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Meaning Of Fasting In The Bible

Why Should You Fast

What is the Purpose of Fasting?

According to Dr. Bill Bright, who produced a guide to fasting for cru.org, there are a number of reasons why the practice of fasting can be spiritually beneficial.

  • Fasting is biblical. We see examples of biblical fasting in the lives of figures like Moses, Jesus, and King David.
  • Fasting and prayer can restore or strengthen your intimacy with God. Many longtime Christians find that fasting helps them rediscover their first love for God again.
  • Fasting is a way to humble yourself in the sight of God . King David said, I humbled my soul with fasting . You may find yourself relying on God more fully for strength when you fast.
  • Fasting and prayer can help us hear God more clearly. To listen to God as you fast, consider combining a time of fasting with a practice of listening prayer. Together, fasting and prayer can transform your prayer life into a richer and more personal experience of God.
  • Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition. When you see your own brokenness more clearly, youre able to move toward repentance.
  • When you experience revival in your own life through fasting, the grace and love of God can shine through you into the lives of others.

Biblical Examples Of Fasting

Fasting is a tool that has been used by Gods people throughout Biblical history, and it is still a powerful way for Christians to deepen their relationship with God. We see fasting documented all throughout the Bible, and is frequently referenced as an act of worship that is accompanied by prayer and repentance.

Here are a few examples of fasting that we see in the Bible:

The Purpose Of Spiritual Fasting

While many people fast to lose weight, dieting is not the purpose of a spiritual fast. Instead, fasting provides unique spiritual benefits in the life of the believer.

Fasting requires self-control and discipline, as one denies the natural desires of the flesh. During spiritual fasting, the believer’s focus is removed from the physical things of this world and intensely concentrated on God.

Put differently, fasting directs our hunger toward God. It clears the mind and body of earthly attention and draws us closer to God. So, as we gain spiritual clarity of thought while fasting, it allows us to hear God’s voice more clearly. Fasting also demonstrates a profound need of God’s help and guidance through complete dependence on him.

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Bible Verses About Fasting

Acts 14:23: Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Daniel 10:3: I ate no choice food no meat or wine touched my lips and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.

Esther 4:16: Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.

Exodus 34:28: Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenantthe Ten Commandments.

Joel 2:12: Even now, declares the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.

Luke 2:37: and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.

Luke 4:2-4: where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread. Jesus answered, It is written: Man shall not live on bread alone.

For the Top 40 Bible Verses about Fasting, click here.

How To Fast Correctly According To The Bible

The Biblical Understanding of Fasting

The Bible teaches us in the Old Testament that the Israelites fasted for the wrong reasons, they did it to debate and contend among themselves, and while fasting they oppressed their workers .

In the same way, in the New Testament, the Lord Jesus condemns the way of fasting of the Pharisees, since they only did it out of hypocrisy, to gain the approval of other people. Fasting was mandatory for the Jews on the Day of Atonement , but the Pharisees fasted twice a week to impress others with their false holiness.

For this reason, the Lord Jesus recommended doing this act of sacrifice silently and sincerely, not to satisfy the craving for praise or to gain the approval of others .

Therefore, a correct way to fast is for the Holy Spirit to be defining the fasting time and the purpose. But remember that this special moment is accompanied by prayer and the reading of the word.

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How To Fast Biblically

The Bible also gives instructions about the attitude and approach we should have in fasting. Jesus warned about hypocritical fasting, trying to show off or make others feel sorry for us.In the New Testament, Anna, the prophetess, is described as serving God day and night with fasting and prayers . We read that John the Baptist taught his disciples to fast and Jesus Christ said His disciples would fast after His death .

The Bible also gives instructions about the attitude and approach we should have in fasting. Jesus warned about hypocritical fasting, trying to show off or make others feel sorry for us . Instead we should not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place . So when we fast, we are to do it to humble ourselves before God and draw closer to Him. Fasting should never be done to show off our righteousness to other people.

Isaiah also contrasts selfish fasting with godly fasting marked by care and concern for others . Instead of fasting for strife and debate and fasting to try to make God hear and do what we want , we need a very different perspective. God said, 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? .

Biblical fasting should have positive effects on our spiritual life and strengthen us to overcome sin and draw closer to God.

