What is fasting?
Fasting is about going without something, usually food, in order to discipline yourself and to spend that time with God in prayer. The Bible presents fasting as something that is good, profitable, and beneficial and is known as one of the classic spiritual disciplines. It is a way to demonstrate to God and to ourselves, that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God. It can help provide a way for spiritual breakthrough, help develop intimacy with God and should be a regular part of every Christian’s walk. It could be for a specific reason in intercession and petition or as a sign of repentance or asking for God’s continued blessing and power.
“There’s nothing magical about fasting. It’s just one way of telling God that your priority at that moment is to be alone with him, sorting out whatever is necessary, and you have cancelled the meal, party, concert, or whatever else you had planned to do in order to fulfil that priority”. James Packer
Jesus was led into 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert before launching into three of the most impacting years a human has ever lived on this earth. Luke 4:1-2; 13-14 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry…..When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.
Jesus in preparation for the next season of life and ministry spent time in the wilderness praying and fasting. He was led by the Spirit into this time of testing and perseverance, and returned from it in the power of the Spirit to begin teaching and healing. We need the power and presence of God in all we do and are encouraged to follow the example of Christ and fast and pray.
By taking our eyes off the things of this world, we can more successfully turn our attention to Christ. Fasting is not a way to get God to do what we want. Fasting changes us, not God. In the Old Testament the only required fasting was done on the Day of Atonement when people would repent and renew their covenant with God. Moses fasted during the 40 days and 40 nights he was on Mount Sinai receiving the law from God (Exodus 34:28). King Jehoshaphat called for a fast in all Israel when they were about to be attacked by the Moabites and Ammonites (2 Chronicles 20:3). In response to Jonah’s preaching, the men of Nineveh fasted and put on sackcloth (Jonah 3:5). Prayer and fasting was often done in times of distress or trouble. Fasting then has an element of repentance and renewing promises to God, and intercessory prayer for God to move and act in supernatural ways.
So, what type of fasting God is looking for?
Listen to the words of Jesus, “When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”. Matthew 6:16-18
The very first statement Jesus makes about fasting is to question the motive. If your fasting and prayer is simply an outward show without an inner transformation then it is not true fasting. True fasting is honest and sincere, a genuine attempt to renew your time and commitment to God. It is not a way to appear more spiritual than others but to be done in a spirit of humility and a joyful attitude. Fasting is always voluntary.
- Jesus expects us to fast (Matt 6:16-18) and suggests that there are answers to prayer we will be unable to get without it (Matt 17:21)
- The Bible is full of it – Esther, Anna, Cornelius, Paul, Daniel, Ezra and David all fasted
- The early Church practised it (Acts 13:3)
- Breakthroughs in the past have been linked to it – Luther, Knox, Wesley, Spurgeon, Brainerd, Edwards all fasted. Whenever Charles Finney (who led about a million people to Jesus) felt the anointing of God receding in his life he would get away to pray and fast for several days.
When and how is between you and God; when we desire to seek God’s face more than we want dinner that will be the proper time to fast. There is no prescribed way as the only way of fasting; maybe it is a favourite food, or giving up something that distracts you like TV or Facebook in order to pray instead.
Some people choose to fast certain times of the day or certain meals; for others it can be a fast for 24 hours or longer. You could fast certain food items for 10 or 21 days (check out www.daniel-fast.com) or throughout the season of 40 days (Lent) leading up to Easter. Why not do a fast with someone else? Consider Friends, Couples, Parents and Kids, small groups, ministry teams or whole churches fasting together. Several generations fasting together has a powerful impact.
If food is an inappropriate focus then there are many other (sometimes more challenging) ways to fast.
You could try fasting:
- Your Phone
- Social time or media
Prayer Walking – Engaging with others.
Walking your local community/neighbourhood is a good starting place to find out exactly what God has to say about His heart for where He has placed you. Many a prayer walk initiative starts with a claim of that promise made to Joshua “I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses” Joshua 1:3.
The words translated “set your foot” comes from the Hebrew word “darak” which means to take with force, with the bending of the bow. When we walk our communities we must be mindful that there is an enemy who seeks to destroy, and we are not glibly claiming a promise, we are fighting in prayer for Gods purposes to be achieved.
Take every opportunity to prayer walk in your community, individually or as a group.