Over the years, I have participated in what Christians call fasting. When I was younger, I understood very little about fasting but did it because I heard other Christians talk about it. In truth, my fast most often only reach a few hours. I remember, when I was a young teenager in a youth camp, some of the kids decided to fast during their camp experience. My mom was serving as a counselor, and she found two girls at the vending machine. Rather than going to the cafeteria, they were buying junk food. Just checking on them, she happened to say, “Are you girls going to have lunch today?” To which they replied, “No, we are fasting,” as they ate candy bars and drank pop. That may seem funny to most, but to those two teenage girls, it made total sense. You might be surprised to find just as much misunderstanding about fasting in the church today.
As a young pastor, I turned to fasting out of desperation for God to do something. I don’t think I had much revelation on fasting, just a heart after God. My fasting proved to be beneficial, but I am not for sure if I understood why.
Old Covenant Fasting
Fasting in the Old Testament was most often done in the mode of repentance and mourning. The manner of fasting was to get God to do something. Fasting most often took place during repentance. Fasting, at times, was connected to a solemn assembly, where all of the people gathered for repentance. They covered themselves with ashes and wore sackcloth and mourned. When Jonah preached to Nineveh that God was going to judge them if they did not repent, the people of Nineveh went into three days of fasting. They fasted food and water. They even had their animals fast. Sure enough, God saw they turned from evil and had mercy upon them (Jonah 3).
Fasting was a time of humbling oneself before God. When Esther made a stand for her people, she found herself facing the possibility of death. She called for her friends and servants to fast. They fasted food and drink for three days. God brought victory on her behalf. It was a time of seeking God. When the people of God found themselves outnumbered and in trouble from their enemy, Jehoshaphat, their leader, proclaimed a fast (2 Chron 20:3). They sought the Lord, and once again, He brought victory.
When King David’s son was ill, he fasted and pleaded with God that his son would not die. For nights he laid on the floor and fasted. When his son died, he got up, washed his face, and ate. His fast was connected to seeking his son’s healing. Daniel fasted and mourned while he sought God for the future of Israel. For three weeks, he ate no tasty foods but spent time praying. When the angel arrived to give Daniel the revelation, he said, “Your prayer was heard on the first day you prayed.” Daniel had positioned himself to hear from God through prayer and fasting.
Fasting means to abstain from food and water. Most fast are from food. One cannot fast more than three days without water unless it is a supernatural fast. Moses and Elijah both fasted forty days without food and water. Jesus fasted forty days but probably was only from food. When he finished His fast, He was not tempted with thirst but with hunger. He demonstrated to us and set an example of a lengthy fast. From Christ’s example, we know it is possible for the human body to fast forty days. However, most fasting times in the Bible were shorter fast. They usually were for three days.
Fasting Kingdom Style
Jesus gave us a model of fasting that was different from the Old Covenant fasting. We will call it Kingdom Style fasting. In Matthew 9:14-17, Jesus gives us a glimpse into His model. John’s disciples wanted to know why Jesus’ disciples did not fast. Jesus explained that while the groom was at the wedding party, the guest was to celebrate and not mourn. He went on to say that when the groom was gone, His disciples would fast. He illustrated His point through the analogy of putting a new cloth patch on an old garment. The patch would shrink and tear the hole bigger. If you put new wine in an old wineskin that is already stretched and dried, you will end up losing the wine and the wineskin. Jesus was saying that His model of fasting could not be connected with the Old Covenant style of fasting. It had to be a new style. It was not about mourning, but about being connected to Him when He was gone.
Fasting in the kingdom is an act of worship. It is not to twist the arm of God, but rather to offer your appetite, desires, and pleasures as worship to God. It is a time of being connected to the Father. When the Antioch church leaders gathered together in Acts 13, they worshiped and fasted unto the Lord. Their fast was part of their worship. In that atmosphere, God gave the first apostolic commission of the Holy Spirit, calling Saul (Paul) and Barnabas to their work as apostles. Notice, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate unto me Saul and Barnabas for the work for which I have called them.” The calling had already taken place, but it was in the act of worshiping with their fast that the Holy Spirit initiated this important work for the church. Church history was changed from that one moment.
Jesus also taught that this style of fasting is to rid yourself of unbelief. Jesus made a statement in Matthew 17:21, about the disciples not being able to cast out a demon. He declared, “This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” In context, he is speaking more of unbelief than anything. Jesus asked them, “How long must I be with you?” He scolded them for little faith. He knew that when he went away, they would need to be in connection with Him through fasting as worship. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. During fasting, we can hear from God better because our sense-gates are shut down.
Fasting deals with the heart. Not only of unbelief but prideful ways we look at others. In the Book of Isaiah, God gives us a complete chapter on fasting in Isaiah 58. There He deals with God’s kind of fast that changes our hearts toward others, especially those who are weak. This can be a family member that you think is less capable than you. By being sensitive to them, God will show you that your intolerance is really pride on your part. That is why you get frustrated with them. It can be an employee or worker under you at your job. It might be someone at church who you think is less spiritual, and you have had little tolerance for his or her decisions. Ask God to show you those who frustrate you the most. Ask God for His compassion and patience. Ask Him to show you where you believe you are better and can handle things better. He will reveal to you your pride and bring brokenness toward those relationships — what a happy day when we think of others more highly than ourselves.
Kingdom Style of fast is a celebration of great joy, not a time of mourning. It is a time to rejoice and offer to God our very best. Our fast is not based upon our conveniences, but what God wants from us; therefore, our fast costs us –our time, our appetite, and our entertainment.