Moses Fast Before Receiving The Commandments

Moses went up on the mountain and fasted food and water for 40 days and 40 nights before receiving the commandments of God written on stone tablets. After the 40 days and 40 nights, the Lord told Moses that the people whom he brought out of Egypt have become corrupt, turned away from what He commanded them, and made an idol for themselves. They transgressed the commandments the Lord had just given them, so Moses angrily breaks the tables of stone. He then ascends to the mountain once again and fasts for another 40 days and 40 nights before receiving the commandments once more.

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Examples Of Fasting In The Bible

Moses in the Book of Exodus

So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. ~ Exodus 34:28

Daniel in the Book of Daniel

I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks. ~ Daniel 10:3 ESV

David in the Book of 2 Samuel

And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. ~ 2 Samuel 1:12 ESV

John the Baptist in the Book of Matthew

Now John wore a garment of camels hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.Matthew 3:4 ESV

Jesus Christ in the Book of Luke

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread. And Jesus answered him, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone. ~ Luke 4:1-4 ESV

The Early Church in the Book of Acts

Biblical Purposes For Fasting

What Does the Bible Say About Fasting?

Throughout the Bible we most often find Gods people turn to fasting as the natural, inevitable response to a grievous sacred moment in life, such as death, sin and tragedy. But other times a fast is not a spontaneous reaction and we have time to prepare to respond both physically and spiritually.

Fasting is not an end unto itself, but a means of focusing our minds and bodies for a spiritual reason. Whenever you fast, do so for a reason that is mentioned or modeled in the Bible. Here are ten primary purposes for fasting mentioned in Scripture:¹

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What Does The Bible Say About Fasting

Curtis Mitchells article in Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol 147 #588 Oct 1990 answers this question well.

The Practice of Fasting in the New Testament

Is religious fasting a legitimate practice for today? If it is, how and why should it be practiced? This article studies each reference to fasting in the New Testament to seek answers to these questions.

Fasting as Practiced and Taught in the Gospels

Fasting as Practiced and Taught in the Book of Acts

Fasting as Practiced and Taught in the Epistles

Fasting in the Postapostolic Church

What Is A Fast From Social Media Tv Spending Money

Sometimes the world gets a grip on us. Picking up our phones instead of our Bibles. Turning to wine instead of Christ to help us unwind. Zoning out on Netflix for hours on end instead of going to God with what were trying to numb ourselves from. I truly believe this is the enemys best and greatest tacticto get us to turn to anything or anyone except Christ. Fasting from these things on a regular basis brings the presence of God back into focus. One can fast from any of these for any period of time.

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Fasting And The Day Of Atonement

God uses fasting as a teaching tool on one of the annual holy days He commands us to keep. In Leviticus 23:27 God says afflict your souls on the Day of Atonement. The New Ungers Bible Dictionary points out that afflicting your souls is a reference to fasting. This holy day is so associated with fasting that one of its nicknames at the time of Paul was the Fast .

So on this particular holy day God commands that His people forgo both food and water for 24 hours as a means of humbling themselves before Him, seeking Him and His will and guidance in life. Read more about this in our article The Holy Day Satan Hates Most.

Other Types Of Fasting

The Biblical Meaning of Fasting

The Bible mentions another type of fasting that has nothing to do with food. It is about setting aside for a time things that are not food. For example, Daniel stopped using perfume when he did the three-week partial fast .

In 1 Corinthians 7: 5 we also find the example of abstaining from sex in marriage for a short time to devote to prayer. This must be done by mutual agreement of the couple.

Today we see people who decide to abstain from the use of social networks or television for a few days because they want to use that time to deepen their relationship with God and focus on seeking their will. You can link this type of fasting to a partial fast.

Whatever fasting we choose, the most important thing is to dedicate that time to seek more of God. The emphasis should be on spending time with him, praying, worshiping him and reading his word. It must be a time in which everything else takes second place, we delight in listening to our Father and in receiving what he wants to give us.

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Why Do We Fast What Is The Purpose Of Fasting

Fasting is an ancient practice. We believe it must have existed among believers from the very beginning. The purposes of fasting include:

  • Developing spiritual strength, including resisting temptation.

  • Developing self-mastery, making our spirits masters of our bodies.

  • Showing humility.

  • Obtaining spiritual knowledge and testimony.

  • Obtaining spiritual guidance.

  • Helping the needy.

