The human body has certain primal needs. For instance, we need food, water and air to live. From there we have lesser needs, but needs nonetheless—like shelter, to be loved, to feel safe and so forth. From those basic needs we then fill in the wants—such as a bigger house instead of just a house, eating for enjoyment rather than eating to survive or any number of choices to make life easier or more enjoyable.
We spend a lot of time, over the course of our life, taking care of that physical life, and that is all well and good within reason. As part of our Christian calling, however, we are to place a priority on our spiritual life. This calls for a different perspective. We are called to look beyond this life and the limited comfort that we might be able to achieve. We are called to seek a life beyond this physical life—a kingdom not of this world.
In order to help us in our calling, God has given us a handful of powerful tools—prayer, Bible study, meditation and fasting. To the world, these tools don’t seem very effective, but in the hands of God working in a Christian’s life they are extremely effective. Much has been written about the first three tools, but what do you know about fasting?
Let’s begin then, by defining our terms. What does the term “fast” mean? Unger’s Bible Dictionary explains that “fast” 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 abstain from eating and drinking.
Fasting can be done for a variety of reasons even physically. Many times before major surgery a patient will be told to fast for a certain period of time so that food in the system doesn’t complicate the surgery. Sometimes people fast in order to help detoxify bodily systems. They will use a restricted diet, or only drink juice or go without food for a certain period of time. Each and every one of us actually fasts. every day—the daily fast is “broken” by the meal called “break-fast”.
Fasting is a spiritual tool even Jesus Christ used in His earthly ministry.
The three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) describe a time when Jesus was approached by a man begging Him to exorcise a demon from his only son (Mark 9:14-29 Mark 9:14-29 14 And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them.
15 And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him.
16 And he asked the scribes, What question you with them?
17 And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought to you my son, which has a dumb spirit;
18 And wherever he takes him, he tears him: and he foams, and gnashes with his teeth, and pines away: and I spoke to your disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.
19 He answers him, and said, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him to me.
20 And they brought him to him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.
21 And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came to him? And he said, Of a child.
22 And often it has cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if you can do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.
23 Jesus said to him, If you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes.
24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help you my unbelief.
25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying to him, You dumb and deaf spirit, I charge you, come out of him, and enter no more into him.
26 And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; so that many said, He is dead.
27 But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.
28 And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out?
29 And he said to them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.
American King James Version×). The demon was very cruel and caused the son great pain and the father horrible distress. The demon must have occupied the boy for several years (vs 21-22). The man had already sought out Christ’s disciples for help. However, the disciples were unable to cast the demon out. Christ then confronted the demon and successfully commanded it to leave the young man.
After performing this great miracle, Jesus was approached by His disciples and asked why they were unable to cast the demon out of the young man. Jesus informed them that this particular kind of demon required strength that only came through prayer and fasting . Although fasting has a weakening effect on the body , it has just the opposite effect on spiritual strength.
This Teen Study examines fasting and explains how this great spiritual tool is absolutely essential in a true believers’ life.
What is fasting?
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.
American King James Version×— “So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water.…”
1. What is the main objective in fasting?
Isaiah 58:3-11 Isaiah 58:3-11 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?
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:
11 And the LORD shall guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and make fat your bones: and you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
American King James Version×
Comment: The primary purpose in fasting is to draw near to God in order to gain His mind and perspective and what we need to do to please Him. Additionally it is to gain the strength and help to change our ways. In this passage God points out the difference between fasting for the wrong reasons… and the right reason.
2. Is there more to fasting (for spiritual strength) than just doing without food and water?
What was Daniel’s purpose in his fast?
3. Should fasting be done privately?
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×: “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, So that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
Comment: Christ once gave a parable about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector. The Pharisee bragged about how he fasted twice a week. Read Luke 18:9-14 Luke 18:9-14 9 And he spoke this parable to certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote on his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.
American King James Version×to find out if this man was justified.
4. What should you fast about?
To draw closer to God
James 4:7-8 James 4:7-8 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded.
American King James Version×,10—See also 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×, which shows fasting is a primary way of humbling ourselves before God
Daniel 6:18-19 Daniel 6:18-19 18 Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of music brought before him: and his sleep went from him.
19 Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste to the den of lions.
American King James Version×—Now the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; and no musicians were brought before him. Also his sleep went from him. Then the king arose very early in the morning and went in haste to the den of lions.
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×— “But as for me, when they were sick, My clothing was sackcloth; I humbled myself with fasting.…”
Comment: It is important that we pray for others, even our enemies. But in order to be close enough to God to better understand His will and petition Him on behalf of others, fasting is the tool to help us do that
About important decisions
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× “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”
Matthew 4:1-2 Matthew 4:1-2 1 Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. 2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.
American King James Version×— “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights.”
To serve God
Luke 2:36-37 Luke 2:36-37 36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; 37 And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.
American King James Version×— “…but served God with fastings and prayers….”
Acts 13:2 Acts 13:2As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
American King James Version×— “…they ministered to the Lord and fasted….”
5. How Long Should You Fast?
The fast God prescribes for all of us annually on the Day of Atonement is a 24-hour fast—from sunset to sunset. Apart from Atonement, there is no prescribed time to begin or end a fast. However, the basic, typical fast means going without normal meals for at least a day.
Mordecai and Esther fasted for three days over the plight of the Jews (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×)
Cornelius fasted four days (Acts 10:30 Acts 10:30And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,
American King James Version×)
David fasted several days over his dying son (2Samuel 12:18)
Moses fasted forty days and nights prior to receiving the Ten Commandments (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.
American King James Version×)
Jesus Christ fasted forty days and nights prior to His battle with Satan (Matthew 4:2 Matthew 4:2And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.
American King James Version×)
6. How often should you fast?
How often did the apostle Paul fast?
(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.
American King James Version×, certainly more often than only on the required Day of Atonement.
Did Christ make it obvious that His true followers would be fasting?
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×— “…when (not “if”) you fast….”
Since we are physical, fasting can be a very difficult challenge, especially living in a society that promotes indulgence. However, fasting is going to become an increasingly important tool that each of us will need to remain strong in these end times, and draw close to God for the spiritual strength we need. But as with many things that are of great value, unless you try it and get into the habit of it, you won’t know how much you are missing!
1. Can you think of a current situation that you are personally struggling with that might need your attention in fasting?
2. Do you have a friend or even an enemy that could use your help by fasting?
3. When you do fast, why is it important to keep it a secret?
Comment: Some people have serious health problems that might make it difficult for them to fast. Others have found that it is necessary for them to take small amounts of liquid or food with required medications (such as insulin-dependant diabetics). The Church urges everyone to exercise good judgment and not to endanger his or her health. Anyone with a life-threatening illness or other serious medical conditions, should consult with a qualified medical practitioner before fasting.