What is fasting and why should I do it?

Some call fasting a spiritual discipline. It is often connected with prayer, Bible study and meditation. What is fasting and why does the Bible encourage us to fast?

What is fasting and why should I do it?
Source: Photos.com

What is fasting?

Unger's Bible Dictionary explains that the word fast in the Bible is from the Hebrew word sum, meaning "to cover" the mouth, or from the Greek word nesteuo , meaning "to abstain." For spiritual purposes, it means to go without eating and drinking (Esther:4:16).

The Day of Atonement—also called "the Fast" (Acts:27:9)—is the only fast day commanded by God (Leviticus:23:27), though other national fast days are mentioned in the Bible. Also, personal fasts are clearly expected of Christ's disciples (Matthew:9:14-15).

We encourage those with health problems to consult a qualified medical practitioner before fasting.

Why do we fast?

The Bible gives examples of God's people occasionally combining fasting with their prayers so as to stir up their zeal and renew their dedication and commitment to Him. King David wrote that he "humbled [him]self with fasting" (Psalm:35:13). Fasting is a means of getting our minds back on the reality that we are not self-sufficient. Fasting helps us realize just how fragile we are and how much we depend on things beyond ourselves.

The Bible records that great men of faith such as Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Paul and Jesus Himself fasted so that they might draw closer to God (Exodus:34:28; 1 Kings:19:8; Daniel:9:3; Daniel:10:2-3; 2 Corinthians:11:27; Matthew:4:2). Jesus knew that His true disciples, once He was no longer there in the flesh with them, at times would need to fast to regain and renew their zeal to serve Him (Mark:2:18-20).

James tells us, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James:4:8). Constant prayer and occasional fasting help us to do this.

We are not to fast to have people feel sorry for us or to think we're pious (Matthew:6:16-18). Isaiah 58 gives both bad and good examples of fasting, contrasting wrong attitudes and actions (Isaiah:58:3-5) with the right approach of outgoing love (Isaiah:58:6-10). Daniel and Nehemiah set the example of having a repentant frame of mind (Daniel:9:3-4; Nehemiah:9:1-2).

You Can Have Living Faith Fasting also helps us learn the lessons of the Day of Atonement : forgiveness, reconciliation to God and the need to resist Satan and pray for the time of his removal (Revelation:20:1-3), which was portrayed in type by the Azazel goat on Atonement (Leviticus:16:20-22).

For more insight, please read our Bible study aid booklet You Can Have Living Faith .


SCOTT's picture




Tickler's picture

According to Isaiah 58:5 the true meaning of a fast is one the Lord sees as "an acceptable day to Him."


dellasoholy's picture

i can't wait to start my fast for our Father


pitchblack626's picture

Can somebody tell me where in the Bible when its ok to change how you can change fasting to what you want to. Looks like you and not suppost to eat or drink for three days?

Makani George K...

Makani George Kasinze's picture

Fasting, basically, draws us nearer to God's Glory


macnana's picture

I fasted for 2 days and guess the kind of feeling i have. Aside the physical benefit that i have, i could also see that am really close to Jehovah(God). Fasting truly helps to keep your mind on most important things in life.


kashefmushtaq's picture

we must fast to get clear answers from GOD about our daily routine and in particular life matters.


Psalms's picture

Can anyone please tell me how to fast exactly?


lh.com's picture

Can I fast from sun up to sun down while I work 7 am to 3 pm but drink water im so full of pain and I pray but I want to be closer to god and rebuild my personal relationship with him I have made alot of mistakes and for the past 4 years I have been humbling myself but i have trnd to go another way that I dont want to go far as drinking alcohol drugs at times trying to get rid of a pain in my heart from a bad breakup and deaths in my family n im so exhausted from that so im praying but I feel I need to give god more of me i thought one day my sons father n I would be back to gethar again but he dont want it so im praying that I can move on I once was so clse to god I didn't know of this kind of pain and I just want it to go away please if someone understand s what im saying can you comment

Malachi 3_16-18

Malachi 3_16-18's picture

Hi lh.com,

The purpose of fasting is to draw closer to God and to humble ourselves (Joel:2:12), so perhaps it would be a more effective fast if you could set aside a period of time which you can devote to God in prayer, study and mediation, uncluttered by your regular work and distractions.

