Fasting is the act of voluntarily abstaining from food, and sometimes even water, for a specific time to seek God with particular intensity. It is not an attempt to twist God’s arm, nor appear holy before men, but instead, it is a vehicle to help direct our hearts and minds toward Him without distraction, Isaiah 58.
We should fast when we have been directed by the Spirit of God, Luke 4:1-2, or when we personally understand that we need to, Matthew 6:16-18. We will also fast when the entire local church is called to fast for special occasions, meetings, decisions, or needs, Joel 1:14; Acts 13:1-4.
The Bible records some astounding results when people have prayed and fasted for specific situations. Some examples include:
- A nation was delivered from death – Esther 4:16
- The city of Ninevah was saved from divine wrath – Jonah 2-3.
- Demon spirits were cast out – Matthew 17:14-21.
- Elders were ordained – Acts 14:23.
- The will of the Lord was revealed – Acts 9:9-15.
In Isaiah 58, the Lord is speaking through the prophet Isaiah to the people of God regarding their fasting. He confronts the selfish motivation of their fast and the contrast of their personal lives are exposed. In short, Israel was embracing a ritual (fasting) but denying the power of their relationship with God to transform their daily lives.
The fast that is an attempt to coerce heaven to comply with corrupt human desires will not receive the outcome in mind. A life that is personally devoted to the Lord and obedient to His ways will enjoy His blessings. In Isaiah, the Lord is clarifying that the first target of a fast is internal consecration, as demonstrated in daily life. The first battle line in any fast is the one that confronts our flesh and sin. Once that is addressed, the Lord leads us to places of personal holiness and social responsibility, as emphasized in the if/then statements in Isaiah 58.
The first battle line in any fast is the one that confronts our flesh and sin.
Benefits of fasting in today’s hectic world:
Fasting brings Freedom – More than most other disciplines; fasting reveals the things that we have submitted to outside of Christ. It removes one of the most common “coping mechanisms” that we have as we often turn to food or drink to comfort and console ourselves rather than to Jesus. In the early stages of fasting, many experience extreme emotions blamed on hunger but are more rightly attributed to unrepentant anger, bitterness, fear, etc. The revelation of unresolved issues in our lives is a great comfort as we know that the power of God can deliver us of from them and bring the Freedom promised in Christ.
Fasting brings Focus – The Apostle Paul said, “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.” – 1 Cor 6:12. There are many appetites and demands on our time and focus. Fasting deprives the flesh and reminds us where our source of sustenance is, separating us from distractions and identifying the nonessentials. This process allows us to recenter our life in service of Jesus, bringing His kingdom into greater focus.
Fasting is Feasting – Jesus disciples brought Him lunch one day and he responded to their offer of food by saying …“I have food to eat of which you do not know. . . . My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (John 4:32, 34). Jesus was satisfied and sustained by the power of God beyond the physical need for food. This is why his guidance regarding fasting in Matthew 6 encouraged us to not “look gloomy” but to have a bright countenance because the Father is seeing us.
One final comment is that fasting is worship – Fasting must always be centered on God. It must be done to the Father, by the Son, and in the Spirit. The prophetess Anna was 84 years old, and “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” God reveals things to simple people that are in constant communion with Him. We don’t have a Temple to go to that is made with hands, but we live lives full of the Spirit with access to the presence of God.