There are many questions about Christian fasting. What did Jesus teach about fasting? How should a Christian fast according to the Bible?
One day Jesus was approached by the Pharisees, as He often was, and asked, “Why do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?” (Luke 5:33).
Jesus responded, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?” (verse 34). Jesus’ presence on earth as God in the flesh was reason to feast and rejoice, not fast and mourn. Fasting is a tool to draw close to God, but the disciples had God right there with them! (If you don’t know much about Christian fasting, check out our article “What Is Biblical Fasting?”)
But did Jesus mean His disciples would never fast?
On the contrary, Jesus continued, “But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days” (verse 35, emphasis added throughout).
Notice Jesus did not say they “might” fast.
He said they would fast.
Jesus Christ, the bridegroom, is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father, physically “away” from His “friends,” or followers, which means we are currently in “those days” when He said they “will fast.”
Now is the time—as Jesus Himself declared—to fast.
How to physically prepare for a fast
A fast is often 24 hours (based on the Day of Atonement, the only commanded biblical fast), but some may choose to go shorter or longer (depending on the circumstance). In any case, physically preparing oneself before the fast can help.
We interviewed two medical professionals regarding this subject, and they shared the following advice about how a person in good health can physically prepare for a 24-hour fast.
They suggested that leading up to a fast, one should:
- Avoid salty foods. Salty foods cause the body to feel thirsty faster.
- Stay well hydrated beforehand. Drink plenty of water in the days before the fast.
- Eat a balanced meal before beginning a fast. A balanced meal of complex carbohydrates, protein and fat is a healthy way to begin a fast. It can also be helpful to avoid foods high in sugar that can cause blood sugar to spike and then rapidly drop—which can cause some people to feel irritable and hungrier than normal.
Of course, it’s wise to practice these principles all the time—especially eating balanced meals and staying well hydrated—not just when approaching a fast.
While fasting, one can expect to feel the occasional headache, dizziness and fatigue. Of course, existing health conditions should be considered when deciding to fast. For example, those taking prescribed medications or facing chronic health issues would be wise to consult a medical professional.
But what would be the next step? What is the right way to do a Christian fast? What does Scripture say about how to fast?
Let’s explore what the Bible teaches about fasting.
Step 1: Understand the purpose of fasting
A Christian fast is not the same as going on a hunger strike.
We should never throw our hunger in God’s face as a way of trying to induce Him to give in to our demands. We do not somehow gain God’s favor by making ourselves suffer. That practice, known as asceticism, is useless (Colossians 2:23).
The purpose of fasting is not to protest for what we want, but to yield to what God wants.
To do that, we need humility, and going without food and water for 24 hours helps to humble us. Fasting can serve as a quick and uncomfortable reminder of how weak and insufficient we are.
Fasting is a graphic exercise that helps us see our utter dependence on God for everything, making it easier to check our pride and vanity at the door.
Why? What is so important about having humility?
God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, explains, “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2, New American Standard Bible, 1995).
In other words, the great Sovereign of the universe specifically looks—gives His attention—to those who are humble and take His Word seriously.
The apostle Peter was also inspired to say, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
Fasting, as these passages indicate, is a means of humbling ourselves before God to seek His guidance and direction in our lives.
When we approach our fast with this understanding in mind, we are on the right track for drawing closer to God and getting the answers we need.
To learn more about the importance of humility to a Christian, read “Humility: Why It Matters.”
Step 2: Spend extra time in prayer when you are fasting
Christian fasting should always include prayer. When sincere, heartfelt prayer and fasting are combined, they yield powerful results. In fact, the Bible records a situation where the two were not used together.
Mark’s Gospel tells us about an instance during Jesus’ ministry in which He was desperately approached by a man and his son for help with a case of demon possession. It was a situation that His disciples could not solve, though they had been given the ability to do so at other times (Matthew 10:1).
After Jesus had cast out the demon, we read: “And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’” (Mark 9:28). They wanted to know why they were unsuccessful.
Jesus’ answer was instructive: “This kind [of evil spirit] can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting” (verse 29).
Also, consider the example of the prophet Daniel, who earnestly sought a revelation from God concerning the timing of when the Jews would be allowed to return home from their captivity: “Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3).
