Fasting is usually abstaining from food and drink, except water, for a set amount of time. However, fasting can be abstaining from about anything.
Biblically, most fasting involves food and drink. Moses, David, and Daniel all fasted, as did Anna, Paul, and Jesus Christ. In Matthew 6:16 and 17, Jesus spoke about fasting as an expected religious practice. He said "when you fast…."
Fasting is a time when Christians, individually or together, seek after God, His direction, His forgiveness, His intervention, and His presence. By fasting, we are saying that we totally rely upon God for everything, even our very sustenance.
Often, fasting is related to repentance in Scripture. David, the nation of Israel, and the people of Nineveh all fasted in repentance. In other instances recorded in the Bible, fasting is linked to passionate prayer, as with King Jehoshaphat and Queen Esther.
When his country was on the verge of being invaded, King Jehoshaphat called everyone to fast (2 Chronicles 20:3). God defeated those who were preparing to attack, and the country honored God (2 Chronicles 20:24–27). When the people of God prepared to return to Jerusalem after being in captivity in Babylon, they fasted and asked God for protection (Ezra 8:21).
Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness as He prepared for three years of ministry (Luke 4:1–13). In an attempt to leverage Jesus' hunger, Satan tempted Him to make bread from stones. Jesus responded, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone'" (Luke 4:4). Moses and Elijah also endured miraculous forty-day fasts (Deuteronomy 9:9; 1 Kings 19).
There are biblical examples of the full fast, abstaining from all food and drink (including water) such as when Esther called all Jews to a total fast for three days before she asked the King of Persia to spare them from destruction (Esther 4:16). In the New Testament, Saul fasted for three days after encountering Jesus on the Road to Damascus and being struck blind (Acts 9:9).
Totally removing food and drink from your diet for a specific amount of time is not the only kind of fasting recorded in the Bible. Daniel fasted from a group of "choice" foods and also did not anoint himself with oils and lotions in Daniel 10. Some Christians follow Daniel's example by abstaining from certain foods, drinks, or activities for a specified time when they rely more and more on God for comfort and sustenance.
Twice the Bible recounts a sexual fast. In Exodus 19:15, all of the Israelites abstained from sex for three days as they prepared to meet with God at Mt. Sinai. In 1 Corinthians 7:5, married couples are instructed to abstain from sex to devote themselves to prayer, but only if both the husband and wife agree and just for a short time.
When we fast, our motives should be to seek God to hear Him well with a humble heart. Isaiah 58:3–7 tells us to seek God with pure motives. Bible teacher John MacArthur says, "The people complained when God did not recognize their religious actions, but God responded that their fastings had been only half-hearted. Hypocritical fasting resulted in contention, quarreling, and pretense, excluding the possibility of genuine prayer to God. Fasting consisted of more than just an outward ritual and a mock repentance, it involved penitence over sin and consequent humility, disconnecting from sin and oppression of others, feeding the hungry, and acting humanely toward those in need."
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