Lately I was having a discussion with a friend, we were talking about fasting and its effects on faith. Hence I have decided to share with my readers here.

What is fasting in the Biblical context?

Intially I thought that fasting was not legalised and defined in the Mosaic law, however, I was told that Fasting is commanded by God to the Israelites to be performed on the Day Of Atonement. In the Law of Moses there was a term which is commonly translated to the english bible as “Afflict your souls” is generally understood by the Jews as fasting.

This term appears very often when the Moses was talking about the day of atonement (Lev 23:27,39,32 , Num 29:7, Lev 16:29.31)

Besides that, there is no other records of fasting as a requirements in Gods Law.

Jesus once said this when he was questioned about why his disciples did not fast

“Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast” – Jesus (Matt 9:15)

According to the bible, a fast is a voluntary abstinence from all forms of food and drink, and at the same time, it must be accompanied with prayers and study of God’s word. In event of a long fast, in the case of Moses and Jesus, consumption of water is assumed , because it is physically impossible to withstand 40 days and nights without food and water. (If one were to read wikipedias entry on survival skill, a person generally can only survive 3-5 days without water)

Fasting is a voluntary affliction to the soul, for someone to humble in the presence of the Lord, and to make his supplication before God. Fasting is a serious act and is always done with reverence for God. just like what the Psalmist said

” But as for me, when they were sick, My clothing was sackcloth; I humbled myself with fasting; And my prayer would return to my own heart.” David (Ps 35:13)
“Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me. When I wept and chastened my soul with fasting, That became my reproach.” -David (Ps 69:9-10)

” But You, O GOD the Lord,
Deal with me for Your name’s sake;
Because Your mercy is good, deliver me.
For I am poor and needy,
And my heart is wounded within me.
I am gone like a shadow when it lengthens;
I am shaken off like a locust.
My knees are weak through fasting,
And my flesh is feeble from lack of fatness.
I also have become a reproach to them;
When they look at me, they shake their heads.” – David (Ps 109:21-25)

Although fasting is never recorded in the Mosaic laws of the old testaments as a law, we often see people like Moses, Samuel, Ezra, Daniel, Cornelius, Peter, and many others fasted. When these bible characters fasted, and God accepted and granted their petitions from time to time according to Gods will.

Compulsory Fasting on the regular basis comes very much later in history, and is especially practised by the Pharisees (Lk 18:11-12) but there are also very Godly people who fasted regularly for years, like Anna in Lk 2:36-37.

Is Every Fasting Acceptable before God?

In the earlier discussion we were looking the the fasting of the Pharisees and the fasting of Anna, we knew that only the latter ones is acceptable to God. Hence there are fast that are not acceptable before God.

Isaiah once said on behalf of God

“Tell My people their transgression,
And the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek Me daily,
And delight to know My ways,
As a nation that did righteousness,
And did not forsake the ordinance of their God.
They ask of Me the ordinances of justice;
They take delight in approaching God.
‘ Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen?
Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’ ” – Isaiah (Is 58:1-3)

God also said through Prophet Zechariah
“Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me-for Me? When you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves? Should you not have obeyed the words which the LORD proclaimed through the former prophets when Jerusalem and the cities around it were inhabited and prosperous, and the South and the Lowland were inhabited?'” – Zechariah (Zech 7:4-7)

From here we can see that God doesn’t always accept fasting of the people, just like God once turn away the offerings of Cain. Fasting accompanied with prayers are also part of our offerings to God and God takes every offering and deed that his children has done in his name seriously.

Like what Jesus said in Matt 9:15, that there will come a time for Christians to fast and to pray before God. Therefore it is important for us to understand what types of fasting pleases God. Just like what Paul encourage believers to offer themselves as a living sacrifice to God, he called that a “Reasonable Service” (Rom 12:1). Therefore it is important for us to ensure that our fasting is acceptable before God and will go up as a memorial before God, just like what the angel of God said to Cornelius “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God” (Acts 10:4)

The Dos and Don’ts in Christian Fasting

Dos

1. Constantly pray to God
Whenever we are fasting, we are bringing request and supplication to God, We must always trust that in God, as well as to pour out all our heart before God. (Ps 62:8). Whenever the disciples needs to get direction from God, besides fasting, they will always accompany it with prayers (Acts 13:3) Remember, fasting without prayer is just called dieting.

