Moses did it. Hannah did it. So did David, Ezra, Nehemiah, Paul–and Jesus Himself. But they didn’t have to contend with full-color ads for chocolate chip ice cream, supermarkets stocked with cheesecake, and boulevards lined with everything from Taco Bell to Red Lobster.
Who fasts today? Why? What is this ancient discipline supposed to do for us? Should everyone be doing it?
- Are there different kinds of fasts?
Yes. A normal fast means no eating at all. The Hebrew word for fasting means “to cover the mouth.” The Greek word means “to abstain.” While “fasting” from TV may be a good idea, it is not a biblical fast in the same sense as going without food.
A partial fast means going without certain kinds of food, such as the menu plan of young Daniel and his friends (Daniel 1:8). He did something similar as an old man (10:3). And John the Baptist’s diet certainly reduced kitchen cooking!
- Must I fast?
No, but Jesus did assume that fasting would be a regular part of a person’s devotional life. He told those who wondered why His disciples didn’t fast, “When the Bridegroom leaves, they will” (Matthew 9:15). Jesus has been gone for two thousand years.
- I’ve tried fasting but haven’t seen any positive results.
You are not alone. Look to the Lord, not to the results. You are responsible only to submit to God’s Word. The benefit may come years later or in a way you cannot perceive. Trust the One who calls you to the fast, not the fast. Some people say the same thing about prayer. We don’t rely on prayer but on the God who hears prayer.
For some years I had fasted one day a week and didn’t see any clear benefits. Then I changed to one or two extended fasts a year instead.I experienced spiritual exhilaration and closeness to the Lord during those days, but I have also found that fasting has cleared up my mind and enabled me to get more work done.
- Not only have I not seen positive results, but my prayers also seem to have backfired when I have fasted.
Something similar happened to Christ. After forty days in the wilderness without food, one would have hoped the spiritual battles would ceased. They had just begun. The devil appeared for a showdown. Fasting brings us into the arena of spiritual warfare. The end of a fast may mean the beginning of a war. Persist even if you do not see victory. Scripture gives enough examples to encourage endurance.
- What should I do while fasting?
Pray as much as your schedule allows–although fasting is a separate discipline from prayer, and the two are not always linked in Scripture. Don’t try to do strenuous physical work, although you might be surprised by the strength you feel. You can fast and go about your regular activities. But the more you pray, the more you will feel sustained by God. Drink plenty of water.
- Is fasting healthy?
Yes, when followed under good spiritual and medical counsel. It purifies the bloodstream, cleanses the body of toxic acids, improves circulation and digestion, conserves energy, gives the stomach a rest, brightens the complexion, cleans the mind, and even helps to break addictions like tobacco or alcohol. How is that for positive reasons?!