To impress others. God hates religious flesh.  Some are tempted to think that they are doing something religious, as if God will be impressed. Jesus warned against making one’s fasting obvious.  Those who do so get what they want–the approval of others (Matthew 6:16-18). Abstinence is meant to humble us (Deuteronomy 8:3). Heaven was not listening when the Pharisee “stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like all other men…I fast twice a week…'” (Luke 18:11,12).

To manipulate God. Fasting is meant to open us to God’s design, not our desire. The people of Israel once complained, “Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” (Isaiah 58:3). True fasting bends us rather than demanding that God bend to us.

To stop being civil. Disciplines carried out in the flesh can make us mean, rigid, or judgmental. Isaiah had strong rebuke for people who fasted, yet continued to oppress their workers. They abstained “only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist” (Isaiah 58:3,4). Those who fast should watch their motives.


To intensify prayer efforts. Hannah and Anna were two women who prayed with fasting. Both rejoiced as God answered. Prayer is often interrupted by the duties of life. In fasting, we give ourselves to God in a concerted way.

To receive guidance. God led the Israelites to victory after they had fasted for guidance. Daniel received understanding about Israel’s future.  Barnabas and Saul were thrust into mission work after fasting. Elders were appointed in the churches they had founded through prayer and fasting.  Arthur Wallis writes in God’s Chosen Fast, “Not a tea-meeting but a consecration fast marked the first missionary valedictory….Where are the churches today in which leaders are set apart in a solemn season of prayer and fasting?”  

To deliver the captives.  Fasting has the power to “loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6).  Jesus prescribed fasting to deliver people possessed by demons (Mark 9:29).  Could it be that there are desperate people in our churches waiting until brothers and sisters fast for their release?

To avert judgment.  In the time of Jonah, a fast proclaimed from Nineveh’s throne turned back the hand of divine wrath.  Two proclamations of fasting in Joel’s prophecies were followed with a promise of God’s outpoured Spirit.

To seek help.  National fasts in Israel brought the intervention of God without exception.  They helped bring victory to Samuel and the Israelites, deliverance to Jehoshaphat from the Moabites, protection under Ezra, and salvation under Esther, when God reversed an anti-Semitic decree.

To express grief.  “Blessed are those who mourn…”  Fasting fits more with mourning than merriment. We, like Nehemiah, identify with the sorrow of God’s people and the world. David, Ezra, and Nehemiah all fasted with mourning.

To pursue holiness. Paul says, “Train yourself to be godly” (I Timothy 4:7).  Fasting is one way to do that. It opens the spirit to the Lord, because it quiets the flesh, often screaming for attention.  Whatever is flesh-denying can be character-forming. Hey, Lent is a good time to learn.

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