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When You Fast

Let’s get biblical: Jesus assumed that fasting would be a part of his followers’ prayer lives. So why are we hesitant about taking up the practice? Here’s how to get started.

By Charles F. Stanley

 

Of all the spiritual disciplines, fasting is probably the least understood. The discipline is rarely taught or explained in most churches today, and few Christians know why they should do it or what it accomplishes. In a culture that promotes indulgence, not self-denial, fasting seems out of place. But Jesus calls us to a level of devotion that goes beyond convenience and comfort.

Despite our current unfamiliarity, fasting was commonly practiced in both the Old and New Testaments. Moses fasted for 40 days when he was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments (Ex. 34:28). Queen Esther asked the Jews to fast before she approached the Persian king on behalf of her people (Est. 4:16). Even Jesus fasted for 40 days before beginning His official ministry (Matt. 4:1-2). And the early church relied on this practice in asking the Lord’s guidance for important decisions (Acts 13:2; Acts 14:23).

This scriptural evidence should cause us to give serious consideration to the importance of fasting, but Jesus offers even more incentive—His teaching on this subject (Matt. 6:16-18). He begins by saying, “Whenever you fast,” not “If you fast.” This implies that fasting should be a vital part of our Christian life. In fact, the context of His teaching also includes instructions on giving (Matt. 6:1-4) and prayer (Matt. 6:5-15). None of us would exclude either of those practices from our lives, yet too often we consider fasting irrelevant or unnecessary.

The most basic meaning of fasting is abstinence from food. But it can also apply to other activities, such as refraining from entertainment (Dan. 6:18) or from physical intimacy between a husband and wife (1 Cor. 7:5). Since Scripture sets no rules regarding the length of a fast, each person is free to determine the duration. It might be for one meal or several, or can even consist of giving up of certain foods for a period of time. No matter what the form, the common denominator is an attitude of humble petition before God.

What does fasting accomplish?
Fasting isn’t a diet plan or a magic bullet to get God to do what you want. Nor is it for the purpose of earning forgiveness. Jesus’ shed blood is the sole source of atonement for sins. However, as part of the process of keeping our lives pure, fasting can play a role in helping us recognize and repent of sin.

The goal of prayer and fasting is to bring our natural, physical desires under the control of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of hearing from God. When we refrain from regular activities that distract us, we’re better able to discern what the Lord is saying. It sharpens our minds and increases our spiritual perception. In essence, we are acknowledging that food is not as important as hearing from God.

Jesus taught us how to fast.
When Christ instructed His followers about fasting, His focus was not on the method or duration, but on the appropriate attitude. In those days, the Pharisees followed a strict routine, usually abstaining from food on Mondays and Thursdays. The problem, at least for some, was their motive. They wanted everyone to see and praise them for their religious dedication. In an effort to enhance their piety, they’d put dirt and ashes on their clothes and leave their hair disheveled.

Jesus confronted their hypocrisy with instructions about the proper attitude for fasting:

  • With sincerity. Fasting should never be done to show off one’s devotion to Christ. It’s supposed to be a time of intimate, private fellowship with the Lord. Jesus told the people to dress normally and not draw attention to themselves. Although we don’t wear sackcloth and ashes today, we can still be guilty of insincerity or self-righteousness by wanting others to see our sacrificial devotion.
  • In secret. Jesus advises us to keep our fasting quiet, rather than announce it openly. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t tell those who are affected by your decision. For example, you should let the people close to you know that you won’t be eating if it will affect a shared meal. The point is to keep it between yourself and the Lord as much as possible.
  • For the Lord. The goal is simple, really: to seek God. When we sacrifice for Him, He delights in us and promises a future reward. But if we start showing off before others, their fleeting praise will be the only reward we receive.

Why should we fast?
Although there are many occasions for fasting, I think they can be summed up with three basic reasons:

For cleansing. In the course of time, sinful habits and attitudes can take up residence in our lives, and we may not even realize they are there. The symptoms are obvious, but not the cause—God’s power and joy are absent, and we wonder why He doesn’t seem to be using us or answering our prayers.

Hidden sins slowly fill the cracks and crevices of our spiritual life, much like the way dust accumulates in a house that’s not cleaned. It’s so gradual that we may not notice—until unexpected company arrives. In the same way, fasting opens our eyes to see ourselves from God’s perspective. The sins we hadn’t noticed before suddenly become obvious when Jesus “walks in.”

