Fasting is the spiritual discipline of refraining from food for a period of time to focus on God. And what we learned is that God expects us to fast periodically. The Bible doesn’t say, “If you fast”; it says, “When you fast.” So Jesus expects us to fast. And there are a lot of good reasons to fast. There are major spiritual and physical benefits connected to fasting. It is through fasting that we gain clarity, courage, and breakthroughs.
How do you develop self-control and discipline? You put yourself in situations that allow them to be developed.
During spiritual fasting, the believer’s focus is removed from the physical things of this world and is intensely concentrated on God. Put differently, fasting directs our hunger toward God. It clears the mind and body of earthly attentions and draws us close to God. So, as we gain spiritual clarity of thought while fasting, it allows us to hear God more clearly. Fasting also demonstrates a profound need for God’s help and guidance through complete dependence upon him.
Fasting is a Supernatural Thing
We read about Moses fasting for forty days and nights in Deuteronomy 9:1–9; Exodus 34:28 and about Jesus fasting in the wilderness in Matthew 4, Luke 4. We read that Moses ate and drank nothing for 40 days. The texts about Jesus’ fasting don’t say he didn’t drink; only that He didn’t eat. However, just because the text doesn’t mention it doesn’t believe it wasn’t possible that Jesus also didn’t drink for 40 days. Jesus, being greater than Moses, surely could have done the same and more. My personal opinion is that Jesus did fast both food and water for the 40 days.
Did you know it is humanly impossible to go without water for 40 days? We can conclude that God sustained and enabled these fasts through supernatural help. The Heavenly Father sustained them. Both of them were in a physical position that if God didn’t sustain them, they would die.
Moses received the Word of God, the Ten Commandments, during this supernatural time of fasting. From a fasting experience, the Word was given. Jesus, the Bible says, is the “Logos” or “Word” of God. It was from a fasting position in the New Testament that the Word was sent to do the work of the Father. So both the Old and New Testament “Words” of God were prepared in a fasting encounter.
The Word of God is a SUPERNATURAL thing. It is timeless and powerful to accomplish what God intends for it to accomplish. The Word of God was sent to Moses when he was completely void of self and totally dependent upon God to sustain him. Jesus, the “Word” of God was sent to begin the supernatural mission of redeeming the world through His death, burial and resurrection after the forty day fasting encounter in which He was sustained only by His relationship to the Father, and in that completely weakened physical state, Jesus was at the top of His spiritual game and was able to defeat Satan when he came calling. Jesus had the strength he needed to resist Satan’s temptations.
One might think going without food and water for forty days could cause a person to lose their mental faculties. We see the sharpness and mental alertness of Jesus demonstrated in that He was able to quote Scripture right in Satan’s face. He had perfect mental recall! The “Word” overcame by the “Word!” Hallelujah! A relationship with God is enough! It is enough to keep us spiritually. It is enough to sustain us physically. It is enough to keep us mentally focused on whatever difficulty we will face.
We can conclude that spiritual, supernatural sustenance will be given to vessels that willingly empty themselves. We can conclude that the Word of God will be given to and will flow through people who have put themselves in a position to fully rely on God. Neither Moses or Jesus could have said “Thus saith the Lord” had they not been able to speak on God’s behalf without self getting in the way. And it was the forty days of fasting that ensured that they would both be ready to do so. Fasting will give the Holy Spirit time to work in our lives in a transformational way. God’s Word will flow into us, like it did into Moses, when we fast. God’s Word will flow through us, like it did through Jesus, when we fast.
This kind of fast is called an absolute fast where food and water are given up for a period of time. There are other examples of absolute fasts in the Bible. When Queen Esther knew that she had to confront the king about a decision he had made and she knew that she could lose her life for confronting the king, she declared an absolute fast. This is what she said in Esther 4:16 (NIV) “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.” During that time, Esther supernaturally received the courage she needed to go on the mission that she went on that could have cost her, her life.
