Fasting is the well documented biblical custom of abstaining from food and drink for a period of time in order to draw near to God. It is frequently referenced as an act of worship that is accompanied by prayer and repentance. There are numerous circumstances that have prompted God's servants to fast throughout history, and the New Testament teaches that fasting is an indispensable spiritual tool for Christians today. This partial list of biblical examples of fasting highlights when and why a Christian should incorporate fasting into their worship of God.
Fasting is a tool that has been widely used by God's people throughout history, and it continues to be a powerful way for Christians to deepen their relationship with God.
Ezra proclaimed a fast when the Jews faced a hazardous travel situation as they returned to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon (Ezra 8:21-23). While the desire for safe travel was the immediate reason for the fast, Ezra stated the ultimate goal in verse 21: "that we might humble ourselves before God, to seek from Him the right way for us." The fast of Esther 4:15-16 provides another example of drawing near to God when asking Him for protection.
In 2 Samuel 12:14-16, David fasted to seek God's healing for his sick child. It was during this intense seven-day fast that David wrote Psalm 51, one of the most heartfelt expressions of repentance in the entire Bible. The overall purpose of David's fast was not to get God to do what he wanted, but rather to be humbled and reconciled with God as he beseeched Him in prayer. Even though God chose not to save the child's life, the fast still served its purpose of bringing David closer to God after being separated by sin. Isaiah 58:3-9 further elaborates on the proper attitude we should have when fasting.
When Jonah preached to the Gentile city of Nineveh, the whole city came together and fasted in an incredible act of repentance (Jonah 3:7-10). The king of Nineveh ordered every person and their animals to fast and "cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way" (Jonah 3:8). God was moved by their reverence and showed mercy by not destroying the city.
Luke 2:36-37 records a righteous woman, Anna, who "served God with fastings and prayers night and day" as she awaited God's promised Messiah. Her ongoing testimony to us shows that fasting is an act of worship and service before God. Another righteous person, Cornelius, worshiped God with fasting in Acts 10:30. Cornelius' fast (and faith) opened the door for Peter to begin preaching to the Gentiles, a vital step in the spread of the gospel throughout the world.
The book of Acts documents the apostles fasting to seek God's will when making decisions within a congregation, such as in Acts 13:2-3 and Acts 14:23. On both occasions, the apostles fasted in order to seek sound, godly judgment when appointing local leaders.
Paul stated that he fasted "often" as he listed the various ways he had suffered for the gospel (2 Corinthians 11:27). The indication is that Paul fasted because he constantly felt the need for God's help in facing his many trials, and fasting strengthened him spiritually. Paul also references "fasting and prayer" as a regular part of Christian life in 1 Corinthians 7:5.
Perhaps the most famous account of fasting in the Bible is when Jesus went 40 consecutive days fasting, and this miraculous fast was done in preparation for His confrontation with Satan (Luke 4:1-13, Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus' own example teaches us that fasting can be instrumental in preparing us for future trials and helping us to overcome temptations.
Fasting is a tool that has been widely used by God's people throughout history, and it continues to be a powerful way for Christians to deepen their relationship with God. As we've seen, it is appropriate to fast when faced with temptations, trials, or potentially dangerous situations. Fasting can also accompany heartfelt repentance, enhance prayer, or be offered as an act of deep worship and praise.