Fasting is an important and yet overlooked spiritual discipline. While most disciplines encourage people to do something, fasting encourages people to do without something.
Fasting is the voluntary denial of physical food for spiritual purposes.
Download Handout – PD 08 – Fasting and Discipleship
Understanding a Biblical Fast
- Fasting is not a sacred diet.
- Fasting is not a manipulative tactic.
- Fasting is not a mystical superstition.
- Fasting is denying the flesh to seek the spiritual.
- Fasting is valuing the feasting on God over the feasting on food.
The Scripture is full of examples reminding us that we must learn how to deny our physical cravings for spiritual purposes:
- “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matt. 5:6).
- but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:27).
- For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Rom. 8:13).
- And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23).
Different Types of Fasting
The next two lists are an edited form of Donald Whitney’s list in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.
- Normal fast – abstaining from all food but not from water (Matt. 4:2; Luke 4:2)
- Partial fast – limitation of one’s diet but not abstaining from all food (Dan. 1:12; Matt. 3:4)
- Absolute fast – denial of all food and liquid (Ez. 10:6; Est. 4:16; Acts 9:9)
- Supernatural fast – extraordinary fast of all food and liquid for 40 days done by Moses (Deut. 9:9) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8)
- Private fast – ensuring not be noticed by others (Matt. 6:16-18)
- Congregational fast – focused fast by a worship gathering (Joel 2:15-16; Acts 13:2)
- National fast – when a ruler calls for one due to extreme need (2 Chron. 20:3; Neh. 9:1; Est. 4:16; Jon. 3:5-8)
- Regular fast – appointed holidays focusing on a fast (Lev. 16:29-31; Luke 18:12)
- Occasional fast – called on for a special occasion (Matt. 9:15)
- Additional fast – while biblical fasts always involved dying food, Scripture does teach the benefit of occasionally denying something other than food for spiritual purposes (1 Cor. 7:1-5)
What Fasting Seeks to Accomplish
- To strengthen prayer (Ezra 8:23; Neh. 1:4; Dan. 9:3; Joel 2:12-17; Acts 13:3)
- To seek God’s guidance (Judg. 20:26-28; Acts 14:23)
- To express grief (Judg. 20:26; 1 Sam. 31:11-13; 2 Sam. 1:11-12)
- To seek from God deliverance or protection (2 Chr. 20:3-4; Ezra 8:21-23; Esther 4:16; Ps. 109:21-26)
- To express repentance and the return to God (1 Sam. 7:6; Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:5-8)
- To humble oneself before God (1 Kin. 21:27-29; Ps. 35:13)
- To express concern for the work of God (Neh. 1:3-11; Isa. 58:6-7; Dan. 9:3)
- To minister to the needs of others (Isa. 58:6-7)
- To overcome temptation and dedicate yourself to God (Mt. 4:1-11)
- To express love and worship to God (Lk. 2:37)
Jesus’ Reminders of Fasting
- Fasting should be helpful as preparation for temptation (Matt. 4:1-3).
- Fasting should be as normal as giving and prayer for the disciple (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16).
- Fasting should be done for God’s attention rather than for man’s awareness (Matt. 6:16-17).
- Fasting should be done as denying the world’s rewards for God’s rewards (Matt. 6:16-17).
- Fasting should be done to help us enduring until his return (Luke 5:33-35).
Next Steps for Fasting
- Determine the Type of Fasting – If you can’t do a food fast, think of another way to deny yourself.
- Decide the Time of Fasting – Pick a convenient time to start with a small fast and work your way from there. You won’t fast by accident.
- Develop the Habit of Fasting – Begin with smaller goals and work your way towards more as you develop.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.