For guidance. Perhaps the most frequent reason people fast is to receive God’s direction for a decision or a situation. Although He’s promised to instruct and teach us the way to go (Ps. 32:8), sometimes we can’t hear His voice until we diligently seek Him with prayer and fasting. This is because we need the deep cleansing process of a fast to open our spiritual ears. I’ve come to realize that this is a necessary step because the clutter of sin must be removed before I can accurately hear His voice.

For deliverance and protection. Trouble is another occasion for fasting. Anytime we find ourselves in a helpless situation, we should follow the example of King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20. When Judah was threatened by three powerful enemies, Jehoshaphat called the entire nation to fast and cry out to God for deliverance (2 Chron. 20:3). And sure enough, He came to the rescue. Time after time throughout the Scriptures, the Lord has protected His people when they’ve humbled themselves in prayer and fasting, acknowledging their dependence upon Him. If He did it for them, He will also do it for you.

Fasting honors God and benefits us. Fasting is a privilege that helps us draw closer to the Lord. If it didn’t assist and enhance prayer, God would not have called us to do it. Even Satan recognizes its power. He’ll try to keep you from fasting, because he knows it will uncover anything that hinders your effectiveness for God and unleashes divine power in your life.

Fasting also reveals who’s in control. If you can’t bring yourself to miss a meal or two in order to hear from God, you might have to admit that your appetite is in charge and your commitment to Him is rather small. Even if you can’t fast because of medical reasons, you can still set aside other things, or a lot of specific times each day to focus your attention only on the Lord.

If you’ll seek God’s direction in genuine humility, He will clean up your life and begin to work through you with His almighty power. You’ll discover that fasting produces an amazing sense of oneness with the Lord, teaches you about yourself, and unlocks the powers of heaven to act on your behalf. I cannot predict what God will do in your life, but I know one thing for certain: What you ultimately gain will be far more than the sum of what you gave up—more of God Himself.

 

 Do You Know God?

Fasting is a means for Christians to draw closer to the Lord, but if you have not trusted Jesus as your Savior, it’s merely an exercise in self-control. Learn how to begin a relationship with Him here.

Copyright 2014 In Touch Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved. www.intouch.org. In Touch grants permission to print for personal use only.


33 comments
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  • October 31, 2012 12:48 PM

    by

    Thank you Dr. Stanley . for be n obedient to the Holy Spirit and spreading GODS word . I get a lot out of it the way you deliver it. may GOD Bless your work and efforts to glorify HIM by spreading the GOOD NEWS Amen and Hallalujah!!!!!
  • October 30, 2012 07:28 PM

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    Thank you , DR Stanley our pastor talked about the importants of fasting and prayer and after all this time ive never understood this, thank you for conferming the information on this topic . this is wonderfull. thank you again.
  • October 28, 2012 11:40 AM

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    Thank you so very much for making fasting much clearer for me. I have had a food addiction for most of my 79 years and fasting wasn't in my vocabulary. Today I finnaly get it.
  • October 27, 2012 06:57 PM

    by

    Dr. Stanley my Dad listened to your Great Preaching 45 years ago.I enjoyed the article on fasting.I will Pray and fast to receive Guidance from our LORD.Thank you for a Great Ministry,the World is Blessed.

  • October 21, 2012 04:31 PM

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    Dear Dr. Stanley; In reading about fasting, I had never read before, that my appetite is IN CONTROL! Thank U SO MUCH for putting this in your devotion book. I am going to try to get control BACK! :) :)
  • October 16, 2012 11:39 AM

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    This is such a timely message as I just made a decision to fast this week. I am accustomed to reading the daily message but today I glanced at the articles in the magazine and wouldn't you know...an article about fasting was staring me in the face. Thank you Dr. Stanley to you and your staff for heeding to the voice of God. May God's blessing forever be upon you for your obedience.
  • October 15, 2012 06:59 PM

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    I listen to Dr Charles Stanley or read a devotional every day. I don't think that I have ever walked away not learning anything. Every single day I grow closer to God and become a better person. My thoughts and attitudes have changed so much that many people have commented about how different I am and how much I have matured as a Christian. Thank you Charles Stanley for not turning away from what God chose for you to do.
  • October 15, 2012 08:12 AM

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    God bless you with long life so that more of us will continue to learn from your teaching of God's word.
  • October 14, 2012 05:01 PM

    by

    Great article on fasting! I thank God for you Dr. Stanley-HE gives you the ability to explain HIS WORD to help so many. I pray that God gives the next generations great teachers like you to help them to live the lives that are pleasing to HIM.
  • October 14, 2012 08:39 AM

