One kind of fast is taking no food and water for a length of time. The apostle Paul fasted like this after his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. He remained blind for three days, not eating or drinking until his sight was miraculously restored (Acts 9:8-9). Queen Esther called on her Jewish countrymen in captivity to fast without food or water for three days (Esther 4:15-16). A Christian keeping the day of Atonement keeps this kind of fast (Leviticus 16:29).
Another kind of biblical fast involves abstinence from certain kinds of food. The prophet Daniel fasted in this way “mourning three full weeks” while he “ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine” (Daniel 10:2-3). One might also fast from food for a time while still drinking water.
There are as many reasons to fast as there are situations in one’s life. These reasons generally fall into four categories in the Scriptures. They are: fasting in times of grief and loss, fasting for spiritual strength, fasting for repentance and fasting while considering a weighty decision.
Fasting in a time of grief and loss can help a Christian endure the severe trial. All Christians “must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Sometimes, these troubles are severe, such as when close relationships are severed, when a job loss occurs, or a close loved one dies. In times like these, fasting can help a Christian understand God’s purpose for the trial.
Every Christian must overcome the world just as Jesus also did (John 16:33). This means a living a life of continuing struggle while engaged in spiritual warfare (2 Corinthians 10:4). Such a continuous battle requires strong faith in the word of God. Fasting for spiritual strength prepares a Christian to fight spiritual battles and win. After Jesus fasted 40 days preparing for His ministry, He was afterward tempted by the devil and successfully resisted him (Matthew 4:1-2).
Other times a Christian may find sin within themselves, being convicted in their heart of wrongdoing in the sight of God (Psalm 51:4). For someone who loves God, a sin coming to light should motivate repentance. A fast of repentance brings cleanness of heart back into a Christian’s relationship with God. This is a fast that loosens “the bonds of wickedness” and lifts “the heavy burdens” (Isaiah 58:6).
Sometimes, a monumental decision will affect the Christian’s life and perhaps the lives of others. In a moment like this a fast helps the Christian discern the will of God, bringing God into the process. For instance, Paul and Barnabas fasted and prayed for God’s direction in choosing and ordaining elders for the Church (Acts 14:23).
Fasting draws a Christian into a closer relationship with God. Though the body is deprived, the mind is drawn near to Him. As the physical man is put to death by fasting, the inward, spiritual man grows stronger, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16. This is the important outcome of the different kinds of fasting a Christian can do.