Fasting is an important spiritual tool that the Bible teaches us to do in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Here are five important Bible verses about fasting
Matthew 6:16-18 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Jesus tells us to fast in secret and not for show. If we fast to be seen of men, then we already have our reward. Is that all the reward you really want; to be seen by others!? Why not fast and tell no one and allow God to reward you openly someday. He will if we fast in secret for Him. When someone tells me that they are fasting, then I usually ask them why? They tell me the reason and then they tell me how long it’s been since they ate. I feel that they should have kept this to themselves because then they would have not lost their reward.
There is also an important word that most people miss. Jesus said “when you fast” not “if you fast” so He seems to be saying that fasting should be done at least occasionally. It is not about being legalistic and feeling commanded to fast but when we fast for spiritual reasons, we show God that we are serious in desiring Him more than food. To have a hunger for God is like a person’s desire for food when they are hungry. Like David wrote “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1). This is a deep sense or desire to long for the things of God and for God Himself. The picture is of a deer that has been running for his life and stops and is dying of thirst and pants for water because they are desperately thirsty. That is the type of desire God wants us to have for Him and fasting can help us achieve that type of deep, longing desire that is like a fierce hunger for food or a dying thirst for water.
Fasting to Overcome Addictions
Isaiah 56:3-7 “Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
I know this may not be what you think of fasting as being for but notice that Isaiah writes that it can be used “to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let t oppressed go free, and to break ever yoke?” Clearly an addiction to pornography, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, the Internet or just fill in blank are strongholds that are not easily broken. The fast can be to undo the straps of a yoke and certainly an addiction is a yoke that binds a heavy burden on a person. Fasts can loose these bonds of wickedness (sins) and break every yoke (addictions).
Have you ever noticed how grumpy you get when you’re really hungry? I notice that I do. Tempers can flare and anger erupts so easily when someone is hungry. I have been there. God is telling us, through Isaiah, that this is not “the fast that [He] choose” because we “fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.” This hitting with a wicked fist can be someone putting their fist through the wall or even hitting someone; quarreling can be arguing and displaying anger during conversations and these behaviors are exacerbated when we are hungry, like during times of fasting. This type of fasting is certainly not acceptable to God.
Fasting to be Seen
Luke 18:1-12 “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”
Here is an open, public display of someone wanting to appear righteous in front of others (self-righteous) and to boast that they fast “twice a week” and give tithes and are not like adulterers, tax collectors, or extortioners. He is right…he is not like them…he is worse! God resists the proud (James 4:6). This Pharisee fasted for all the wrong reasons. He did it to be seen by men, he did it to proclaim that he is righteous when he is actually self-righteous and in his arrogance, he boasts that he is not like sinners. He doesn’t get it. That is legalism. For him to fast for these reasons is to be legalistic. He has already received his reward by being seen. This means that there will be no reward from God. His efforts are in vain. If fact, it would have been better for him to not fast at all because he was doing it for all the wrong reason.
Fasting for God’s Intervention
Second Samuel 12:15-17 “And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick. David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them.”
Here we see another reason to fast; David was petitioning or asking for God’s intervention on behalf of his sick child. We can fast when someone we love is sick, we can fast for revival for our church and for ourselves, we can fast for spiritual growth, we can fast to seek God’s will in an important decision, we can fast for someone’s salvation, we can fast for overcoming an addiction (like in Isaiah 56:3-7), we can fast during times of great loss or grief over a loved one dying, we can fast for any number of reasons that are personal. David fasted because he understood why the child had been afflicted. It was due to his sins of adultery and murder. When someone dies, we often lose our appetite. We had a dog that didn’t eat for 3 days because he lost his best friend, another dog. These two were so close that when his “buddy” died, the dog just lost her appetite. This is what frequently happens to us when we experience such a loss, like that of a child, a spouse or a close friend.
Fasting for Humility
Psalm 35:13-14 “I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest. I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother; as one who laments his mother, I bowed down in mourning.”
There are fewer things that we can do to make us see our need for God than to fast. During my times of fasting, I see just how much I depend upon God for my sustenance. I cannot nor can you survive without God for very long because He gives us all good things to enjoy (1 Tim 6:17; James 1:17). David said it was actually good that he afflicted himself. Almost every time you read the word “afflicted” in the Bible, it speaks of fasting. The word David used for “afflict” is the Hebrew word “anah” and it means to “afflict, oppress, humble, and be bowed down” and this is exactly what fasting does…it humbles you. Maybe you have heard the saying that the word of God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. This is so true but fewer things will humble us before our God than to fast.
Some have did a media fast. This includes cutting off all access to the Internet, television, email, cell phones and even radio for a day or a few days. This kind of fasting is very hard to do but it is exceedingly rewarding because all of a sudden, you have more time to read your Bible, play with your children, talk with your spouse, take a walk and contemplate just how good God is. Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights in order to resist temptation so fasting for resisting sin is one powerful tool in our spiritual arsenal. If you have not ever fasted, you are missing an opportunity to grow spiritually. If you have never been born again, you will be afflicted someday in ways that are beyond description (Rev 20:11-15). I plead with you today to turn from your sins, confess them to God, and trust in Him Who died for you.
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon