by Dr. Ron Phillips
You don’t hear much about fasting these days. “In a culture where the landscape is dotted with shrines to the “Golden Arches” and an assortment of “Pizza Temples” fasting seems out of place, out of step with the times.” (Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, p. 47)
But the Scriptures have much to say about fasting.
Did you know there is more teaching in the New Testament on fasting than repentance and confession! Jesus taught more on fasting than on baptism and the Lord’s Supper! Yet, some question whether fasting is something for Christians today.
To understand more about fasting here are 5 important questions;
1. Should Christians fast today?
2. Why should Christians fast?
3. When should Christians fast?
4. How should Christians fast?
5. Are there different types of fast or does one size fit all?
I. SHOULD CHRISTIANS FAST TODAY?
A. Yes! Because of the teachings of Jesus
1. He assumed his disciples would fast (“when”, not “if”) – Matthew 6:16-17
2. He said they would fast when He was gone – Matthew 9:14-15
3. He taught His disciples…
· How to fast so as to incur God’s favor – Matthew 6:16-18
· That when done properly, fasting WOULD incur God’s good favor – Matthew 6:18(b)
· That fasting should be done only when the occasion properly calls for it – Matthew 9:14-17
· That there would be occasions when prayer joined with fasting might be needed – Matthew 17:20-21
B. Yes! Because we have examples of the church fasting
1. The brethren at Antioch – Acts 13:1-3
2. The churches in Galatia – Acts 14:21-23
C. Yes! Because Paul fasted as a Minister of Christ
1. He listed fasting among those things which proved him as a minister of Jesus Christ – 2 Corinthians 11:23-28
2. Are we not commanded to imitate him, even as he imitated Christ? 1 Corinthians 11:1 (and they both fasted in their service to God!)
NOTE: At the very least, we can say that it would not be inappropriate for Christians to fast today, unless there are medical reasons not to fast. We have very good examples to motivate us to utilize fasting in our service to the Lord!
II. Why Should Christians Fast?
A. People Fast Today for Various Reasons
1. Some purposefully, for health reasons
2. Some without thinking, in times of grief and sorrow
3. Others in an effort to gain some kind of self-control, but these are not the reasons Christians should fast in their service to God – Colossians 2:20-23
B. Christians Should Fast, for there are Times When we are in need of Divine Help
1. This is consistent with the majority of fasting in the Old Testament. They fasted…
· In times of war or at the threat of it. (Israel)
· When loved ones were sick. (David)
· When seeking God’s forgiveness. (Ahab, Daniel)
· When seeking God’s protection. (Ezra)
2. This is consistent with the examples of fasting in the New Testament. They fasted…
· When dealing with temptations. (Jesus)
· When serving the Lord. (Antioch)
· When beginning a work for the Lord. (Antioch)
· When selecting and appointing elders. (Galatia)
3. Such fasting should be done in conjunction with prayer.
· For fasting, when done properly humbles the soul – Psalms 35:13
· Chastens the soul – Psalms 69:10
· And the prayers of a humble person are more likely to be heard! – Ezra 8:21-23
III. WHEN SHOULD CHRISTIANS FAST?
A. Whenever Occasions Requiring Divine Help Should Arise
1. These may be occasions on an individual level
· When faced with difficult temptations
· When faced with the serious illness of a loved one
2. These occasions might be on a congregational level
· As when appointing elders
· As when sending out missionaries
B. Whatever Occasions Call for Persistent Prayers Might Call for Fasting Joined with Prayer
1. Are we not taught that God is more likely to answer our prayers if we are persistent? Luke 18:1-8
2. And also if we fast in the proper manner. Matthew 6:17-18
IV. HOW SHOULD CHRISTIANS FAST?
A. Not to be Seen of Men
1. Matthew 6:16-18
2. Whether fasting as individuals or with others, it is important that we not do it for “show”.
B. Not as Some Regular Ritual
1. Matthew 9:14-17
2. It should be done only when the occasion calls for it.
3. Such as situations where you would be spending much time in prayer.
C. Not Without True Repentance
1. Isaiah 58:3-9
2. All the praying, all the fasting, is of no avail if not accompanied with penitent obedience.
D. Some Practical Suggestions
1. Don’t go out and fast just because it sounds like a neat thing to do
· Take the subject seriously
· Fast only when the occasion is a serious one
· One in which you desperately desire God’s help
2. If you have never fasted before…
· Start slow, fasting only for brief periods of time
· End slow, gradually breaking your fast with fresh fruits and vegetables in small amounts
3. Fast when you have time to spend in prayerful meditation
· Remember the purpose for fasting
· To humble oneself in God’s sight
· To seek favorable answer to prayer for some important plea
V. ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL
There are several types of fasting. The one you choose is between you and God. He will honor your best sacrifice.
· Full Fast – Drink only liquids (you establish the number of days)
· The Daniel Fast – Eat no meat, no sweets and no bread. Drink water and juice. Eat fruits and vegetables
· 3-Day Fast – This fast can be a Full Fast or Daniel Fast or give up at least one item of food.
· Partial Fast – A partial fast is from 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. or from sunup to sundown. You can select from three types of fasting – a Full Fast, Daniel Fast or give up at least one item of food.
Remember that it is the attitude of a heart sincerely seeking Him to which God responds with a blessing.
1 Corinthians 8:8
May God greatly bless you as you fast!