Fasting is not a subject about which Baptists spend very little time discussing. A great deal is said about prayer. People talk about the need for prayer. People talk about how prayer changes things. People talk about the proper way to pray. Even with all of the talk about prayer there is very little talk about fasting. When asked whether Christians are supposed to fast, many people are uncertain of their answer. Some will answer in the affirmative but have not clear reason for doing so. Others will answer in the negative because they have heard no one talk about he subject and assume that it is something that is not to be done.
The concept of fasting appears in both the old and new testaments. In the old testament there were fasts that were rituals, but there were also fasts that occurred at times of great need. David was a great man of God. He was a praying man and he fasted. There are other old testament heroes who fasted. Ezra and Nehemiah fastest. Esther fasted. But fasting is not limited to the old testament. John the Baptist fasted. Jesus fasted and even gave instructions to his disciples on how to fast.
The Benefits of Fasting
Ezra called a fast when they had a need for someone to protect them. He did not want to ask the king for a band of soldiers. He was ashamed to do so because he had told the king that the Lord would take care of them. Ezra desired to know the will of the Lord. We find out later in the chapter that the Lord delivered them from their enemies. (Ezra 8:21-23; Ezra 8:31)
In Nehemiah chapter nine we see a time when the children of Israel collectively fasted. They sought forgiveness for their sins.
In the account of Esther we find that she and others fasted because they faced annihilation. Following this time of fasting we find that God provided a way for them to escape.
The people of Nineveh fasted after Jonah came preaching that they would be destroyed. God saw their actions showing their repentance. He forgave and spared them.
In the new testament we see it as something that is necessary to be able to do some things. In Matthew 17 there was a boy with a devil that was brought to Jesus. The disciples had attempted to cast out the devil but could not. When they asked why they couldnt, Jesus told them that it required prayer and fasting.
While it cannot be said that God gives a person who is fasting everything the person wants, it is certainly true that God seems to pay special attention to the prayers of a person who is fasting. There is a reason for this that will be explained in more detail within the next section, but since God seems to pay special attention to those who fast, that should be reason enough to make us want to fast in our times of need.
The Purpose of Fasting
Time after time the Bible instructs us to humble ourselves before the Lord. It is the humble that the Lord lifts up. He resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble. When Jesus spoke of praying he spoke highly of those who were humble and seemed to have little use for people who made a show of how great they were. Often when we think of humbling ourselves we think of it as a mental exercise in which we remind ourselves that we are nothing compared to God. It doesnt hurt to go through this mental exercise, but consider what is said in Ezra 8:21. Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.â The word afflict could also be translated humble. Ezra proclaimed a fast so that the people could humble themselves before the Lord.
Fasting has a way of humbling us because it reminds us of our need for Gods provision. We can go for hours or days without considering our need for air, but if someone were to place us under water we would have trouble thinking about anything else. Going without something we need reminds us just how much God provides for us. When we are reminded of this then we are in a much better position to ask God for the things we need and desire. When we are in a fast induced humble state, we may find that the things we thought were important are not as important to us. We may find that things that didnt seem to be so important become much more important.
Fasting should not be viewed as a punishment for sin. It is not Gods desire for us to inflict pain upon ourselves because of our sin. Jesus did all that was necessary when he died on the cross. The proper thing for us to do with our sin is to ask for Gods forgiveness. Punishing ourselves for sin will not make God any more willing to forgive than he already is.
God does not feel more sorry for us because we are putting ourselves through misery when we fast. God cannot be manipulated. If we have asked God for something that he has not given us and we should not try to persuade him by causing ourselves pain. God is not like the pagan idols that cannot hear, see, smell, feel or speak. God is moved by the prayers of the humble. The purpose of fasting is to change us into humble people rather than to convince God that we are more deserving. When we are humble it permits God to bless us, but when we are trying to manipulate God it is an attitude of pride rather than humility.
How to Fast
Biblical fasts sometimes lasted a short time and sometimes they lasted longer. If a fast lasts for only a day then the person fasting might go for twenty-four hours without eating or drinking. For a longer fast a person should go without eating, but continue to drink liquids, such as water. The human body cannot survive long without water. In some cases a person might go without eating some of the choice foods rather than completely going without. Rather than eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a hamburger for dinner and spaghetti for supper, a person might eat only rice at every meal.
Choosing how to fast depends on several things. A persons health may prevent him from going for more than a few hours without eating. If this is the case then a fast that requires going completely without food should not be attempted. The goal is to humble ourselves rather than to harm ourselves. Sometimes the problem we face causes us to fast. When our problems cause us great pain we may not feel like eating. We may not have set out to fast, but we end up fasting because we are unable to do anything else.
Jesus gave specific instructions to his disciples on how to fast in Matthew chapter six. He was critical of people who drew attention to themselves with their fasting. His instruction to his disciples was that they were to fast in secret and God would reward them openly. This doesnt mean that you cant let others know that you fast, but dont brag about it. If you normally shave in the morning, shave, put on aftershave and wear the clothes you normally would. If you normally eat with someone then just inform the person that you are not eating. You shouldnt lie about the reason, but there is no reason volunteer additional information.
Fasting is something that God intends for us to do. It is beneficial to us because it is a way of humbling ourselves before the Lord, which is a necessity for us to receive the full blessings of God. Fasting reminds us of our need for God and how he provides us with the things we need. Fasting should be done in such a way that it does not harm us and we should not use it as leverage when we take our petitions to the Lord. Instead we should use it to get our hearts in the right place before we approach Gods throne.
Written By Timothy Fish