Category Archives: fasting

We’re fasting today

Today we’re having a time of prayer and fasting as a congregation.

Gasp! He broke the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule about fasting!

Isn’t it about time we got over that? Yes, Jesus said not to tell anyone when you are fasting. He also, in the same chapter and the same context, told us to only pray in a closet. Ever seen that commandment violated? To be honest, I’ve rarely seen that one followed!

Have you ever let your left hand know what your right hand was doing when you were giving? Did that invalidate your generosity?

If we don’t talk about fasting (in the right way), we’ll never learn about fasting. And to be honest, we’ll rarely practice fasting.

Churches fasted together in the New Testament (Read the first part of Acts 13, for example). Fasting was one of the approved acts of worship for the New Testament church; it didn’t make it onto our lists for some reason. Part of the reason is, we rarely talk about it.

We’re doing a sunrise to sundown fast. That’s more doable for those of us who don’t fast regularly. I shared some material from a book that I’m working on, which the other leaders took and modified to share with the church. Here’s my original:

Another physical aspect of prayer involves fasting. In my experience, many Christians are uncomfortable discussing fasting. To some, it feels like a practice done by other religious groups. Yet fasting was a normal part of the life of the early church.
Jesus taught about fasting (Matthew 6:16-18), saying “when you fast”; this shows that He expected believers to fast. In the same way, He said that when He was no longer present on earth, His followers would fast (Mark 2:20). And Jesus fasted while living here on earth (Luke 4:2).
The early church fasted as part of its worship (Acts 13:2-3) and as part of the process for appointing elders in the church (Acts 14:23). Some Christians avoid talking about when they fast, but these passages show that the early church was comfortable in sharing that information. If we never talk about fasting, we’ll never learn to practice it.
So how do we fast? Here are some suggestions:

  • If you have any special health needs, talk to your doctor before fasting. If you can’t go too long without eating, consider fasting from a certain type of food. But don’t put your health in jeopardy just to fast.
  • Don’t make the mistake of trying to start with a long fast. Typical fasts in the Middle East go from sunrise to sundown. That’s probably how many fasts were done in Bible times, and it’s a good way to start. Later you can extend to a 24- or 36-hour fast.
  • Drink liquids. We do see extreme cases in the Bible where people went for a time without eating or drinking, but those are special circumstances. It’s wiser to continue to take in fluids to avoid dehydration.
  • Remember that fasting isn’t just about abstaining from food. Fasting should be accompanied by prayer. Use the time you would spend eating to spend in time with God.

Fasting doesn’t make you super-spiritual nor superior to anyone else. Spiritual fasting isn’t about increased health nor weight loss. Fasting is a spiritual discipline we practice in obedience to God.

Fasting from inside out

bowl“‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it?  Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.  Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.  Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:3-7)

Fasting is not just a physical act. We sometimes skip a meal because we are busy or sick; that’s not what the Bible views as fasting. Fasting involves the inner man, not just the mouth and the stomach.

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.  Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” (Joel 2:12-13)

Rend your heart and not your garments. Our faith is not about going through the motions. Christianity is not about punching a time clock at church every Sunday. Fasting isn’t about skipping meals. It’s about self-denial, abstaining from food in order to dedicate ourselves more to the things of God. While it has physical benefits, that’s not where the value of fasting lies. When the abstention from food is accompanied by a fasting spirit, we will truly learn the worth of fasting.

{photo by yenhoon on}

Fasting: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

shhWhen I was in college, two Bible professors mentioned to their students that they fasted regularly. (I think it was weekly) One of my other professors criticized the two, claiming that they were violating Jesus’ instructions from Matthew 6 about not showing other men that you are fasting.

Are you kidding me?

I think that’s been one of the problems we’ve had with fasting: those who practice it are shamed into not sharing their experiences with others. Sure, I agree that no one should show off when fasting. But we need to be able to talk about it, to teach about it. I think we can even encourage others to join us in fasting; I doubt that the community fasts in Acts 13 and 14 happened by coincidence.