Although we see this in the Bible, it is an extreme fast to go without food and water. This type of fast happens when the crisis is so great, you aren’t even remotely thinking about food because every fiber of your being is concentrating on God and the miracle you need. Depending on your health, this type of fast should only be done under the strict supervision of your doctor. That said, Scripture shows us God will supernaturally sustain us when we enter into this kind of seeking.
Fasting is a Purposeful Thing
Do you feel like maybe you’re in a season of life where you are just going through the motions? You’re on auto pilot? You’re just living from day to day or from event to event, trying to maybe daily put your best foot forward, but you are only living to respond to the demands of life rather than feeling as if God is leading you, calling you, and empowering you for His purposes? Maybe your relationship with God is one important aspects of your life, but it isn’t the priority of your life and the rest of your life isn’t flowing out of that relationship like it is supposed to. Fasting can bring about a change in your life which will result in a personal renewal that will absolutely change the course of your life.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” What does it mean to hunger and thirst after righteousness? Fasting puts us into a position to find out as it symbolizes the desire of our heart that we are even willing to go without food in order to be with God. When our hunger and thirst are denied so that we can focus our spiritual hunger and thirst on our love relationship with Jesus, a great intimacy a great restoration of Jesus as our “first love” takes place. Fasting redirects our hearts and minds on our life’s purpose.
Can you say you are hungering and thirsting for more of God in your life? Can you say with the Psalmist in Psalms 42:1 “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” If that is the case are you willing to give up something as basic and as enjoyable and satisfying as food for something deeper, more essential and ultimately more satisfying with God.
“The weakness of our hunger for God is not because he is unsavory, but because we keep ourselves stuffed with “other things.” Perhaps, then, the denial of our stomach’s appetite for food might express, or even increase, our soul’s appetite for God.” (p.10).
“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.” (John Piper, Hunger for God-pg. 23).
Fasting is a Humbling Thing
All of us could use a good dose of humility. Fasting is a biblical way to truly humble ourselves before the Lord. In Psalm 35:13 David basically said, “I humble myself through fasting.” Ezra 8:21 says, “I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.” It’s good to admit that we need God. It’s good to admit that we don’t know everything. It’s good to spend intentional time seeking God’s wisdom and help. It keeps us routinely dependent upon Him. It keeps us in the position of recognizing as the Psalmist did, that our help comes from the Lord (Psalm 121).
2 Chronicles 20 tells us how King Jehoshaphat, when faced with attack from nations that plotted to crush Judah, ended up in great victory. How did that happen? Three nations were coming together to destroy God’s people. This was a national crisis and Jehoshaphat was afraid. He didn’t organize a committee to study the situation. He didn’t appoint a homeland security team. He didn’t go to other strong nations to ask for their support. Instead, he called a fast for all of Judah. He needed God’s intervention, so he began a spiritual effort of seeking God through fasting and prayer. Everyone started fasting and everyone got together for prayer. Through the discipline of fasting, Jehoshaphat got everyone to give God their full attention.
When we humbly seek God’s wisdom and do so with the heart to receive and act on what He tells us, He is delighted to share His wisdom with us. God revealed to them the enemies’ plan and instructed them on what to do (2 Chron 20:16-17). Jehoshaphat did not doubt what God said. Even before he saw the result, he worshipped God. He led all the people of Judah and Jerusalem in bowing down and worshipping the Lord. He then carefully followed the instructions God gave him. Before he even knew what God would tell him to do, his heart of humility was set on executing God’s plan. The Word of God will come to people who seek God with that kind of humility and faith.
Fasting is a God-honoring thing.
Flip open your Bible to Daniel, chapter 10. The of Daniel is found in the Old Testament, almost at the end of the Old Testament. Daniel was a young boy probably between the ages of thirteen and fifteen, when under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian army conquered Israel and took the best and the brightest back to Babylon. Daniel was one of the people that were taken into captivity, now to be groomed by a Babylonian king in a culture that didn’t honor the one true Living God.
Look at Daniel chapter 1:
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility– 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service. 6 Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
Verse 8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.” 11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead. 17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. 18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
Daniel was so committed to God that even though what the king’s chef would be whipping up would no doubt be delicious, it would go against God’s desires for his life on several levels.