As President Russell M. Nelson has taught: Fasting helps your spirit to develop dominance over your physical appetites. Fasting also increases your access to heavens help, as it intensifies your prayers .

In addition, the law of the fast also has the purpose of helping those in need . Today, we are asked to skip two meals and give an offering of at least the value of those meals. Our generous fast offerings go directly to helping the poor and needy, and we are blessed as well.

As President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency has taught, In Church we are invited to help Him as He cares for the poor in His way, and He promises everlasting blessings will come from our helping Him .

To Express Love And Worship For God

Fasting can show, as John Piper says, that what we hunger for most, we worship.

How should we equip ourselves when God calls us to declare a holy fast? Here are some things to consider as you prepare for fasting:

Pray and confess your sinsA necessary step before fasting is to humble yourself before God and confess your sins . Prayer should be our sustenance throughout the fast, but it is imperative we begin the fast with a contrite heart.

Turn to ScriptureSpend additional time meditating on Gods Word, before and during the fast.

Keep it secretFasting is unbiblical and even spiritually harmful when we do it to show off our spirituality or when we focus more on our own fasting than on the clear needs of others . Dont boast about your fast tell people you wont be eating only if necessary. Fasting should not be done when imposed for false motives .

Prepare your bodyFasting, especially for days or weeks, can have unexpected and even detrimental effects on your health. There is no scriptural warrant for harming yourself to undergo a fast. Be sure to consult a doctor before starting any fasting regimen to make sure you can fast in a healthy manner.

Fasting is an appropriate bodily reaction to the grievous state of our soul. If it is done correctly you can expect many results, including growing closer to God, feeling more solidarity with those who suffer, and increasing self-control.

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Backgrounds For Old Testament Fasting

As shown below, abstaining from food for essentially spiritual purposes was part of the fabric of ancient cultures. By the time such fasting appears in the biblical record, it was already a well-established feature of life in the Ancient Near Eastern context. When the Scriptures address fasting, it is often to criticize, modify, sanction, or appropriate behavior that is common to the human experience. But the Hebrew Bible also introduces particular theological emphases on dependence on God that manifest in messianic, corporate, and individual ascetic themes. The concept of fasting in the Bible should ultimately be subsumed under these larger, theological ideas. The following section briefly reflects on the place of religious fasting in ancient cultural backgrounds for studying the OT and introduces the main terminology that is used to describe fasting in the Hebrew Bible.

Ancient Cultural Backgrounds: Fasting as a Common Human Religious Activity

Fasting arose and was practiced as a human religious activity that transcended the cultures of the biblical narratives. H. A. Brongers writes:

Now turning to our main subject it soon becomes clear that almost the whole range of fasting-rites we meet with in all parts of the world is present in Israel as well.17

Fasting Terms in the Hebrew Bible: Abstaining from Food to Humble Oneself Before God

How Long Should You Fast

What is the purpose of fasting?

Theres not a set length of time that makes Christian fasting acceptable. In Bible times, fasts generally last for a day . Occasionally, fasts lasted for 3 days or even 7 days . On three occasions, fasts lasted 40 days: when Moses received the 10 commandments , when Elijah encountered God and when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness .

The duration of your fast depends on the Lords conviction. I believe that fasting is a covenant between the believer and God, and it doesnt matter how long you will do it. Whats important is that youre doing it with the right motives. You can go without food for 40 days for all the wrong reasons. On the other hand, you can skip a single meal or two, because you truly want to honor God.

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Should Christians Still Fast Today

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Jesus did not command fasting, but it was a normal occurrence in His earthly time, and it would have made sense to His followers to take up this practice as a spiritual discipline. Fasting is not just for food, but food is widely used in different types of fasting. Fasting from food should be progressive and can be full or partial. Sam Storms, in his Crosswalk.com article, What Christians Need to Know about Fasting, lists the following different types of fasts: a partial fast, abstaining from a particular food a liquid fast, abstaining from all solid foods an absolute fast, abstaining from all food and liquids, and a supernatural fast, as in Moses refraining from eating or drinking for 40 days.

Fasting could be refraining from Netflix, spending the time it takes to binge a whole season in prayer or dedicate the same amount of time in prayer as our weekly screen time report reveals. Put thought into what you are abstaining from, and your fast can be short, intermittent, or longer. Theres not one type of fast that fits all its important that the fast is between you and God rather than a group fad youre joining.

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