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What is fasting and why should I do it?

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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 Esther 4:16Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast you for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in to the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.
American King James Version×

The Day of Atonement—also called “the Fast” (Acts 27:9 Acts 27:9Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them,
American King James Version×
)—is the only fast day commanded by God (Leviticus 23:27 Leviticus 23:27Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation to you; and you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the LORD.
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), though other national fast days are mentioned in the Bible. Also, personal fasts are clearly expected of Christ’s disciples (Matthew 9:14-15 Matthew 9:14-15 14 Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but your disciples fast not? 15 And Jesus said to them, Can the children of the bridal chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.
American King James Version×

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” (Psalms 35:13 Psalms 35:13But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into my own bosom.
American King James Version×
). 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 Exodus 34:28And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote on the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
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; 1 Kings 19:8 1 Kings 19:8And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
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; Daniel 9:3 Daniel 9:3And I set my face to the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
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; Daniel 10:2-3 Daniel 10:2-3 2 In those days I Daniel was mourning three full weeks. 3 I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.
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; 2 Corinthians 11:27 2 Corinthians 11:27In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
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; Matthew 4:2 Matthew 4:2And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.
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). 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 Mark 2:18-20 18 And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say to him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples fast not? 19 And Jesus said to them, Can the children of the bridal chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.
American King James Version×

James tells us, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8 James 4:8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded.
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). 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 Matthew 6:16-18 16 Moreover when you fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear to men to fast. Truly I say to you, They have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; 18 That you appear not to men to fast, but to your Father which is in secret: and your Father, which sees in secret, shall reward you openly.
American King James Version×
). Isaiah 58 gives both bad and good examples of fasting, contrasting wrong attitudes and actions (Isaiah 58:3-5 Isaiah 58:3-5 3 Why have we fasted, say they, and you see not? why have we afflicted our soul, and you take no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exact all your labors. 4 Behold, you fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: you shall not fast as you do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? will you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
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) with the right approach of outgoing love (Isaiah 58:6-10 Isaiah 58:6-10 6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? 7 Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? when you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you hide not yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then shall your light break forth as the morning, and your health shall spring forth speedily: and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 9 Then shall you call, and the LORD shall answer; you shall cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If you take away from the middle of you the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; 10 And if you draw out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall your light rise in obscurity, and your darkness be as the noon day:
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). Daniel and Nehemiah set the example of having a repentant frame of mind (Daniel 9:3-4 Daniel 9:3-4 3 And I set my face to the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: 4 And I prayed to the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments;
American King James Version×
; Nehemiah 9:1-2 Nehemiah 9:1-2 1 Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackcloths, and earth on them. 2 And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.
American King James Version×

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 Revelation 20:1-3 1 And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, 3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
American King James Version×
), which was portrayed in type by the Azazel goat on Atonement (Leviticus 16:20-22 Leviticus 16:20-22 20 And when he has made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: 22 And the goat shall bear on him all their iniquities to a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.
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  • Tickler

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

  • dellasoholy

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

  • pitchblack626

    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 Kasinze

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

  • macnana
    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
    we must fast to get clear answers from GOD about our daily routine and in particular life matters.
  • Psalms
    Can anyone please tell me how to fast exactly?
    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
    Hi, The purpose of fasting is to draw closer to God and to humble ourselves (Joel 2:12 Joel 2:12Therefore also now, said the LORD, turn you even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:
    American King James Version×
    ), 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
    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
    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 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: 4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) 5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; 6 And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.
    American King James Version×
    .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
    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?
  • Lena VanAusdle

    Fasting isn’t about the amount of food one does or does not normally eat. It is about humbling ourselves before God. It should lead us to recognize that our bodies are human and frail, and without God and His sustenance we are nothing. We need Him. Some people eat more, some eat less, but everyone needs nutrition, and absolutely everyone needs water (fluids) to live. Can people build a relationship with God and still eat? Absolutely they can. Can someone fast and never build a relationship with God? Absolutely they can. But God says His people will fast (Matthew 6:16-17 “When you fast” not “IF you fast”). He wants us to want to draw near to Him; He wants us to humble ourselves before Him (Isaiah 58:1-14).

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