We can talk about how much we read our Bibles and how often we pray. Each of those needs to be done in a way that isn’t self-aggrandizing nor ostentatious, but we allow them to be done. In the same way, we need to share with one another our experiences with fasting: how we do it, the benefits we’ve found, etc. When we restore fasting to its rightful place in the church, people won’t seem holier-than-thou when talking about a common spiritual discipline.

{photo by Sophie on}

So what can we say about fasting?

fried-chickenWell, we’ve already proven that you guys know a lot more than I do about this subject. Seeing as that’s the case, I’ll lay out some observations and let you correct me. :-)

  1. Contrary to what some think, Jesus did not teach against fasting, any more than he taught against public prayer. Note his words: “When you fast…” (Matthew 6:16); “then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15). He spoke out against fasting for show and spoke out against the Pharisees trying to bind their tradition on Jesus’ disciples. But he didn’t teach against fasting itself, especially the fasting that was required under the Law.
  2. In Acts 13, we see a group of Christians that had apparently agreed to fast at a certain time. Was this congregation wide or merely this small group? We don’t know. But this example destroys the argument that you can’t let anyone else know when you are fasting. Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount need to be taken in context. Just as not every prayer needs to be said in a closet, Christians can talk to one another about fasting.
  3. In Acts 14, we see Christians fasting at the time of appointing elders. Again, it’s obvious that they had agreed to join together in this time of fasting.

I think that need to bring fasting back into the normal life of the church. That being said, I think we need to proceed with caution; since fasting isn’t a normal part of our culture, the possibility of it becoming a point of pride is increased. Fasting is never done as a point of merit nor as a basis for spiritual superiority. It is closely linked with prayer and should be done in the same reverent attitude that prayer is.

Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”  Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. (Joel 2:12-13)

An overview of fasting in the Bible

What does the Old Testament say about fasting? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. The Bible never stops to define fasting. In the Law, it’s called “denying yourself” or “afflicting your soul.”
  2. Fasting was commanded to be done on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29, 31; 23:27-32; Numbers 29:7; Jeremiah 36:6; Acts 27:9)
  3. The Jews came to celebrate four other fasts on an annual basis (Zechariah 8:19)
  4. The Feast of Purim was added even later (Esther 9:31-32)
  5. Many individual Jews fasted on a regular basis (Matthew 9:14; Mark 2:18; Luke 2:37; 18:12)
  6. Fasting was done on special occasions:
    • Public national fasts on account of sin or to supplicate divine favour were sometimes held  (1 Samuel 7:6; 2 Chronicles 20:3; Jeremiah 36:6-10; Nehemiah 9:1)
    • There were also local fasts. (Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:12; 1 Kings 21:9-12; Ezra 8:21-23; Jonah 3:5-9.
    • There are many instances of private occasional fasting (1 Samuel 1:7; 20:34; 2 Samuel 3:35; 12:16; 1 Kings 21:27; Ezra 10:6; Nehemiah 1:4; Daniel 10:2, 3). Moses fasted forty days (Ex. 24:18; 34:28), and so also did Elijah (1 Kings 19:8).
  7. The prophets had to correct the abuse of fasting (Isaiah 58:4; Jeremiah 14:12; Zechariah 7:5)
  8. Yet fasting was still expected of God’s people (Joel 1:14; 2:12-13)

When New Testament times arrive, fasting is a part of what God’s people do to worship him:

  1. Jesus fasted 40 days (Matthew 4:2)
  2. Jesus’ disciples did not regularly fast (Matthew 9:14)
  3. Jesus’ expected that his followers would fast when he was no longer physically present (Matthew 6:16-18)
  4. Early Christians fasted
  5. As part of worship (Acts 13:2)
  6. As part of the elder selection process (Acts 14:23)

Can you think of any texts that I missed?