10 Powerful Reasons to Fast

Last week, we explored fasting as a spiritual discipline and determined that it meets our criteria. Fasting is both taught and modeled in the Bible, and Jesus practiced it. (If you missed that post, you can read it HERE.)

In that post, we also determined that while there are two widely acceptable and appropriate definitions for fasting, we are using the narrower of the two since it is the one spoken of in the Bible.

By this definition, Christian fasting is abstinence from physical nourishment. It is also done for a spiritual purpose – one that is closely aligned to our relationship with Christ. Fasting, then, that is undertaken for other purposes, such as weight control, a pre-operation dictate, physical training, saving money, or political protest, is not a Christian fast.

Having a spiritual purpose for your fast is crucial. Without it, fasting can be a miserable, self-centered experience. Without it fasting can become an end rather than a means.

So, what qualifies as a spiritual reason to fast? The Bible gives us many. Ten are listed below. Notice, as you read them, that none of the purposes for fasting involve earning God’s favor. Nor are they means for impressing God. We are made acceptable to God through the work of Jesus Christ alone.

With this understanding, here are some biblical reasons to fast.

There is something about fasting. When done in concert with prayer, it polishes the rough edges of our intercessions. And it heightens the passion of our supplications. Often in the Bible, God’s people fast when they feel an urgency about the concerns for which they are praying.

Note, that the Bible does not teach that fasting is a kind of spiritual hunger strike that compels God to do our bidding. It is not in God’s character to do something that is outside of His will. Fasting does not change God’s hearing; it changes our praying. When we pray while fasting, we communicate our earnestness and express it in a way that is divinely appointed.

Fasting does not ensure clear guidance, but it does make us more sensitive to God. It helps us tune out the world and focus on the Lord, so that we might listen more attentively to His Word.

As an example, consider Acts 14, where we read that Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted to receive God’s guidance before appointing church elders.

When we are afraid. When we feel persecuted by family, acquaintances, or others, fasting should be one of our first defenses. Instead of taking things into our own hands, we should appeal to God for deliverance and protection.

Many examples of this purpose for fasting are found in the Bible. For instance, King Jehoshaphat in realizing a vast army was coming against him (2 Chronicles 20:3-4), Ezra in leading a group of exiles back to Jerusalem (Ezra 8), Queen Esther prior to her appeal to King Xerxes (Esther 4:16), and David in seeking relief from a group of enemies (Psalm 109).

The Bible contains many examples of fasting to express grief. Often this expression of grief is due to death (2 Samuel 1:11-12). But grief can also be caused by other things such as sin (both our own and the sins of others) and calamity.

When praying and fasting over the grief caused by our own sin, it is extremely important to remember that our fasting does not pay for our sins (1 Peter 3:18). It is, however, an appropriate expression as part of our confession.

Much like expressing grief for sin, fasting can also signal a commitment to obedience and a new direction (Joel 2:12).

Fasting itself is not humility before God (Luke 18:12). Fasting is an expression of humility when practiced with the right motives (1 Kings 21:27-29; Psalm 35:13).

Just as one might want to express humility by a change of posture in prayer (kneeling, prostrate, outstretched arms), one might choose to show humility through fasting.

Over the years, I have at times prayed and fasted out of concern for the work of God in the life of one of my children or grandchildren. Likewise, we might choose to fast and pray because we are concerned for the work of God on a broader scale. We might pray and fast for an area of the world that has experienced a tragedy, a global catastrophe, or a social crisis.

We see concern for the work of God as the purpose behind Nehemiah’s fast regarding the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:3-4). It is also the reason for Daniel’s fast when feeling the burden for the return of the exiled Jews and for the restoration of Jerusalem (Daniel 9:3).

Isaiah 58 is the most extensive passage in the Bible dealing exclusively with fasting. In this passage, God emphasizes fasting for the purpose of meeting the needs of others.

How might one do this? The answer is, in many ways! For example, one might fast for a single meal and use that time to minister to someone’s needs. Or they might take the money saved by fasting and use it (or donate it) to meet the needs of others.

Fasting is a good exercise in self-discipline. In fasting, we exercise our restraint muscle by choosing not to eat food. Over time our restraint muscle is then strengthened so that we are more able to walk away from sin when tempted. When we train ourselves to willingly accept the small suffering of fasting, we are better able to accept other suffering for the sake of righteousness.

Our best example, of course, is Jesus. After His prolonged spiritual fast, He was prepared to overcome an onslaught of temptation brought on by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11).

In the Bible, there is a beautiful example of fasting for the purpose of expressing love and worship to God. This example is found in the book of Luke and speaks of a woman named Anna.

Fasting is a way of demonstrating your love for God – even to yourself. When the hunger pangs come, you choose to deny them and pursue your hunger for God. At the growling of your stomach, you choose to let it remind you that your stomach is not your God. When you grow hungry, instead of feasting on physical food, you choose to feast on spiritual food from the Word of God.

Seeking more of Him your fasting honors the true God.

This often-ignored Spiritual Discipline tests where our heart it. Fasting communicates that our hearts are with God, not with the world. It helps us focus and feast on Him.

Over the next few days, I encourage you to make the time to ponder the reasons for fasting that are listed above. Do you need God’s guidance on an important matter? Has your prayer life been dulled by a busy schedule? Are you struggling with sin? Whatever the issue you may be experiencing, fasting may well be a means of God’s grace in helping you with your need and pointing you towards His sufficiency.

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