Three Biblical Reasons to Fast
Throughout Scripture, we see examples of individuals and groups who engaged in fasting. Even though fasting today often includes refraining from activities besides eating (e.g. fasting from technology), the main type of fasting describing in the Bible involved abstaining from food. This does not diminish the importance of other types of fasting, but simply puts the following three biblical reasons to fast in their proper context.
Fasting Sometimes Accompanies Repentance
Because fasting is a time of denying ourselves and focusing more on God, we are often more open to the work of the Holy Spirit during times of fasting. This is one reason why people fast from something during the Lent season.
In Scripture, we see that the Israelites confessed their sins at Mizpah as they fasted (1 Sam. 7:6). Later on in their history, the Israelites fasted as they confessed their sin of marrying foreigners (Neh. 9:1-2). Daniel fasted as he confessed the sins of his people (Dan. 9:1-6).
Fasting sometimes precedes repentance, which opens us up to the Spirit’s work. However, fasting may also come after repentance, as we see in King Ahab’s life when he fasted after becoming aware of his sin (1 Kings 21:27). In this case, fasting is a response to the Spirit’s convicting work.
Fasting Sometimes Accompanies Urgent Prayer
Fasting gives us the opportunity to focus more fully on God during desperate times or times of great opportunity. In Scripture, the Israelites sometimes fasted as they faced serious military threats (Judges 20:26-28; 2 Chron. 20:2-4). Nehemiah fasted as he contemplated his response to the devastation of Jerusalem (Neh. 1:4). Queen Esther called the Israelites to fast as she prepared to petition the king for her people (Esther 4:15-16).
When we face a significant threat or opportunity, fasting helps us to see God in the midst of it all, to hear His voice, and to follow Him with holy boldness.
Fasting Sometimes Accompanies Mourning
People in the Bible sometimes fasted during times of great sadness. The people of Jabesh Gilead mourned and fasted for seven days after the death of Saul and his sons (1 Sam. 31:11-13). The Israelites mourned and fasted over King Xerxes’ edict that would allow people to attack the Israelites indiscriminately (Esther 4:3).
Why did fasting sometimes occur during times of great sorrow? I believe that it was an admission that the people desperately needed God.
Fasting is an important spiritual practice. In my view, it doesn’t really matter whether you fast from food or something else that is meaningful to you. Fasting gives us an opportunity to repent, pray more urgently and to surrender ourselves to the Lord and His good purposes for our lives.
What are your thoughts about fasting?