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    God is so good in answering in a timely manner. I have been reading through the Bible since July and currently in 2 Chron. It has become apparent to me that the practice of fasting was common in Old Testament times and began wondering how/if it applied to me today. Lo and behold here is a teaching from Dr Stanley. Thank you! I have been a Christian for 30 years and never heard anyone teach on this subject.
  • October 13, 2012 09:05 AM

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    I do fast for the purpose of my petitions to be answered but now that I read this article I will shift my attention to deepening my intimacy with God through fasting. To God be the glory.
  • October 11, 2012 04:16 PM

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    I enjoy Dr. Stanley very much as he teaches biblical principles, period. As for this article, Jesus instructed to pray, fast, and give. They all go hand in hand to reach and please the Father. When I personally fast, I replace food with scripture so my relationship with Jesus can be more intimate.
  • October 10, 2012 01:00 PM

    by

    I love Dr. Charles Stanley, I could listen to him forever. his words about the bible are soothing to my mind. I do fast but now i'm goig to change my fasting to a more deep and long fasting, not just a simple nonesense, couple of hours.
  • October 10, 2012 05:18 AM

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    This message is very much useful to understand what is fasting and why a christian must do fasting. God bless you, Dr. Stanley for bringing God's message with such a clarity..
  • October 09, 2012 05:50 AM

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    Once again...Dr. Stanley you are the best when it comes to teaching the Word of God!
  • October 07, 2012 09:42 PM

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    The best and most comprehensive I have been blest to see in print.
  • October 07, 2012 11:18 AM

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    Thank you Dr Stanley for the information on fasting. I have tried to find the answers as to why and what for the last month. You have made it so plain. I now will and looking forward to my first fast. I thank the Lord for all he has done for me and your one of them. You have been a blessing to me and others, God bless you.
  • October 07, 2012 10:10 AM

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    I think this is the first time that anyone has absolutely explained fasting and how it actually should be done. I have seeking guidance on this for several years now and even after reading Matthew 6:17 is was still somewhat confused. But as I was typing this email I went back and re-read the scripture and the references Ruth 3:3 and Daniel 10:3 and it became clear to me that each one fasted differenly, but they were both correct, because they humbled themselves before God. I think sometimes, we miss the entire point of what the scriptures are truly saying until it is explained by someone who actually knows and understands the word of God.

    Thank you so much, Dr. Stanley
    You are truly a messenger from God.
  • October 07, 2012 09:09 AM

    by

    Thank you Dr. Stanley - this article spoke to me at a time when I am struggling, and growing.
  • October 07, 2012 08:04 AM

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    In so many ways drawing nearer to the Lord.
    Blessings
  • October 06, 2012 06:04 PM

    by

    Good afternoon Man of God, I thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for you. Man of God, you are truly a Servant of the Most High God sent to teach, protect and guide HIS flock. I've learned so much from you, and I can always rely on your teachings and Daily Devotionals to know how to live for Jesus Christ. Thanks for this teaching on Fasting, I have a more clearer and better understanding on how to fast. Again, thank you Man of God. I will continue to have you and your Ministry in my prayers. Love you with the love of our Heavenly Father.
  • October 06, 2012 09:27 AM

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    Awesome teaching. I've never looked at fasting that way before thank you Dr.Stanley
  • October 06, 2012 09:20 AM

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    Thankyou for this message. Since reading an article similar to this one, my family made a plan to give up an hour of tv time every night as our way of giving honor to God. It's not always easy and were not always consistent - but we will continue to do so for HIs glory.
  • October 06, 2012 06:32 AM

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    Thanks to Dr. Stanley's well explanation and teaching about the fasting & prayer. It gave me a clear picture and understanding why I should have the desire to fast and pray.

    I have being following Dr. Stanley's teaching since 3 years back. I found my spiritual life is growing and the desire to read the Word become stronger day by day. I'm truly blessed through Dr. Stanley's teaching. When watching and listening to Dr. Stanley's teaching, I felt God's love strongly. My desire in sharing what the Lord Jesus has done in my life with friends, colleagues and even strangers just flowing naturally.. Sharing Jesus' love just unstoppable whenever there is an occasion.. Thank you Dr. Stanley for building my Biblical foundation. Praise the Lord!
  • October 05, 2012 12:34 PM

    by

    This article about fasting is exactly what I needed for today, Thank you Dr. Stanley!

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