Evidently, prayer and fasting go hand in hand.
“But what should I pray about during my fast?” someone might ask. Ultimately, that answer will vary from person to person, depending on the individual’s circumstances.
In any event, praying for forgiveness of sin is an important part of fasting. The last thing the Christian wants is for his or her fast, or prayers in general, to be hindered by sin that has not been repented of.
Notice what Isaiah says about sin’s effect on our communication line with God: “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).
Fasting draws us closer to God, whereas sin pulls us further away.
Our prayers should also identify the specific reason(s) for the fast. Ask yourself what prompted you to decide to fast.
Maybe you need the spiritual strength to overcome an adversity in your life. Maybe you need wisdom to handle an interpersonal conflict. Maybe you or someone else needs healing. Maybe you are stuck at a crossroads in your life, and you want to seek God’s guidance.
Whatever your reason for fasting may be, set aside a significant portion of your fast to really seek God in prayer. Tell Him every need, concern, worry and problem. You may even feel the need to cry out for an answer, as many of God’s servants have done throughout history.
To learn more about these kinds of prayers, read “What Can We Learn From Daniel’s Passionate Prayer?”
Step 3: Study the Bible during your fast
Throughout the fast, keep your Bible close by and make reading it a priority. If praying is a way to speak to God, then studying the Scripture is a way to listen to Him.
Hebrews 1:1 says, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.”
Today, we have access to what has been “spoken” to us—the very words of the Creator God—as given through Jesus Christ, the prophets and the apostles. Those words are inked on the pages between the front and back cover of your Bible.
This awesome fact led the apostle Paul to tell Timothy, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
We fast because we recognize we are in need of something. We may need insight, encouragement, strength or a long-awaited answer from God. In any case, Paul assures us that by reading the Scriptures—not casually, but intently—we can become “complete” and “equipped.”
Christian fasting is an acknowledgement that our real needs in life are found in God. That is why Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
We have to feed on God’s words. We have to study the Bible voraciously and be willing to yield to His words.
Step 4: Meditate on the Word of God while fasting
Another component of a Christian fast is meditation.
Biblical meditation is not sitting cross-legged with your eyes closed and letting your mind go blank. Biblical meditation is not the same as transcendental meditation. To learn more about the dangers of this form of meditation, read “The New Age Movement.”
Biblical meditation is usually done in private and involves deep, purposeful reflection on a biblical principle and its application in our lives.
You could call meditation the “digestion” phase that comes after studying, or “feeding,” on God’s Word (Matthew 4:4).
Just as physical food is broken down and assimilated through the digestion process, spiritual food is assimilated through meditation.
When meditation is done correctly, God’s Word becomes a part of your very being, and you find the answers you are looking for and come to a deeper understanding of how God’s Word applies to your everyday life.
David is a good illustration of this. As a shepherd boy, he was often alone at night—with only his flock for company. He undoubtedly spent hundreds of hours looking up at the heavens, thinking. He had nothing to distract him: no computer, television, radio, cell phone or anything else.
It was during those quiet, long evening hours that David was able to really meditate on the things of God—His majesty, His creation, His ways, His laws, His words. He used that time to think deeply about the big questions of life (Psalm 8).
And what is the result of such meditation? Psalm 119:99 tells us: “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation.”
Without question, the scores of psalms David wrote reveal the depth of understanding he had.
What about you? Do you want God’s words to do more than just pass through your ears? Do you want to walk away from your fast with deeper spiritual understanding?
Spend time thinking deeply on God’s words and laws. The Bible has the answers we need during our fast, but it often takes meditation to discover them. Find a biblical principle that speaks to the situation you are facing, and think through how it can be applied in your life.
When this is done, you can take comfort in God’s words to Joshua: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8).
After effective Christian fasting
If fasting in the past felt like nothing more than being hungry and miserable, chances are these steps were not taken.
When a Christian fast is done properly, you may feel physically hungry and weak, but you can move forward spiritually fulfilled and rejuvenated.
When we genuinely seek God and His will through fasting—understanding the purpose of fasting, using the time to pray fervently, seeking His Word for guidance and meditating—our fast will be spiritually effective, and God will bless us.
This is how to fast as a Christian.