Jesus’ mention of fasting in Mathew 6:16 and His giving instructions therein of how it should be conducted indicate that fasting is a prerequisite for a Christian. Here He says, ‘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’. Further, when John’s disciples asked Him in Mathew 9:14 why His own disciples were not fasting, Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast’.
Fasting is not optional but mandatory for every believer. It is the voluntary abstaining from food and/or drinks to concentrate on spiritual matters in order to have a deeper understanding of God. It goes hand in hand with prayer and during this time focus is removed from the physical things of this world. It cleans up the body of any earthly attention and opens one up to hearing more from God. During this time, comforts that are usually indulged in are also avoided. Fasting is definitely a significant ingredient to prayer.
The Bible has many examples of people fasting and gaining God’s favor. Moses did it in Exodus 34:28 which says, ’Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant- the Ten Commandments’. Esther, despite being the queen, took time to fast before presenting her request to the king. Nehemiah fasted and got the king’s permission to go and rebuild the walls of Jericho; in the book 1:4 he recounts, ‘When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven’. The city of Nineveh went into fasting when Jonah proclaimed their impending destruction and the Scriptures tell us that when God saw how they had humbled themselves and turned from their evil ways, He had compassion on them and did not destroy their city as He had earlier intended.
Ahab tore his clothes, went into fasting and walked around meekly when he heard of the imminent doom over his life, hence the Lord noticed him. In 1 Kings 21:27-29 God said to Elijah, ‘Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled Himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his sons’. During a three week fast, Daniel saw a vision from God. Jesus Christ Himself fasted for forty days and forty nights before beginning His ministry. Apostle Paul’s ministry and restoration of sight was preceded by a three day fast. All Christians must fast in order to have a stronger link with God.
The three types of fast are the normal fast where one abstains from food but takes water; the partial fast where one takes a restricted diet as Daniel did in Daniel 10:3-13. This is unfortunately the comfort zone for most people who are afraid of going into the third type which is the dry or absolute fast which entails total abstinence from food and water like Jesus Christ or even Moses did. Ezra also went through this absolute fast for the sake of the children of Israel; in Ezra10:6 the Scriptures say, ‘`Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While he was there, he ate no food and drank no water because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles’. Fasting is to be a normal routine for us all; none of us Christians is exempt. But one must be prepared to transit slowly and not just jump into an absolute fast without having gone first through the training of the easier forms of fasting.
Fasting is spiritually beneficial in that firstly we gain the guidance of God. The church at Antioch was given direction while they were in fasting. Acts 13:2-3 declares, ‘While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them”. So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off’. Fasting also leads to spiritual revival. It also brings about humility before God as we present ourselves in our brokenness. It also deals with certain things that do not go away through prayer only. In Mark 9:29 we see Jesus Himself confirming this when the disciples want to know why they are unable to drive out the spirit from a deaf and mute boy- Jesus answers, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting”.
Fasting also gives us power over carnality. Paul tells the people in 1 Corinthians 9:27 to beat their bodies to submission. We may want to eat because we are humans and get hungry but what greater way to tame the body than to deny it food for the sake of strengthening the spirit man! Fasting therefore delivers us from bondage and it is a fact that during this time, we will hear God’s voice more clearly.
How then do we fast? We need to set our objectives right- why for instance are we fasting? What is it that we want God to come through for us about? We must also prepare ourselves by physically planning our schedule and spiritually by repenting of our sins both of omission and commission. We then go into reducing our food rations according to the type of fast we are partaking. Stimulants should be avoided as well as the need to copy paste how others are doing it. The planning should be such that manual heavy work is avoided during this time.
Time for prayer should be deliberately set aside so that we connect with God and avoid detractors such as the television or the phones. In order to maintain growth, prayer must be continuous even as we get into the trying days of feeling weak. It is in these broken moments, that God sees us clearest as He did Ahab. The fast should then be broken gradually starting with fluids and light foods.
Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is a must for all Christians. It must be planned for and partaken of periodically.1Corinthians 9:24 asks us to ‘Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the game goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever’.