Biblical Fasting

If I were to do a word association and say “Peanut butter and _______?” what would you say? As you may have guessed, “Jelly” is how almost everyone answers. What about “Prayer and _________?” I frequently ask that question when teaching on Prayer or Spiritual Disciplines and most people cannot come up with an answer. But why not? The term “Prayer and Fasting” occur in Ezra, Nehemiah, Psalms, Daniel, Luke and Acts. And the idea of Fasting as a part of Prayer is also found in Esther, Isaiah, Joel, Matthew,

So if Prayer and Fasting go together like peanut butter and jelly, why isn’t fasting a regular part of our prayer life?

One possible answer is that frankly, we really do not have a robust prayer life.

Another answer is that we’ve never been taught.

So if we are going to learn about Biblical Fasting.

First off, we’re going to see, it’s all over the Bible.

FASTING IN THE OT
Ezra 8:21 “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods.” Ezra is setting out from Babylon leading a large group of Jews back to Jerusalem. He realizes the weight of the task an not only prays but fasts as well.

Nehemiah 1:4 “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” Nehemiah receives a report about Jerusalem “The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire” so Nehemiah both prayed and fasted for days. The result was that God moved King Artaxerxes heart to let Nehemiah go back to Jerusalem and rebuild it, “And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.”

Psalm 35:13 But I, when they were sick – I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest.

Daniel 9:3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.

1 Samuel 1:12 And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening David fasted when he learned that Saul and Jonathan had been killed.

1 Kings 21: 27 And when Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly. 28 And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 29 “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house.”

FASTING IN THE NT
Luke 2:37 “[Anna] did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.”

Luke 5:33 “And they said to him, ‘The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.'”

Acts 13:3 “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”

FASTING IS THE NORM
One of the things that is interesting about Biblical Fasting, is it’s just a fact, it’s just assumed as the norm. In Matthew 6 Jesus said “When you fast…” Not if you fast, or you should fast, but “When you fast”, like, when you have dinner or when you go to bed.

Luke 5:33 “And they said to him, ‘The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.’” Jesus response to this question was that His disciples did not fast at the present time because He was there with them, but “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” We now live in those days Jesus spoke of. Do we fast as he said we would?

NOT JUST FOR CHRISTIANS
Fasting as a Spiritual Disciple is somewhat universal and not limited to worshippers of God, for example when Darius, the king of Persia, was tricked into committing Daniel to the lion’s den, it says (Daniel 6)
14 Then the king, when he heard these words, was much distressed and set his mind to deliver Daniel. And he labored till the sun went down to rescue him…. 18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him.

And in Jonah 3, when the king received the word that Jonah preached “6 he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

WHAT IS FASTING?
Fasting is not eating. There are other things we may set aside for a time that are similar to Fasting, such as in 1 Cor 7 where Paul speaks to married couples about physical intimacy in marriage he says “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer”. But technically we would not call that “fasting”, and in fact Paul doesn’t use that term. I know some people who have said they are going to not turn on the TV for a month, other’s cease one of their hobbies. I have gone on a Media Fast where I will not read any newspaper type current events. And once Ami and I said “When the Packers kick the ball off at 3:30, let’s NOT watch the game and rather have a time of prayer.”

But that’s not fasting.

Fasting is not eating.

TYPES OF FASTING
There are a few different types and lengths of fasting mentioned in the Bible

A Fast from Delicacies
* “In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.” (Dan 10:2-3)

The Half Day Fast
* They sat there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening

An Absolute Multi-Day Fast
* “And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Acts 9:9)

A 40-Day Fast
* “And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” (Mat 4:2)

A Supernatural 40-Day Fast
* Moses: “When I went up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord made with you, I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water.” (Deuteronomy 9:9)
* Elijah: “And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.” (1 Kings 19:8)

PURPOSE FOR FASTING WITH PRAYER
Fasting is for a purpose, and the purpose is not just to be hungry.
“Hey, you know I fasted yesterday.”
“You did? How’d it go?”
“It was great, I was STARVING all day.”
No, that’s not the point.

Fasting is part of Worship
* We’ve already discussed Anna, who “did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” Not worshipping and fasting, but worshipping with fasting.
* Acts 13:2 “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

Seeking Guidance for Big Decisions
* Acts 14:23 “…Paul and Barnabas spent time in prayer and fasting for the appointment of elders in the churches.” (Acts 14:23).

Seeking Blessing
* Just as we saw in Ezra “Then I proclaimed a fast … that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey…”, we see something similar in Acts 13:3 “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”
* Matthew 6:17-18 “…when you fast … your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Seeking God’s Protection
* Judges 20:26 “Then all the people of Israel, the whole army, went up and came to Bethel and wept. They sat there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. The scene here is Israel being defeated in Battle. After fasting for an entire day they asked God “Shall we go out once more to battle against our brothers, the people of Benjamin, or shall we cease?” And the Lord said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.”
* Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord. (2 Chronicles 20:3-4)

BAD REASONS FOR FASTING WITH PRAYER

Getting Attention
* Matthew 6:16-18 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

To get God to do what we want
* Much like James said “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:2-3), the people in Isaiah’s time cried out to God with fasting “‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” But Isaiah told them “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.” (Isa 58:3-4)

To Lose Weight
* There’s no Bible verse to back this up, but I think I have liberty to say that if your motivation to Fast is to lose a few pounds then that’s not so good.

HOW TO FAST

24 Hour Fast
This means skip two meals, the most common being having a breakfast, then skipping lunch and dinner, going to be not having eating since breakfast, then get up in the morning and “break the fast” having gone 24-hrs since the last meal.

36 Hour Fast
This means not eating for an entire day. Have a supper then go to bed, skipping breakfast, lunch and dinner, going to be not having eating since the previous evening, then get up in the morning and “break the fast” having gone about 36-hrs since the last meal.

In the 24 and 36 hour fasts you may choose what type of fast, absolute, only water, liquids such as broth or juice, or simply fasting from delicacies, although I would suggest that saying “I’m not going to have dessert tonight” and calling it a fast may not exactly be what God had in mind.

Fasting for longer periods of time cannot be absolute, you must have water, and the longer you go, or as you are starting out, liquids such as broth or juice are important. Or even as the Trappist Bavarian Monks do, drink only beer for 46-days.

– Mark 9:29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Some manuscripts add “and fasting” to the end of this.