What is biblical fasting?
In the Bible, fasting is always an abstention from food for a particular period of time with a spiritual purpose. This is important. When we fast, there must be a biblical purpose. As Donald Whitney said, “Without a purpose, fasting can be a miserable, self-centered experience about willpower and endurance.” This type of fasting is not biblical because it essentially seeks to highlight one’s self through acts of self-righteous suffering. When we fast according to God’s Word, He is the sole and primary focus.
Does biblical fasting only involve food?
This is a fair question as many people today legitimately have medical reasons why fasting from food would not be the best idea. While fasting in the Bible is always related to food, we can, and should, exercise prudence and sound thinking as we approach fasting.
Diabetics, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, those struggling with eating disorders, and those who must regularly take important medications with food are just a few examples of people who should not consider fasting from food, especially not for an entire day or more.
While God does call us to live by faith, that does not mean we should act without common sense.
In these and other cases, fasting from something other than food for a set period of time for the same spiritual purpose as fasting from food is understandable. However, there are three important principles we must remember as we consider how we will and should fast.
Christ’s example of fasting:
If we want to learn how to fast biblically, we can do no better than looking to the example that Jesus gives us. It is from Him that our questions on fasting are answered.
Jesus’ words reveal to us the “why” of fasting. He essentially tells John’s disciples that it is pointless to fast because the Messiah has come. Because He is present with them, they are able to feast rather than fast. In other words, the Bread of Life is with them. There is no reason to fast when He is near. However, when He returns to Heaven, Christ says that His disciples will fast because He is gone.
This shows us that fasting is rooted in a hunger for the presence of God. We ought to long for Him the way a starving man yearns to be fed. Fasting aids us in remembering this. As Jesus points out, we do not mourn when the bridegroom is with us but rather once he is gone. Similarly, when we fast we are mourning the loss of Christ’s physical presence, the existence of sin (especially our own), and looking forward with joy and hope to the feast that awaits us in glory—the feast of His eternal physical presence.
Additionally, fasting is also about feasting on God here and now, too. When we strip away the temporal things that often distract us, we can more wholly focus on God. We take time to see Him as we rightly should and as our sole purpose for existing—for now and eternity.
We often live so unaware of God’s power and His presence. However, He never does that with us. He is at all times thinking of, planning for, and loving us.
All of our needs are met in Him!
“O God, You are my God; earnestly I seek You;
What has been your fasting experience?
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