, by definition, is going without food and/or drink for a period of time. Typically it is done for religious reasons and involves a person refraining from both food and drink (Esther 4:16), although there are variations that may be done for health reasons (a juice fast, for example, where one would refrain from eating and only drink juice for a period of time).
Fasting in the Bible
The practice of fasting is mentioned numerous times in the Bible as a reaction to various circumstances. Fasting was an act of repentance, as when the king of Nineveh ordered a fast after the preaching of Jonah (Jonah 3:5-9). Fasting was also a reaction to intense grief, as when the bones of Saul and his sons were buried (1 Samuel 31:13). We also find people fasting when God’s deliverance was needed, as when Jehoshaphat was approached by a large invading army (2 Chronicles 20:3).
The Bible also gives instructions about the attitude and approach we should have in fasting. Jesus warned about hypocritical fasting, trying to show off or make others feel sorry for us.In the New Testament, Anna, the prophetess, is described as serving God day and night with fasting and prayers (Luke 2:37). We read that John the Baptist taught his disciples to fast and Jesus Christ said His disciples would fast after His death (Mark 2:18-20). Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted when they ordained elders in the Church (Acts 14:23). And Jesus Christ fasted 40 days and nights before facing Satan in an epic battle of spiritual will (Matthew 4:2).
Instructions about fasting
The Bible also gives instructions about the attitude and approach we should have in fasting. Jesus warned about hypocritical fasting, trying to show off or make others feel sorry for us (Matthew 6:16-17). Instead we should not “appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place” (verse 18). Isaiah also contrasts selfish fasting with godly fasting marked by care and concern for others (Isaiah 58:3-10).
What is fasting and why do we fast? We see from the biblical examples that fasting should be used as a means to humble ourselves before God and seek His forgiveness, comfort, help, guidance, strength and His will. Fasting allows us to draw closer to God.
Fasting and the Day of Atonement
God uses fasting as a teaching tool on one of the annual holy days He commands us to keep. In Leviticus 23:27 God says “afflict your souls” on the Day of Atonement. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary points out that afflicting your souls is a reference to fasting. So on this particular holy day God commands that His people forgo both food and water for 24 hours as a means of humbling themselves before Him, seeking Him and His will and guidance in life.
What is fasting as taught by the Bible?
We can conclude that by command of God and by scriptural example, fasting is a tool that a Christian may use to seek a closer relationship with his or her Creator and petition God for help, guidance and a humble heart that is yielded to His will.
While fasting is an excellent tool for spiritual growth, those with diabetes or similar serious health conditions would be wise to seek professional advice before attempting to fast.