The fact that the food was prepared by Gentiles made it unclean for the Jews to eat. God had given His people some dietary laws in the OT which were for their own benefit. Without doubt this royal food had been sacrificed and offered to pagan gods before it was offered to the king. To partake of such food would be contrary to Exodus 34:15, where the Jews were forbidden to eat flesh sacrificed to pagan gods.
Similar problems would arise in drinking the wine. The Jews customarily diluted wine with water. Some added 3 parts of water to wine, others 6 parts, and some as much as 10 parts of water to 1 part of wine. The Babylonians did not dilute their wine. So both the food and the drink would have defiled these Jewish young men. Daniel knew the requirements of the Law governing what he should and should not eat and drink.
The focus here isn’t on eating and drinking, but on doing whatever it takes to honor and please the Lord. Daniel’s desire was to please God in all he did. So he resolved that even though he was not in his own land but in a culture that did not follow God’s laws, he would consider himself under the Law. He therefore asked the chief court official to be excused from eating and drinking the food and wine generously supplied by the king.
Now while it doesn’t say Daniel fasted, that’s exactly what he did. I can say that because later in chapters nine and ten, we read specifically that Daniel fasted. This was part of his regular experience with God. In this instance, he chose not to eat some things and chose to eat other things in order to honor God. It would be like going on a cruise where there is food, glorious food, and simply asking for a veggie plate during the length of the cruise. What determination that would take. What sacrifice that would involve as everyone around you is stuffing their face with delicacies and sweets.
Daniel was courageous, determined, and obedient to God. God gave Daniel favor and he was allowed to have only vegetables and water for ten days until he could be evaluated. At the end of the ten days, he and his friends looked better and functioned better than any of the others on the king’s food program.
Did you catch what followed his partial fast? Verse 17 says, “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.” Here we see a supernatural gifting following a time of fasting. God gave the knowledge. Being able to understand visions and interpret dreams isn’t something the human mind can do on its own. It came after a God-honoring fast that Daniel was gifted by God for special tasks.
At the end of some training period, the king had Daniel and his friends brought to him. Verse 20 says, “In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” I like to think the king played jeopardy with the boys and they got every question right. They swept every category. They were questioned in every matter of wisdom and understanding and even won the bonus round, beating out all of the magicians and enchanters who had grown up in that culture with that knowledge from birth. That is miraculous! I believe that gifting was tied to Daniel’s fasting. Daniel honored God and God reciprocated by honoring Daniel.
We know that Daniel was very committed to God and that he was always seeking God and God’s direction. In Daniel, chapter 10, we are told that Daniel received a vision about a future war and the destruction of Israel. Distraught by what he saw, he began to fast. Look what it says starting in verse 2, “At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.”
Daniel fasted for twenty-one days by not eating any “choice food” or meat. What is “choice food?” Choice foods are delicacies. Things like desserts, cakes, cookies, donuts. It’s stuff like breads and croissants, potatoes, and pastas. It’s rice and other types of carbohydrates. It’s all of the good “comfort” food. Instead of comforting himself with food, he sought comfort in an intense time with the Lord.
So he ate no choice foods and he ate no meat. So what is left over? Two things: fruits and vegetables. Daniel fasted for twenty-one days, eating only fruits and vegetables. This is an example of a partial fast. It’s not refraining from all food, just certain types of food.
In a partial fast, you want to give up a food that you are tied to. If a fast is going to mean something to God, it has to mean something to you first. You can’t give up brussel sprouts and call that a partial fast. Maybe you’ll give up all sweets and caffeine from your diet for 40 days. Maybe you’ll give up eating anything after dinner. Maybe you will give up all bread and pasta. What you are doing spiritually and symbolically when you do is you are saying, “I’m giving up something I enjoy or love in order to pursue something I enjoy and love even more!”
You might do what Daniel did and give up everything except water, fruits, and vegetables. There is actually a website devoted to explaining the Daniel fast which is the 21 day fruits and vegetables fast. It is: www.danielfast.wordpress.com. You can find a food list and recipes and all kinds of helps there.