2. To do Good and to Help the Poor
Whenever a Christian fast, he should always continue to do good and bless the people around, God has one complain against the fasting of Judah and he had spoken through Isaiah

Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.” – Isaiah (Is 58:6-9)

When the Jews were fasting at the time of Isaiah, they continue to oppress the weak, exploit the labourers, and continue their strife and debate among themselves, as a result, God did not want to answer them when they fast and pray. Over here, God is encouraging them to share , and do good to others, only then will God response to their prayers.

Don’ts

There are a few things that should never be done when you fast

1. Do not let other know you are fasting

“But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” – Jesus (Matt 6:17-18)

Jesus encourages Christians to fast, but they should always do this in secret, and not to let other knows that he is fasting, God who sees it in secret, will reward openly.

2. Do not fast for the wrong reasons

In the same chapter in Isaiah 58, God spoke through Isaiah the prophet saying

“Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen?
Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’

” In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure,
And exploit all your laborers.
Indeed you fast for strife and debate,
And to strike with the fist of wickedness.
You will not fast as you do this day,
To make your voice heard on high.
Is it a fast that I have chosen,
A day for a man to afflict his soul?
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush,
And to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Would you call this a fast,
And an acceptable day to the LORD?” – Isaiah (Is 58:3-5)

Therefore let us learn to show reverence to God whenever we fast, let us not fast for the sake of fasting. Let us not fast just because we cant find food for ourselves. Always remember, that God does not look at outer appearance,

“Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” – YHWH (1 Sam 16:7)

Biblical example of fasting, and the reason for fasting

To conclude our discussion, I would be quoting examples of fast that God accepted, and we would draw examples from the old and new testaments.

Generally, there are 4 known reasons why people fast in the bible

1. To Receive Power from God

a. Lord Jesus himself fasted forty days and forty nights before he started his ministry (Matt 4:1-2)
b. The Apostles fasted and prayed with one accord before commissioning and sending out of workers (Acts 13:1-3)
c. Healing and casting out of demons should be carried out through fasting and prayers (Mt 17:19-21)

2. To Request for Gods help

a. Ezra fasted and prayed for Gods protection before starting his trip to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:21-23)
b. Esther fasted 3 days and nights before she takes on the risk to see the king (Est 4:16)
c. Nehemiah fasted and pray for God to request for his grace (Neh 1:4-11)

3. To understand the truth

a. Daniel fasted for the Revelation for the things to come (Dan 10:2-12)
b. Moses fasted in forty days and nights in mount Sinai before he received the 10 commandments (Ex 34:27-28)
c. The apostles fasted for Gods revealation on the directions to take for ministry (Acts 13:1-2)

4. To Confess, Repent, and Request the Forgiveness of sin

a. The people of Nineveh fasted and repented before God when they heard the preaching of Jonah (Jon 3:5-10)
b. The Israelites fasted, and confessed their sins and turn to God (1 Sam 7:3-6)
c. King Ahab fasted and prayed and repented before God when Elijah spoke against him (1 Kings 21:27)

I quoted King Ahab because it is interesting to see that even someone as evil as Ahab, when he genuinely repent before God, God actually took pity on him and said this through Elijah his prophet
“See how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the calamity in his days. In the days of his son I will bring the calamity on his house.” – YHWH (2 Kings 21:28)

This tells us how much does fasting means onto God. But it has to be done for the right reasons for God to accept it. Therefore, let us not just fast without a purpose, or else that fasting will fit exactly to what Paul warned the Colossian about .

“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations- “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using-according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. ” – Paul (Col 2:20-23)

Therefore, let us keep these principles in mind and to serve God in the way that he would want us to.

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