It does not have to be a 24 hour period (which is expected of us on the Day of Atonement, unless we have some serious health problems), and I don’t know your health situation, so I can’t advise whether you drink water or not during your fast. I have sometimes found that missing a single meal while devoting special time to God in prayer and study has been more effective than a longer fast in which I spend hours lying down, trying to make the time go by more quickly. It’s up to you, but these thoughts may help.

L f 67

L f 67's picture

I feel your pain.
I've been there, divorced with children lots of pain to the point of wanting to kill myself.
Now I am so happy full of joy after suffering severe depression for many years. I got to such a low point that's when I started crying out to God in repentance and just totally trusted him. I renewed my mind by constantly speaking scripture to myself of Gods Love and kindness towards me. I obeyed Jesus as best I could. I found Christians to connect with , that was an answer to prayer. I received prayer from others.
I trust Jesus with all my heart, he has totally healed my mind, filled me with joy and peace. I Love Jesus so much and just want more of Him and less of me . He is true to His word just trust and obey.
Renew your mind by saying no to your flesh and the devil and say scripture to your self instead.
God loves you so much and wants the best for you.


wal321's picture

Begin your fasting by giving God all the honor and Glory for what is to come and be. Start this day onward by never ever writing "God" with a little g. I say this with love. There is only one God and He deserves honor and glory given to, even writing God. In true sense we shouldn't be worthy of writing the word "God" this is why you see G-d by Hebrews. When I heard this I totally got it and each time I write God, i do want to put the space in between but I do capitalize for He is the one and only God. But thank goodness, that we have the bible and it is written that God is a loving God and that he loves us even when we fall short. God doesn't think like we do but we should try nonetheless giving Him all the honor and glory! Your Christian growth and fasting starts a righteous path. In regards to a divorce I commend you for wanting to mend your marriage. I encourage you to hold on to that desire. It is commendable and it is pleasing to the Lord. God is the inventor of marriage. Now, no matter what I do have to say,if your bed has been defiled (cheating) or if your divorce goes on through, (and you have sex with others) you can not go back to your ex. It is displeasing to the Lord. It won't work. Fast and read the bible for answers. I can not be the one to say what you should do or not do, the word of God tells us what we should do and not do. I applaud you for wanting to leave the bottle (if I understood that you have) because excess drinking is habit forming and it becomes your master. Take every thought captive! If you want to quit something offensive to God, stop thinking about it so much...what you think and desire most of becomes your master. What we love more is what we think more of. Don't be weak in your thoughts but be strong in God. It is only imagination that makes you feel wine helps and numbs. You have the ability and inner power through God (Jesus) to have self control-you can do it! I have faith in that you can restore self and marriage. Fast and Ask God to show you how to mend your marriage and pray earnestly that your husband has eyes for you only. That which you desire (that God opposes)has been allowed to be your god.CAST DOWN every thought/imagination 2 Corinthians:10:3-6.Fasting is to restrain the flesh-be humbled.Urge you to taste the new wine of Christ presence and long for Him.He is the one your soul should joyfully desire-mend 1st

St Fahrenheit

St Fahrenheit's picture

I've read this article, but I still ask, "what is fasting?" if it's staying away from food to study and pray, and get closer to God, what if food is not an issue for me. I can pray and study and may or may not even eat within that period.

I need someone to qualify the emphasis on "not eating". I thought the emphasis should be on separating yourself unto a spiritual walk, because some people eat (maybe in little quantities that will not make the flesh lazy), and they concentrate on the spiritual walk, while some religiously focus on staying away from food, but they don't finally get much out of the spiritual exercise.

The one who eats during "fasting" is almost condemned, not knowing the depth of his spiritual walk, and the one who is not eating is confirmed, not minding the depth of his spiritual walk.

or Is fasting penance?

Login/Register to post comments

More Information

This post has favorited 14 times

Ask a Question

Ask a Question

Printer-friendly version

Got a question?  If you don't see your question here, ask our team of caring, dedicated ministers for a personal answer. (Please allow a week or so for an e-mail response.)

6 + 6 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.

© 1995-2015 United Church of God, an International Association | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use

Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. All correspondence and questions should be sent to info@ucg.org. Send inquiries regarding the operation of this Web site to webmaster@ucg.org.

You may login with either your assigned username or your e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.