Fasting is a devil-defeating thing.
If you look at the totality of Jesus’ three years of ministry, you’ll notice it began with fasting and ended with victory over Satan on the cross.
Colossians 2:13-15 “13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
I don’t know how seriously we take the fact that the visible world is controlled by that which is invisible. God has allowed Satan to have dominion here on this earth temporarily. He is a formidable foe. Maybe because we can’t “see” Satan we have put him out of our mind. Out of sight, ought of mind. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. He is a spiritual enemy that must be dealt with through spiritual means.
Ephesians 6:12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph 6:12)
The work of Jesus, the purpose for which He came, was to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8b). Jesus came to expose the devil for what he truly is, a liar, deceiver, murderer and thief. He took away Satan’s ultimate weapon against us, shame and condemnation for our sins, by forgiving us on the cross. However, we still have to deal with the attempts he makes to lie to us, steal from us and the sneaky ways he tries to assassinate our souls. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil and He started with a fast. He didn’t need to fast in order to refute the Pharisees. He didn’t need to fast in order to deal with the Roman authorities. He needed to fast in order to deal with Satan and Satan got involved in Jesus’ mission quickly. Fasting brought on the battle. It was almost like through fasting at the “get go” Jesus was saying, “Come on. Bring it. Let’s get this over with.” Jesus literally went to the wrestling mat with Satan through fasting.
Read Matthew 4 and Luke 4. The fact that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil implies that the temptation was not unexpected but rather, it was necessary. Even before the cross, Jesus as the Son of Man overcame the temptations that Adam and Eve succumbed to. This gave Him the power (as man) to deny Himself and eventually go to the cross to totally defeat Satan.
“Both Adams, the first Adam and the last Adam, were tempted. The first Adam fell into temptation resulting in sin and death for the whole of the human race. The last Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, defeated Satan through fasting and with the written word of God. The temptations they faced were similar. Appealing to the lust of the flesh, both were tempted to eat. Appealing to the lust of the eyes, Adam and Eve looked at the forbidden fruit; Jesus was shown the kingdoms of the world. Appealing to the pride of life, Adam and Eve were tempted to be like God; Jesus was tempted to exhibit His sonship (1 John 2:16; Luke 4:1-12). The first Adam lost the authority and right to rule by eating. Jesus won it back by fasting. Fasting brought Jesus into direct confrontation with the powers of darkness and gave Him the power to defeat the enemy, to overcome all the temptations that Satan hurled at Him.” (http://www.jesushealsmi.com/Books/FAP_E/FAP%20Ch1.pdf)
Jesus was “led by the Spirit” to fast. Do you sensing that God could be asking you to incorporate fasting into your spiritual walk? Do you have anticipation about how it could change your life? Have you thought about an absolute fast-abstaining from food and water for say 24 hours? Or a fast where you just drink water for three days? What about giving up lunch every day for forty days? What about a partial fast, like the Daniel fast, where you only eat fruits and vegetables for 21 days.
I’m challenging each of you to consider a fast during the 40 days of the Lenten season which will begin on Wednesday, March 9th. As you start your fast, let your hunger pains be a reminder to pray. Biblical fasting must be combined with prayer.
Set some goals for your fast. Be very specific about the reason or the reasons you are fasting. Are you fasting for clarity about a decision you need to make. Are you fasting for courage? Are you fasting for a breakthrough or in order to experience the supernatural in your life? Maybe you want to fast purely for greater intimacy with God. Perhaps you want to humble yourself before the Lord in an intentional way or you need to engage in spiritual warfare in order to defeat Satan who is trying to get you off track. I believe you can fast simply for the purpose of praying for people to get saved.
Make a decision about why you want to fast. When you want to give up, you can come back to your reason for fasting to stay motivated.
Fasting is everything I have mentioned and more. We need supernatural power. We need transformation of the heart. We need to humble ourselves before the Lord. We need to incorporate things that honor God into our lives, and we need to be ready to meet Satan when he comes calling.
Will you join me in seeking the Lord and asking what He would ask you to do during this time of fasting?